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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 © 2018  Barry M. Baker  
CareerPoliceOfficer.com
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