Making False Reports to Police Creates a Threat to Public Safety

Looking back on Empire actor Jussie Smollett’s national saga, it’s important to discuss a serious issue that plagues police departments all across the country. That issue is civilians claiming to be victims of crimes that never occurred. Whether you are a patrolman, investigator, or detective, the way police officers respond to and investigate alleged incidents is not on a first come-first served basis. Police officers respond much like hospital emergency rooms’ triage patients. 

If a detective is investigating a burglary that was assigned to them on a Monday and the next day, a complaint of an armed carjacking came in and was assigned to the same detective, that burglary would be put on hold. Their resources would be directed toward the carjacking because of the seriousness and violent nature of the alleged crime. This is exactly how it should be. 

Violent crimes take priority over non-violent crimes. 

The issue I find troubling is when someone knowingly makes themselves a victim of a crime that never actually occurred. I’m sure there are a plethora of reasons, but none of them make it right. Maybe they report their car stolen for insurance purposes. Maybe they say they were violently attacked by someone they don’t like because they want that person to get in trouble. Or maybe they crave attention because of childhood trauma. The people who make these false reports may not be aware of or even care that when police officers receive a report, it is their duty to do a thorough investigation. These investigations require ample resources, time, and effort. If deemed necessary, the investigation could take valuable time away from other pressing matters.

False reports to police threaten the public’s safety because, depending on the severity of the falsity, resources are shifted to accommodate the more violent crimes. Proper attention is diverted from those who genuinely need police service.

This is why I found Jessie Smollett’s story one of many infuriating cases that deserved punishment equal to the crime falsely claimed. For example, in 2016, student Nikki Yovino reported being raped by two school football players at Sacred Heart University. Yovino made the false allegations out of fear of losing a potential boyfriend. The young woman garnered national attention much like the 2006 Duke Lacrosse false rape case which vilified three innocent Duke student athletes.

Making a false report to police is a crime if proven untrue. However, in many states (especially where I work in Pennsylvania), it is merely labeled as “false reports to law enforcement authorities” according to the PA crimes code 4906.  For a first time offender, this is a low level misdemeanor. Ultimately, offenders end up with a slap on the wrist. For Pennsylvania, the only time this crime is elevated in severity is if it occurs during a declared State of Emergency. The crimes code explicitly explains that this diverts precious police resources into investigating a fake crime. So why shouldn’t this crime be viewed as severe whether or not a State of Emergency is in place?

I believe that punishments given to offenders who provide false reports to police officials should be on the level of what was reported. They should not be able to walk away with a slap on the wrist and a scolding. Ms. Yovino received a year in jail and three years of probation. However, if the two young men accused by Ms. Yovionwere found guilty of rape, their charge would have been more severe than her punishment. According to PA crimes code 3121B, rape is labeled a felony.The football players she accused lost their scholarships, an entire year’s worth of academic work, and a tarnished reputation.

This is ultimately a matter for the courts, but that should not end our discussion of this moral argument. False crime reports are egregious acts against the public’s safety. Every day, police officers across this country are investigating crimes and giving victims the benefit of the doubt. This should be expected, however, there are instances in which crimes have been investigated and deemed false. Yet in some cases, people who report false crimes are not charged. 

False crime reports rob true victims of valuable time and resources. Hopefully, Ms. Yovino’s story will be seen as a deterrent to others considering doing something similar. Every American deserves to have crimes committed against them investigated thoroughly. Their safety should not be compromised by fabricated stories. In sum, this would benefit the public safety of everyone. It is important to remember the countless number of unnamed victims whose public safety could have been jeopardized by those who make false reports to police.