WC’s Mentors: Freddie the Cop

Prof. Fred Inbau, left, receiving an award from Illinois Governor Ogilvie

Prof. Fred Inbau, left, receiving an award from Illinois Governor Richard Ogilvie (1971)

Sometimes a person serves as an anti-mentor, a horrible example that operates as a life lesson. In that sense, Freddie the Cop was WC’s mentor in criminal law and procedure at Northwestern University School of Law. The photo of Freddie the Cop getting an award from Governor Richard Oglvie is a life lesson all by itself.1

Freddie the Cop was Professor Fred E. Inbau, a professor of criminal law at Northwestern University School of Law for half a century. He reveled in his role as the “cop’s lawyer,” the attorney who defended, supported and advocated for the police. He was a highly skilled, if ethically suspect, interrogator, and obtained or coerced, depending on who you were talking to, hundreds of confessions, some in very high profile cases. He wrote the book on police interrogation techniques, Criminal Interrogation and Confessions, which emphasized psychologically coercive police interrogation techniques. In its day, the book was an improvement over existing cop interrogation procedures; as Inbau said in an interview:

Moreover, in those days too it was commonplace to beat a confession out of suspects. Why use a polygraph? Beat the hell out of him. If he tells the truth, he’s guilty; if he doesn’t, he’s innocent.

Inbau was a reformer, for a given definition of that word. He substituted psychological coercion for physical coercion in police interrogatiopns. He knew the polygraph was unreliable as a truth-measuring tool, but he recognized the psychologically coercive power it could have in interrogations. It was his innovations – his successes, really – that prompted the U.S. Supreme Court in Miranda v. Arizona to decide that a suspect had the right to have an attorney present during police interrogations. Inbau was outraged at the result in Miranda, but flattered that the U.S. Supreme Court cited his techniques at length, as examples of why the Sixth Amendment right to counsel applied from the moment a suspect became a suspect.

Inbau was a sexist and misogyinist at a time when more women were enrolling in law school in considerable numbers. Some of the cases he selected for his textbook seemed intended to embarrass and humiliate women law students. He was incapable of seeing beyond the police perspective when it came to the rights of the accused. To him, it was self-evident that the suspects were guilty and it was just a matter of getting them to admit it. Coerced false confessions troubled him not at all. His attitude and the endless books he wrote and police training he performed may have been an improvement over the third degree techniques that came before him. But his thinking was locked in the 1950s. He could not change. He seemed to regard any decision giving rights to a criminal suspect as morally and legally wrong.

In his mind, all cops were the good guys. After the riots at the 1968 Democratic Convention, that was an impossible position to maintain, at least for Chicago’s finest. When his protegé, U.S. Attorney Jim Thompson, indicted the entire Chicago Avenue Precinct for solicitation and acceptance of bribes, he was briefly shaken.

But the next day, his lecture focused on how the cops had been entrapped.2 He was a cop to the bottom of his soul.

Which was why he was kind of an anti-mentor for WC, an example of how not to approach the law.


  1. Governor Ogilvie was a Republican, single term governor, whose administration suffered a series of scandals.$800,000 mysteriously appeared in his Secretary of State Paul Powell’s shoe boxes and other hiding places; the downfall of two Supreme Court justices for questionable stock dealings; corruption surrounding the Illinois State Fair. A crook in any other state but pretty much the usual kind of politician in Illinois. 
  2. All entered guilty pleas eventually. Not one case went to trial.