Stenroos’ Crying Wolf Hurts Cops Everywhere

At a time when all cops are under siege, the last thing you need is a false alarm.
Published: March 8, 2011

From Jan. 16 to Jan. 28, violence against police officers was a hot topic in the news media.

  • Livonia, Mich., officer Larry Nehasil was shot and killed during an undercover operation.
  • Miami-Dade detectives Roger Castillo and Amanda Haworth were killed while serving a warrant with Marshals.
  • Indianapolis Metro officer David Moore was shot in the face during a traffic stop. He was taken off life support a week later so that doctors could harvest his organs for transplant.
  • Two Kitsap County, Wash., sheriff’s deputies were wounded during a gunfight in the parking lot of a Wal-Mart.
  • Four Detroit officers were wounded when a man opened fire on them with a shotgun inside their station.

And on and on, the litany of attacks continued.

These and all of the other officers who were attacked that week were serving the public when violence fell upon them. They are heroes whose names and deeds should be well-remembered by the media and the people. And they will be.

Unfortunately, the name the public is likely to remember best is Jeffrey Stenroos.

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Jeffrey Stenroos is/was a Los Angeles Unified School District police officer. Around noon on Wednesday Jan. 19, he reported that he was shot in the chest by a 40-year-old white guy with long brown hair. His body armor reportedly saved his life.

That report had a massive effect on the West San Fernando area where Stenroos worked. More than 350 officers from four agencies participated in a manhunt for the gunman. More than 9,000 students were locked in their classrooms—some well past their normal school day—using trash cans as toilets because they had no access to bathrooms. And tens of thousands of motorists were inconvenienced by roadblocks and traffic stops, as officers set up a seven-square-mile perimeter, refusing to let anyone in or out.

Stenroos himself was rushed to the hospital. His vest stopped the round but he was bruised by the impact. Doctors told the Los Angeles Times that Stenroos was lucky.

The search for the gunman continued for more than a week. Police received calls from panicked citizens claiming that they had seen him. One even reported that the man had run into her backyard. The Los Angeles City Council, the Los Angeles Police Protective League, and several businesses pooled their resources to offer a reward of $100,000 for information leading to the arrest of the shooter.

But while all this was going on, detectives investigating the case started to pull at some hanging threads. They were puzzled about the bruise pattern that the shot reportedly left on Stenroos’ chest.  They were also troubled by inconsistencies in Stenroos’ story, and in the end, the whole thing fell apart.

Authorities now believe Stenroos concocted the entire story, and he has been charged with filing a false police report. His alleged motive for doing such a thing has not been determined. He reportedly told investigators that his gun went off by accident, but they’re not buying it.

One thing is clear, however: the department, the police union, and the city government are all furious.

“The entire city was led down a path of misinformation,” LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said.

Paul M. Weber, president of the L.A. Police Protective League, called Stenroos “a disgrace to the badge.”

And the city council piled on by voting to sue Stenroos for the cost of the incident. “We had thousands of dollars spent on police overtime,” Council President Eric Garcetti told the Times.

The actual bill may top $400K. That money was spent on officers from at least four agencies, including the LAPD, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, the California Highway Patrol, and the FBI.

But it’s not the money or manpower spent on this alleged hoax that should alarm law enforcement officers nationwide: it’s the erosion of public confidence.

The Stenroos case is the law enforcement version of the “Boy Who Cried Wolf.” As every schoolchild knows, crying wolf when there isn’t one is a good way to get eaten.

Worse, at a time when law enforcement officers are being attacked across the nation at an alarming rate, the Stenroos case distracts people from the real issue: What is going on out there? Why are so many cops being killed? And what can be done about it?

If Stenroos really did what he’s accused of doing, then he did more than disgrace his badge. He spit on the legacy of all the officers who have ever been attacked in the line of duty and made the job that much more dangerous for everyone in the thin blue line.

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David Griffith is the editor of Police magazine.


Note: The views expressed by guest bloggers and contributors are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, Campus Safety magazine.

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