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When you become a police officer, you're
going to have to be careful about falling
into a psychology of downgrading crime
which has become prevalent in many
police departments across the country.

In 1966, a fellow named Donald D.
Pomerleau became the Police
Commissioner for Baltimore City,
Maryland.  The Baltimore Police
Department was about to be
transformed into a modern police
department utilizing modern equipment
and methods.  One of the methods
would be a sophisticated crime reporting
system.  Pomerleau made it very clear
that Baltimore was about to experience a
dramatic increase in crime; not because
there would be an actual increase of
crime, but simply because crime would
now be accurately reported.
To be fair to the Police Chiefs of today,
Pomerleau enjoyed a unique position in
the political scheme of things.  Pomerleau
was appointed by the Governor of
Maryland instead of the Mayor of
Baltimore, an appointment arrangement
which existed from the American Civil
War until the late 1970's.  During
Pomerleau's administration, he was
generally scorned by Baltimore's
politicians, because he was insulated from
their influence.  However, that insulation
provided Pomerleau the ability to create
and maintain an incredibly efficient police
department, and a second to none crime
reporting system.
Not surprisingly, police officers generally
don't appreciate the absolute importance
of administrative functions that support
their operational missions.  When I
became a police officer, everybody
complained about having to write too
many reports.  When it came to incidents
classified as Part I offenses under UCR, a
Baltimore police officer had to write a
report even when no victim(s), witness
(es), or other evidence could be found to
support the reported incident to explain
that circumstance(s).  The purpose of
writing those reports was simply a
constant reminder to every police officer
that the integrity of the department's
reporting system was important.  For
example, if you improperly downgraded a
Part I incident when, in fact, information
or evidence supported the Part I
classification... shame on you if you were
caught lying on that report.

There are plenty of important
administrative functions within a police
department, but I can't think of any that
are more important than a department's
crime reporting system.  When you
become a police officer, you must prepare
yourself for the possibility of
encountering some pretty strange
interpretations of UCR.  

Imagine yourself as a new police officer
sitting at roll call during your first week
out of the academy.  Your shift
commander is conducting the roll call,
and he's addressing the reporting of
aggravated assaults [a Part I offense
under UCR].  The lieutenant identifies a
specific incident of assault; wherein, a
person is stabbed during the assault.  
The shift commander instructs his shift
to classify a stabbing, when the injury is
not life threatening, as a common assault
[a Part II offense under UCR, and one
that no one really cares about].  

Even though you're brand new, you've
been reading the UCR, and you
immediately recognize that the lieutenant
is wrong.  What do you do?  Do you
follow your lieutenant's instruction when
you handle a stabbing incident, or do you
properly classify the incident as an
aggravated assault?  After all, your
department purports to adhere to the
UCR.  If you join a police department that
has a high quality reporting system in
place, you wouldn't receive such flawed
instruction.  Even if you did get such
direction, and you followed it, your report
would eventually be returned to you for
correction.

But, let's look at the other officers on
your shift.  How many of the officers do
you think would follow this shift
commander's direction to improperly
downgrade the aggravated assault to
common assault?  Or, what about the
sergeants?  The sergeants will be
reviewing such reports.  Are the
sergeants in agreement with the
lieutenant?  If you were to find yourself in
such a situation where your shift
commander would so publicly give such a
direction, you could well be the only
police officer in the room having a
problem with the direction.

Here's an even more important question.  
Why is the lieutenant applying his own
criteria, which is so clearly wrong,  into
UCR?  Is the lieutenant stupid?  Does
this lieutenant give questionable direction
on other matters?  The most probable
explanation is that the lieutenant knows
exactly what he's doing.  The really scary
thing about this scenario is that the
lieutenant wouldn't be telling you to
downgrade stabbing incidents; unless, he
feels confident that there'll be no
objections from commanders farther up
the chain of command.

It's all about looking good.  UCR Part I
crime classification is the measure by
which police departments measure their
success in reducing crime.  It's also a
measure of success for commanders and
supervisors operating in their own little
corner of the universe.  Whenever a
police chief demands crime reduction
without creating, implementing,
maintaining, and demanding a crime
reporting system with
real quality control
features –  police officers, supervisors,
and commanders will define the UCR any
way they want.  This is the psychology of
downgrading crime.
I landed on the scene in 1971.  Looking
back, I can appreciate the amazing
progress Pomerleau had achieved in
those few years between 1966 and
1971.  Did I mention that Pomerleau was
a retired Marine?  Anyway, I couldn't
believe how everything was so tightly
controlled.  When you're young, as I
was, you believe that you're a lot smarter
than you are.  It's just a natural
phenomenon of youth to make one
overestimate one's intelligence and one's
ability to be clever.  In Pomerleau's world,
those excesses were not good things.  In
fact, acting from those excesses ended
many police careers in the Baltimore
Police Department.

When it came to reporting crime, the
FBI's UCR (Uniform Crime Reporting) was
the department's
Bible for crime
reporting.  Every incident report went
through a Staff Review Process.  The
Staff Review Section was comprised of
sworn and civilian personnel whose only
purpose for being was to make certain
that the department's reporting system
maintained strict adherence to the UCR.  
The men and women of Staff Review
were really good at their jobs, and the
smartest and the cleverest couldn't get
anything by them.  They made it easy for
police officers as well.  If an officer in the
field came upon something that seemed a
little complicated, Staff Review was a
24/7 operation, and it was only a phone
call away.

Pomerleau had a really bad attitude
toward those who didn't take integrity
seriously.  He had a zero tolerance level
when it came to police officers who
submitted false reports in any form
including crime reports where police
officers would knowingly and purposely
downgrade a crime report by overtly lying
or lying by omission.  When a police
officer was found guilty in an
administrative hearing of submitting a
false report, the punishment was
universal and unyielding... the officer was
FIRED!
Psychology of
Downgrading Crime
Pomerleau's reasoning, regarding false
reports, was pretty simple.  He equated
an administrative conviction for false
report with a criminal conviction for
perjury.  With the latter, a person
convicted of perjury cannot testify as a
witness in a criminal proceeding... that's
why you'll see precious few prosecutions
for perjury.  While a police officer can
testify in court with an administrative
conviction for false report lurking in his or
her personnel file, the defense attorney
who learns of the conviction will make
that officer's testimony totally useless.

It turns out that Pomerleau's reasoning
was pretty sound.  As of 2008, the
Baltimore State's Attorney's Office
maintains a list of over 100 active police
officers.  It's called the "Do Not Call
List."  This infamous list contains the
names of police officers administratively
convicted for false reports or where
prosecutors have determined, by other
means, that an officer(s) is not credible.  
In cases where an officer on the list is the
primary, or only, witness for the State,
the case is dropped, and all charges
against the defendant dismissed.

Donald Pomerleau left the Baltimore Police
Department in 1981.  The stability of the
department for the following ten years
was a tribute to Pomerleau's tenure.  
Succeeding police commissioners were
appointed from a cadre left behind by the
long serving police commissioner.  The
operational and administrative functions
of the department didn't change very
much; however, the politicians were quick
to take advantage of Pomerleau's
departure, and the return of the
appointment process for the police
commissioner to the Mayor and City
Council of Baltimore.  Changes that
occurred during those ten years were not
progressive; however, the most
important functions remained pretty well
intact, and the Staff Review Section was
still operating efficiently.

After 1991, the Baltimore Police
Department caught the
Change Virus
along with everyone else, and it began
it's operational and administrative decline.

Here's what you have to remember when
you become a police officer.  No matter
how smart you think you are, you're
going to have a lot to learn.  If you join a
police department that is operating at
top efficiency, your continuing education
will be structured, and you'll come to
understand and appreciate the
importance of every organizational
component.  However, the quality of your
education will depend upon the quality of
every one of the organizational
components.
If you join a police department that
is operating at top efficiency, your
continuing education will be
structured, and you'll come to
understand and appreciate the
importance of every organizational
component.
~ Barry M. Baker
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Copyright © 2017  Barry M. Baker  
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