Detective Lieutenant Barry M. Baker (ret.) is a 32 year veteran of the Baltimore Police Department.
The importance of crime reports is crucial. There are police officers who will expend more energy in avoiding reports than writing them. In a police department where real quality control features exist to maintain a high level of integrity in its reporting system, a report like that described in the scenario below could come into question somewhere along the chain.
There are police departments where police officers play fast and loose with facts and circumstances in reporting crime. It’s likely that the leadership of those departments haven’t yet realized the absolute importance of crime reports.
You’re going to be working with a multitude of personalities just as you would in any other profession. Most police officers will have integrity and a willingness to learn and do things as they should be done. When it comes to writing reports, some just never get the importance of crime reports.
Importance of Crime Reports a Top Priority
Every police department will insist that accurate crime reporting is a top priority. When a department is embarrassed by an incident that exposes a flawed crime reporting system, the department’s leadership will always come up with the same excuse. They’ll say the incident resulted from an [isolated] procedural breakdown. An individual police officer and first line supervision will take the blame.
It’s a pretty safe excuse since those are the two primary elements which must fail to produce the breakdown. The real question that should be asked is how many undetected procedural breakdowns occur with regularity?
Despite what others may do, it will always be your individual responsibility to appreciate the importance of crime reports and accurately report crime. As you prepare for your career as a police officer please keep this in mind. Every type of report you write will be important, but reports of crime take on even added importance. The phrase, “If you don’t write it, it didn’t happen,” isn’t just a clever comment; it’s the absolute truth.
Put Yourself in this Scenario
You’re a young man on a date with your girlfriend. You had a nice dinner, before you go to a nightclub where both of you enjoy the music and dancing. You’re driving, so you keep your consumption of alcohol to a minimum. For the purpose of this scenario, we’ll stipulate that your blood alcohol content is well below the legal level for impairment.
You and your date leave the club and walk to your car. Your car is in a parking lot a couple of blocks from the club. Both of you are talking and laughing, so you don’t notice that two men are following you onto the parking lot.
Suddenly, you’re grabbed from behind and slammed against a parked car. You hear your girlfriend scream. As you recover your footing, you turn to face two robbers. The suspect who initially pushed you puts his hand against your chest. He warns you to cooperate or see your girlfriend “get a cap in her head.”
You quickly focus on the second suspect who’s standing behind your girlfriend. He has an arm around her neck as he’s pressing the barrel of a handgun against the side of her head. You quickly comply with the first suspect’s demand to hand over your money. After the suspect has your wallet, cash, and cell phone, both suspects run from the lot and out of sight.
What Just Happened?
Two Part One crimes under UCR have just been committed. You’re the victim of an armed robbery since a gun was the weapon displayed, and property was taken from you. Your girlfriend is the victim of an Aggravated Assault since a gun was held to her head. No property was taken from her, and no demand for property was made to her. One would think this incident would exemplify the importance of crime reports.
Okay, you head back to the club where you call police. Two police officers respond. While one of the officers speaks with you, the second officer interviews your girlfriend. The officers seem more interested in your consumption of alcohol than the details of the robbery. Never the less, you get through the interview, and the first officer gives you a police report reference number, and the officers leave.
At this point, you’re in a terrible mood. You’ve just been robbed as well as humiliated, and two police officers made things worse by showing little interest in your traumatic experience. The only good thing is you still have your car keys. Before the officers departed, you asked about driving home without your driver’s license which was in your wallet. One of the officers told you to show the form with the report number to the police officer should you get stopped.
Humiliation and Expectations
As time goes by, the humiliation you suffered from the incident begins to fade. You’re not that confident that the men who robbed you will be caught, but you provided a good description of the suspects. You gave a particularly good description of the first suspect who manhandled you. You told the officers that you had no doubt you could identify him if you saw him again.
While you’re not that familiar with crime and criminals, the behavior of the suspects showed they had confidence. You knew that they’d robbed before, and they surely would rob again. You hold out hope that one day you’ll get a call from a detective telling you that police have arrested two men for committing a similar robbery. The detective would ask you to look at some mug shots… a perfectly reasonable expectation. You even put that police report number inside your new wallet for future reference, because you realize the importance of crime reports.
More Humiliation and Disappointment
Now, if you thought you felt bad the night of the robbery, you’d really feel humiliated and enraged if you knew what was actually contained in the report that number represents. In this scenario, you didn’t get a penny’s worth of the billions of dollars poured into law enforcement annually. Law enforcement suffered one more setback for the importance of crime reports and the accurate tracking and investigation of crimes.
The incident title of your report is “Unfounded Robbery.” The first sentence of the report states, “No robbery occurred at (address).” This statement is in fact true since the original address given to the officers was the address of the nightclub.
The best parts come in the narrative where the officer describes the “complainant,” as being “intoxicated.” He describes your statements as being “inconsistent.” Of course, the report contains no description of the level of your intoxication or examples of your inconsistent statements.
The officer ends the report by advising you to “re-contact police when the effects of alcohol have worn off.” Of course, there’s no mention of him allowing you to drive home in your [intoxicated] condition.
So Much for the Importance of Crime Reports
As far as the police department is concerned, the crime committed against you and your girlfriend was never committed. There exists no possibility of a detective contacting you in the future to identify a suspect or suspects since no armed robbery report exists. The crime committed will never become part of any system to track crime trends or provide any investigative assistance relative to similar crimes. The importance of crime reports cannot be overestimated.
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