Lancaster (Ohio) police officers. Image via rbatina (Flickr.com).
When I was a kid, our dog got out of our backyard after one of my friends left our gate open. Duke ran into the street and was hit by a car.
After Duke's death, dad got another German Shepard puppy and we named it "Buffer."
Buffer was kept in a newspaper-lined cardbox box just inside the front door, along with a wind-up clock that kept him company so that he wouldn't whine (my wife puts one in our bed for the same reason). The box had a peculiar puppy shit smell, one that provoked a certain nostalgia whenever I encountered that same distinctive odor while refereeing some domestic call as an adult.
In the evenings, I'd lay on the linoleum tile next to the box and play with Buffer and stroke his fur, anxious for the time when he'd grow big enough that we could play in the backyard together.
I wasn't the only one anxious for Buffer to get bigger.
From the first day, dad had been having second thoughts about the dog. He kept looking at Buffer's paws and commenting on how small they were. After a few days, dad concluded Buffer wasn't destined to grow enough to become the formidable guard dog he desired. He took Buffer to the pound.
At the age of 8, I knew what the pound was all about. I knew that if dogs taken in by the pound weren't adopted within a certain window of time, they would be euthanized. Dad assured me that he'd make sure that Buffer would find a good home and wouldn't be killed.
But as the days passed, I agonized over Buffer's fate. Finally, I asked dad if he'd heard anything about the dog. Dad smiled reassuringly and said that he'd spoken to the pound and that Buffer had been adopted by a nice family and everything was OK, and I didn't have anything to worry about.
Dad's response was a little too quick, a little too pat, and the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I did have something to worry about.
The pound wasn't likely to call a dog's previous owner about its disposition, and there was no way in hell that dad would have taken a minute or two of his time to look for the pound's number, dial it, and wait on hold while someone checked into the dog's fate.
Still, he might have gotten away with it, if he'd said mom had called. That I might have bought. But he didn't—he simply quickly said that he'd taken care of the call and all was fine.
I started crying and told him that I knew that he hadn't called the pound and that Buffer was dead. Dad first got flustered, then pissed off, and finally admitted that he hadn't called the pound.
Dad was surprised at how easily I'd surmised his fiction. He needn't have been.
It was simply a matter of knowing Dad.
Once you know somebody, you know what to expect from them. You come to know their signature lies and tells.
You learn to recognize the hyperboles and euphemisms, and how to discriminate between the half-truths and full-blown bullshit.
You listen for the protracted sighs, the exaggerated exasperations, the hyperventilations.
You become accustomed to their ad-libbed alibis and impromptu excuses, and how surprisingly they can trip their asses up by a lack of preparation.
That was one reason I always had a begrudging appreciation for anyone who came prepared when it came to playing the riddle—this Q-and-A thing—with a cop. The guy who had the foresight to have some story in place, and who'd mix in just enough truth to make his dissemblance credible.
Unfortunately—or, fortunately, depending on your take—such criminal geniuses are in the minority.
When confronted with the plain-faced villainy of their actions, most people are woefully ill-prepared to answer the questions posed to them.
Their eyes will track the fluorescent lights, the ceiling tile, the floor—anything but your eyes. And if they are somehow capable of making eye contact, study their breathing and listen for that pin to drop: they're evaluating just how much sway their façade is making.
At best, they'll deny the allegations with wide-eyed and assertive sincerity, even anger, obliging you to ask clarifying questions. Example: "Mister President, assuming that you did not have sex with that woman, is there any possibility that you allowed her to sublimate some oral fixation on your behalf?"
At some level you'll learn to generalize the rules of deceit, and how endemic they stand to be within certain sub-groups. Cultural sensitivity? Hell, it's their signature.
The abuser will laugh off the accusation as absurd; the shoplifter will resort to distractions through their own indignant allegations of discrimination.
Hypes lie, and they lie poorly.
The more innocent a gang member is, the more he's going to either talk to you, or provoke and taunt you (it's their way of having fun during their down time).
I like to think I had a pretty good record for smelling through the B.S. Certainly, I was able to get suspects and "victims" to cop out that they'd been lying to me or the patrol deputies, thereby saving a lot of needless follow-up investigation.
But often it was a matter of taking the time to get to know them. Polygraph technicians often ask generic questions so as to establish a credibility baseline. You have that same opportunity on a daily basis.
As you venture around your patrol area, strike up conversations. Don't have any particular agenda in mind. Just be friendly. You might actually find a genuine ally or two. In any event, you will get to know the people that you will inevitably be dealing with later.
You might not consider them friends, but you will know them.
And you will know their lies.