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You may think that in today's
technological world, everything you'll
need will be on a computer.  It's true that
a lot of the information you'll need for
court will be on a computer database.  
Just remember that most important data
based information usually ends up on
paper.  When it comes to court
proceedings, everything is on paper and
readily available for presentation.  Some
police officers believe it's the prosecutor's
responsiblility to acquire documents
relating to a prosecution.  In a sense
that's true; however, it's you from whom
they normally acquire all the necessary
documentation.  In nearly every case you
present for prosecution, it will be your
responsibility to produce all the relevant
documentation along with any physical
evidence.

Let's say you're prosecuting a person for
drunk driving, and the person is
convicted.  At this point, the prosecutor
is going to submit the certified copy of
the defendant's driving record to the
judge showing that the defendant has
two previous convictions for drunk
driving.  But...guess what?  You
neglected to obtain that certified driving
record for your case folder.  You might
ask, "What's the big deal, doesn't the
judge have a computer right in front of
him or her with access to your state's
Department of Motor Vehicles?"  In all
probability, the judge will have that
access, but that's not how things work.

It's not like TV.  If you work in a busy
environment, you won't meet very often
with a prosecutor prior to trial; unless,
you're going to trial with a significant
case.  Most of your cases will go to trial
with only a few minutes of discussion
with the prosecutor immediately prior to
trial.  While the prosecutor will be familiar
with the facts contained within your
statement of probable cause, it's unlikely
the prosecutor will have any additional
information or documentation.
I arrested a young man for a pile of
traffic violations after one very high chain
link fence finally ended his attempts to
elude me.  The defendant failed to appear
for court, and a warrant was issued for
his arrest.  The defendant was
arrested...eight years later.

His next court appearance was ensured
by his no bail status, but, on the day of
trial, the prosecutor had some bad
news.  She explained to me that due to
moves and lost records, she had no
statement of probable cause or any
copies of the citations which would
necessitate dismissal of the charges.  I
replied, "That's not a problem" as I
opened my manila folder which contained
my copy of the statement of probable
cause; my copies of the traffic citations,
and a brand new, crisp copy of the
defendant's driving record.  
I was patrolling my post one summer
afternoon when a woman ran up to my
car.  She pointed out a 15 year boy who
she'd witnessed burglarizing her home.  
After I latched onto the juvenile, the
woman explained that she'd reported the
burglary to police within the past hour
from her residence which was only a few
blocks away.  Her home was just across
the police district boundary line, so I
contacted my dispatcher to ask the
officer who took the report to meet me.  
Moments later, the dispatcher replied
that he was unable to reach the officer.  
The dispatcher further told me that the
burglary call to the woman's residence
had been coded as "unfounded."

Oh well...I sent my arrest to the station,
and I went about re-investigating the
entire burglary incident.  I subsequently
went to the station to complete the
juvenile custody report and the burglary
offense report.  While in the station, I
received a telephone call from the officer
who'd originally responded to the
burglary call.  No sooner than the female
officer identified herself, a male voice
came on the line.  He identified himself as
the officer's sergeant just before he
rudely began accusing me of trying to
"dump" a call on his officer.  When I
informed the sergeant that his officer had
submitted a false report by "blowing off"
a legitimate burglary, things really went
south.  When the sergeant accused me
of insubordination, I replied, "Charge
me," and I hung up on the fool.

I heard nothing further from that
sergeant.  A month went by, and I sat in
the Criminal Court building waiting for a
short consultation with the ASA
(assistant state's attorney) regarding my
juvenile burglary defendant.  The juvenile
ASAs routinely obtained copies of offense
reports from the police department's
central records division since the juvenile
custody report was not as detailed as a
statement of probable cause.  As I waited
for the ASA, I noticed a young, female
officer sitting across the room who
actually looked frightened.

When the ASA came into the room, she
informed me that no reporting was on file
with the police department. Again, there
was not a problem.  I opened by case
folder and handed her  copies of all the
reports.  The ASA was relieved as she
left the room to make copies for herself,
and the defense counsel.  The female
officer immediately moved across the
room and took a seat next to me.  The
officer looked at my name tag, obviously
to verify who she thought I was, before
stating, "Officer Baker, I am really, really
sorry."

Here's where things really became
interesting.  The officer explained to me
how Sergeant Butt Head would not allow
her to answer the dispatcher when I
requested that she meet me on that day
I made the arrest of the burglary
suspect.  She described how her
sergeant had instructed her to make the
call unfounded; even though, it was clear
the call was legitimate.  The bombshell
came when she described how, several
days later, the sergeant had her
accompany him to the central records
division where he located my original
reporting after the reports had been
reviewed and placed into file.  What he
did next was criminal, and on par for a
man of his obvious incompetence...he
stole and destroyed the reports.  When
the officer pointed out the obvious
consequences of removing the reports,
the sergeant replied, "It's on him."

Sergeant Butt Head mistakenly assumed
that I'd sometime, probably the day prior
to trial as he would, order copies of the
reports.  He never considered that I'd
make copies prior to submitting the
reports.  Surprisingly, I wasn't upset.  
While I didn't personally know the
sergeant, I knew of him, because his
reputation for incompetence preceded
him.  I really felt sorry for this female
officer.  She described how the sergeant
responded on all her calls, placed her into
his leave group schedule so they'd always
be working together, and continually ask
her to date.  She was even worried that
he might be searching the courthouse for
her as we spoke.

Had I been a supervisor at that time,
there would have been no peace for
Sergeant Butt Head aka Sergeant
Stalker.  However, I was still a patrol
officer, and I'd won the battle of words in
our telephone exchange.  Even though
the sergeant was politically connected, he
never rose above the rank of sergeant.  
When I made lieutenant, I would have
loved to have had him working for me, as
short as that relationship would have
been, but that circumstance was never to
be.
What is a Case Folder?

It's just a folder.  But...it's a folder that
holds every document, or copies of
documents, relative to your case.  If
you're a homicide detective going to trial
with a murder case, your folder will be as
thick as a telephone directory.  If you're
going to traffic court, a single manila
folder should be satisfactory.
Any time you arrest a person, you should
make a case folder.  As in the example,
the prosecutor assumed that my copies
of the traffic citations remained in my
ticket book which, after eight years,
would be long gone.  From her
experience, she simply didn't expect a
police officer to retain documentation for
such a long period of time.  However, it's
an easy thing to do when you put
everything of importance into a folder
and file it away.

What do you put into your Case Folder?

You put everything into your case folder.  
By everything, I mean everything that
can be put on paper.  In the case of
physical evidence, you'll have
documentation describing evidence that
you've submitted.  You'll have return
forms such as laboratory forensic
analysis.  Before you submit a photo
lineup to your evidence control unit,
make a copy and put it in your case
folder.  Copy anything and everything so
that you'll have a copy of every
document relative to your case.

Don't let things pile up!

Look...there are three types of new police
officers:  Those who are in for the long
haul; those who think they're on a
mission to save the world, and those
who think they're doing everyone a favor
by just showing up.  The second group
won't have the time to attend to
administrative things like maintaining case
folders, and the third group won't be
able to work up the energy to keep case
folders even for their minimal work
product.  Since you're obviously in the
first group, you should already know that
any kind of record keeping needs to be
timely and ongoing.  Just get into the
habit of making and maintaining those
folders.

Sometimes...thing go missing.

As a new police officer, you're going to
want to believe that you're working with
a good bunch of people.  By and large,
you will be; however, there may come a
time when some "butt head" slips
through the cracks, and he'll try to
obstruct you.
You'll find me frequently stressing the
importance of documentation.  I stress it
because it's so important for so many
reasons.  Maintaining up to date case
folders is just one aspect of your
administrative functions.  You'll see a lot
of police officers who don't take
documentation that seriously, and you'll
see more than a few who wish they had.
From your very first day on the job,
you'll be collecting information.  How you
manage the information you collect will
have a great deal to do with the level of
success you achieve.

If you're a conscientious police officer,
you'll be spending a lot of time in court.  
At this point, you can't possibly estimate
just how much documentation you'll be
accumulating for presentation to  
prosecutors prior to your court
appearances.  Obviously, each case will  
be unique.  While some cases will require
minimal documentation beyond a
statement of probable cause, others will
require extensive supporting documents.
Case
Folders
"You'll see a lot of police officers who
don't take documentation that
seriously, and you'll see more than a
few who wish they had."
~ Barry M. Baker
Copyright © 2016  Barry M. Baker  
CareerPoliceOfficer.com
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