Monday, February 08, 2010

Are Military and Police Witnesses Any More Reliable Than Civilians?

It's an old refrain, often used by UFO researchers when they want to highlight the bona fides of a particular UFO case - military personnel and police officers are "trained personnel" who make for better witnesses, and also of better character, ergo, the UFO case that centers around them is much more difficult to refute.

To which I say (to quote an American general from World War II) - Nuts!

Soldiers are highly trained to do one thing - kill people. They do, of course, have other areas of training as well, but this is their primary function, even in our feel-good age of nation-building and peacekeeping/making.

Police officers are trained to enforce the law, which involves a number of different skill sets, most of them physical, because at their core, the average patrol officer (the vast majority of police officers, and the ones who seem to come into the most frequent contact with UFOs) is in the business of breaking up trouble, or trying to stop it before it starts. They are not investigators.

Most soldiers and police officers are good at what they do. But are they trained any better than Joe or Jane Q. Public when it comes to observing and reporting on events that could be called abnormal / paranormal?

I don't think so, at least not as a general rule. You have to look at the individual soldier, or police officer. For example, there's nothing about the group of soldiers involved in the 1980 Rendlesham case that stands out as being anything extraordinary in terms of their ability to observe events.

Another canard is that military personnel and police officers are somehow immune - or at the very least, less susceptible - to emotions, perhaps even panic, than your average civilian. Again, there is no objective basis for this conclusion. It depends, at the end of the day, on the individual, and the circumstances.

For example, a Green Beret might have nerves of steel, but a cook, or even a military policeman, might be less steadfast. And one suspects that even the best-trained soldier or police officer can overeact, or panic, given the right set of circumstances.

Doubt that? History is replete with examples that drive home my point. One stunning example can be seen in the case of the tasering death of Polish-immigrant Robert Dziekanski by four RCMP officers in 2007. There are many others.

Stan Friedman is often fond of saying that people are good observers, but poor interpreters. I agree with the latter part of the statement, but not the former. Having served with the RCMP myself when I was in law school, I know first hand how tricky observation can be, particularly under duress, and especially when one relies on memory after the event to reconstruct it. This is the biggest flaw in the Roswell accounts, which were given decades later.

The best scenario - although still not perfect - is for a witness to have made notes immediately after an event, as police officers do. Then you can always "refresh your memory" later, as we used to say when being cross-examined on the witness stand.

But no matter what, any single witness is of questionable value. What is needed is some sort of independent corroboration. Obviously, physical evidence would be best (and there is some of debatable worth with Rendlesham), but other witnesses viewing an event, preferably who are unknown to the first witness, and even better if they're looking at it from a different angle, will do as well in terms of making a case worth studying.

Then there's the character question. Often researchers will imply, and sometimes even state outright, that military personnel and police officers are of impeccable character, and would, of course, never lie, or commit any misdeeds.

Again, history says otherwise. A current and noteworthy example can be seen with CAF Colonel Russell Williams, who has just been charged with multiple murders (note: yes, I'm aware he's innocent until proven guilty). Prior to this, if he had been a UFO witness, he would no doubt have been pointed to by researchers as an exemplary man, incapable of any malfeasance. He was, after all, a respected and accomplished senior commander, whose tour of duty included a stint as commanding officer for Camp Mirage, the secretive Canadian Forces forward logistics base that's not officially acknowledged by the government or military, but has been widely reported to be near Dubai.

This is not to dismiss military or police witnesses, of course. Rather, it is to remind people that no UFO case can stand on just eyewitness testimony, and no eyewitness testimony should be allowed a free pass, or the equivalent thereof, based on what amounts to an appeal to authority.

Paul Kimball


Anonymous said...

Spot on analysis Paul!

Pharos said...

Funny, I left a comment on another blog earlier saying that I didn't think being a police or military officer gained a person any more credibility as a witness of something paranormal than anyone else. And here I find a whole blog posting about it!

As you said, it's about the individual's character. Anyone can have good ethics.

Joe McGonagle said...

I agree entirely with what you say, but find it incongruous that in spite of what you say, you still hold at least one person who thinks otherwise in high regard as a UFO researcher.

In that instance, even when soldiers report Chinese Lanterns as UFOs he falls back on the 'expert witness' canard. In fact, the so-called Cosford Incident is entirely reliant on it.

Unknown said...

Of course, we can doubt everybody, dismiss everything said. We can make as many excuses for stone cold disbelief as we can blind acceptance. But it proves nothing except that humans have that innate ability to rationalize any avenue of belief... and then justify the means to it regardless of how many stop signs we blow through along the way.

Using your line of thought, we should throw open all the prisons and jails because witness testimony is all but worthless when searching for the truth.

Most people who see someone murdered or beaten or raped or robbed, are seeing this kind of thing (except for on TV and that isn't real), for the first time in their lives. In the witness box, unless they can cite examples of previous witness experience, their own first hand accounts of the event must be thrown out as unreliable.

If someone wants to believe or disbelieve anything badly enough, then there is really no amount of evidence from any source at all that will do the trick.

We will believe what we choose to believe. Period.

Anonymous said...

I have to disagree. You omitted the one character that tends to see UFO's most offten. The Pilot, which is familiar with different flying vehicles, rates of speed and various other indicators.
Pilots are typical rational, stable people. nothing to gain by discloser of a sighting. yet they still have encounters

Anonymous said...

I think police and military are better-trained and more experienced at being objective and handling stressful situations better than the average civilian therefore I tend to disagree. Also, police and military would be hesitant to report UFO sightings because it might affect their careers negatively since the subject is kind of a taboo, so if they do report it I think it should be taken seriously, it is unlikely they would make it up. For this reason, in my opinion police and military are more-likely to be credible and reliable witnesses. However, no witness, civilian or otherwise, is going to have a perfect memory and interpretation of what they saw.

Paul Kimball said...

"Pilots are typical rational, stable people. nothing to gain by discloser of a sighting. yet they still have encounters"

The fact that I didn't mention pilots is irrelevant. My point was about two particular types of witnesses, and the value of witness testimony in general.

But, since you mention pilots, let me add that I don't think they're any better or worse at observing what might be viewed as anomalous phenomena than anyone else... particularly if they're trying to focus on flying a plane at the time. Further, pilots are human beings, just like everyone else, with all of the same flaws and foibles that the rest of us have.

In short, each individual witness needs to be judged on his or her own merits. An appeal to authority is worthless.

Paul Kimball said...

"Also, police and military would be hesitant to report UFO sightings because it might affect their careers negatively since the subject is kind of a taboo, so if they do report it I think it should be taken seriously, it is unlikely they would make it up."

Nobody gets in trouble for simply reporting something - that's part of the job. They could get in trouble for going public with it. There is a difference between the two.

Paul Kimball said...

"Using your line of thought, we should throw open all the prisons and jails because witness testimony is all but worthless when searching for the truth."

That's ridiculous, and I suspect you know it.

However, it is my opinion that any conviction which is grounded in the testimony of a single witness is always precarious, and is the one most likely to be found to be incorrect later on. A good reason to never use the death penalty, frankly.

And it's not a question of trying to rationalize disbelief. I'm open-minded. I'm willing to look at the evidence. I just happen to be able to differentiate between good evidence and weak evidence. You seem to lack that ability, based on what you've written here.

Kay said...

Wow I'm so glad I stumbled upon this blog... Going to have to add this one to my regular reads.

Absolutely agree with your assessment of military and police witnessess, in all aspects. The only thing I believe differently is regarding pilots, but simply in their observational skills.
Pilots, much more than the other discussed witnesses, are trained to observe and think under stress. Everybody on the plane depends on that, including the pilots themselves. They are responsible for the lives of all. They have to be able to function in the event of extreme stress. I do believe, if the aircraft is not in immediate distress, that they would have good observations about any aspect of their encounter. Also, we have two to three witnesses in the cockpit, all well-trained personnel. I just think we have to give the pilots credit.

I apologize for drifting off-topic.

Unknown said...

the only reason why military and police witnesses in events are given credibility , in my opinion, in the publics eyes, is that they are saying as 'active duty, on the record' testimony. doesn't really mean much, but it's something. frequently now you'll see 'certain blah county sherriffs deputies were witnesses but will not comment publicly' . if someone posts a witness report on record, such as the halt memorandum documenting his encounter as a lt col with staff officers and nco's of a craft, which he filmed and observed, he wrote a memorandum, it was entered into the official record the day he submitted it to a base commander. THIS has value, THIS has substance. even if he is a poor witness or making things up, he put his whole military career on the line with no hesitation whatsoever.

think about that. (its only 1 example, but there are more..)

Paul Kimball said...

A word about Halt. As the officer in charge that evening, he had no choice but to file a report, and he would have gotten into trouble if he had filed an inaccurate or incomplete one. Accordingly, we should not be giving him extra credit for doing what he was required to do. In no way whatsoever did he put his "whole military career" on the line, and he would not make that claim.

I interviewed Halt a couple of years ago for Best Evidence: Top 10 UFO Sightings (see He made it absolutely clear to me that he never expected the report to see the light of day in the public.

Think about that.


graymatters said...

Im 49, i live in glsgow scotland.

in my life time i have seen menny things that most folk would give ther right and left arm to see.
i have been so close to a UFO that i could have hit it with a stone.
since i was 10 i have saw menny things some that would chalenge even the best of the experts you may have come across in your serch for the truth about UFO's.

i cant tell you how menny times i have put pen to paper to say what i have seen and posted things on line on some sites.
but if you would be interested in talking with me i would gladly tell you my storry,and i might add that i have friends that will speak with you, not all of them some dont eaven whant to no what thay have seen.

well i dont whant to go on and take up your time and in the same token i dont whant to waste my time to,,, but lets say i can show you where theas thing have taken place and where thay still do.

I beleav that at the age of 10 brouther and my self where taken, i have days and times, when this hapend,
and most reasently my girlfriend had the shock of her life while we where camping.

its all facked no bull i have more respect for my self than that, but i would like to let you and your folowers hear what i have to say and hope that in doing so thay might have a better understanding of the thing to come...
this is not over, thay will be back i no this.

ill send you peace and love for now, and hope that you might sleep well in your bed to night as some of us might not.


Unknown said...

"That's ridiculous, and I suspect you know it."

Then you must also suspect that I (or anyone else) would waste our time here to express an opinion we don't believe in.

(I think you know better than that and I will not do you this same disservice.)

I believe you think you have the anchor by the chain.. though it may well be nothing more than a fishing line.

Best :)

Paul Kimball said...

I'll take your word for it that you didn't know what you wrote was ridiculous.

That doesn't change the fact that it was ridiculous.

Christopher said...

"The fact that I didn't mention pilots is irrelevant. My point was about two particular types of witnesses (police and military personnel)." Dude, all five branches of the military have pilots, there are tens of thousands of them. If you meant police and non-pilot military personnel, say so. Anonymous had a valid point in mentioning pilots, but it seems like you are more interested in getting the last word than you are in an actual discussion. You seem only interested in defending a rather absurd proclamation, that police and military are no more reliable witnesses than the average citizen. It sounds like you'd rather be correct than become correct. But hey, who wouldn't, we're only human, or at most some of us may be human slash alien hybrids. You make valid points, of course, people must in the end be judged on an individual basis, and no one should be believed automatically based on their occupation. Police and military witnesses of "UFOs" are more likely to be more reliable than an average citizen, for several reasons;

1.)Police and Military are not children, nor are they elderly at the time of the incident. The elderly are more likely to suffer vision loss or dementia, and children, even teenagers are clearly less reliable. And surely any discussion of a "Joe or Jane Q. Public" as a UFO witness must include a full spectrum of citizens, of all ages. Or did you MEAN to say " Police and non-pilot military personnel are no more reliable than any John or Jane Q. Public between the ages of 18 and 60"? Then say so, dude.

2.) The average citizen is more likely to be intoxicated or have consumed alcohol or mind-altering drugs than an on-duty police officer. Far more likely. Certainly there are a few police officers with drug or drinking problems, but few can keep such behavior hidden on the job for long, and those that do aren't running into the station house with sensational stories of flying saucers, they're trying to get through one more shift unnoticed. The bars and clubs and restaurants are filled with people enjoying more than a few drinks every day of the week while nearly all on duty cops are sober. If an intoxicated man and a sober police officer report the same incident, who is more likely to be accurate?

3.)People diagnosed with certain mental illnesses are precluded from becoming police officers. An average citizen may suffer from a long history of a mental illness that would affect his or her ability to report events accurately, but not an average police officer.

4.)Police deal with stressful, unexpected and dangerous situations on a regular basis, then they write detailed accounts of the events that must be approved by the District Attorney, submitted as evidence, and accurate enough to stand up to cross-examination by defense attorneys in court. Through unfortunate repetition, police officers do indeed learn to handle such situations much better than the average citizen. Further, their familiarity with documenting detailed accounts of every one of those stressful events leads me to believe their account would be more accurate than John Q Public, who hasn't written an account of anything in his life.

"Another canard is that military personnel and police officers are somehow immune - or at the very least, less susceptible - to emotions, perhaps even panic, than your average civilian." Nonsense like this calls your rationality into question. Any police officer "likely to panic", as you say, wouldn't have their job very long, and for you to say that any Swat team member, Navy Seal, any cop or soldier (short of a Green Beret, for some reason) is as likely to panic as an average citizen, which includes grandmothers, for cirissake, is absurd. Insulting, actually.

Anonymous said...

continuing- "Doubt that? History is replete with examples that drive home my point." Then your only defense of such absurdity is that some Canadian cops tasered a guy to death? First, isn't the fact that they were using tasers rather than shooting him with guns evidence that the officers were not "panicking"? Yes these incidents happen, but to pretend it isn't extremely rare is a disservice to the truth, for every one such incident, I can give you a hundred where police stayed calm in the face of danger, acted heroically, and went to great lengths to avoid harming anyone, and just as often tried to prevent people from harming themselves.

5.)Police and military are more likely to have a recent eye test, and have good vision or the proper corrective lenses.

6.) There is indeed a significant stigma attached to a UFO sighting, so for a police officer to file such a report, it was more likely to be a significant event. police officers who report such sightings are subject to ridicule from their peers, and far less likely to be advanced by their superiors. It can be a career-ending move.

I must admit I have no idea who you are, but you seem well-credentialed, although being Canada's leading Ufologist may be akin to being the best cliff-diver in Kansas. I have to wonder when you say things like "But, since you mention pilots, let me add that I don't think they're any better or worse at observing what might be viewed as anomalous phenomena than anyone else... particularly if they're trying to focus on flying a plane at the time." Pilots are far better at identifying conventional aircraft in the night sky than the average citizen,, or a satellite, or the planet Venus, or the northern lights, or a meteorite, which make up for many UFO reports. Saying they're too busy flying the plane to determine what's in the sky in front of them is ridiculous, being aware of everything in the sky around them is a major part of flying a plane. It's like saying a motorist wouldn't notice a flashing ambulance on the road up ahead because he was too busy driving.

Hey, I can't blame you for throwing out the idea on your blog, it's something to talk about anyway, but police and military UFO witnesses are likely more reliable witnesses than the average citizen. the question should be if they are only slightly more reliable, or significantly so.

Anyway, I'm going to read more of what you have to say, you appear to be on the right side of the major issue, aliens are here. there are three types of people; those who do not believe aliens are here on Earth, those that do believe aliens are here on Earth, and those that KNOW that aliens are here. I, through no fault of my own, am in the third category. I was first made aware of the reality that aliens are on Earth interacting with American citizens in 1968, I have carried and shared that knowledge for a long time now, and have encountered a broad range of reactions, the most often being angry disbelief. I get tired of arguing with those who think their opinion, borne of speculation and case study, is in any way as valid as first hand experiences. It is often difficult for me to hear intelligent, learned men convince themselves that aliens are not here, or dither and dicker over how many witnesses it takes for a UFO to actually be an alien ship. I can tell you how many witnesses it takes for aliens to be here. Zero.

Sorry to go on so long. I'd be happy to discuss this further, I'm always willing to share what I know with anyone. Be well. I'm sure you will get the last word in, which is a dick move, but, ah well, it's your blog.

Paul Kimball said...

Christopher / Anonymous:

Your second-to-last paragraph tells me all that I need to know - your objectivity is compromised, because you admit to being a "believer" in alien visitation... or would "knower" be more apropos.

In which case, we have little to say to one another. Fortunately for you, there are plenty of "ufologists" (a made up term to make people feel important) who would love to chat with / exploit you. Good luck.


Christopher said...

I knew I could count on you for a dick move, getting the last word and using it in a pathetic attack on my credibility, rather than the issue at hand. Just verbal evasion, sleight-of-hand. As I said, you're good with words, and that usually is enough to win an argument for you, and it's clear all you want is to win, not to be correct.

But your words reveal a certain mindset that many might find disturbing. You seem to state that only those people who are uncertain that aliens/E.T.s are here are discussing the issue objectively. That the only valid viewpoint one can have is to not know if aliens are real. That's a severely flawed condition you're trying to impose on the discussion, that it can only be a 'debate'on the existence of aliens. No Knowing Allowed. Almost as if you think there is no "yes" or "no", only eternal debate, as if it were an agument over Picasso or Matisse, or some intangible philosophical point. Eternal speculation and endless pissing contests.

Your words, "your objectivity is compromised, because you admit to being a "believer" in alien visitation.". First, I resent the quotation marks around the word "believer". If you're calling someone a believer of something, you simply use the word believer. That improper use of quotation marks is used to belittle, or ridicule, we all see that you used it to stigmatize people who are convinced aliens are here into "believers". Yes, you're quite the "journalist", and you're so clearly "objective".

Second, I'm not a believer, save your 'beliefs' for Santa, Jesus, or the Easter bunny. I don't 'believe in alien visitation", I encountered aliens directly first in 1968. Direct interaction with aliens and their technology. If you feel the need to pretend I haven't had led the life I have,well, you're free to imagine any scenario you want. Anything you can invent to dismiss my experiences, your goal being to keep your belief system intact. Over the years, I have been in newspapers and on television, including CBS news, and CNN with evidence that supports me. Guess I'll have to get on Canadian tv, eh?

Paul Kimball said...

I can only assume you haven't gotten any publicity for your charm, or grace.

Frankly, I have no idea who you are, and I haven't seen you present a scintilla of proof for any of your claims.

Until you can do so, you should probably troll along elsewhere.

Joe McGonagle said...

So what did the super-duper skilled military observer pilots do wrong in this case:

Maybe they were high, or drunk? They couldn't possibly be mistaken at least Tim Good and Nick Pope seem to think so.

Of course they could be part of the military-industrial-complex Sino-Soviet-NATO Scientific, military, and political cover-up that no-one can prove but everyone (and their dog) knows exists.