Detective Lieutenant Barry M. Baker (ret.) is a 32 year veteran of the Baltimore Police Department.
The miscellaneous incident report – MI – can be used to document any incident that is not designated under other reporting criteria. The importance of the MI cannot be overstated, because the miscellaneous incident report affords you the means to document anything you can imagine. Police officers fail to take advantage of the MI to document questionable circumstances in incidents when reporting is not required.
Many police officers think their time is too valuable to waste on writing reports they don’t have to write. You must guard against falling into this mindset, because documenting the facts of any incident will never be a waste of your time.
Miscellaneous Incident Report - Maintaining Integrity
Your department will designate incidents which will always require written reports. A department might require a written report for every report of a robbery even if no victim can be found. Another department may require only a code submitted orally to your dispatcher under the same unfounded circumstance.
In the first instance, you submit a miscellaneous incident report for the unfounded robbery. The purpose of the written report is simply to maintain the integrity of the department’s reporting system. It’s harder to ignore an incident when you’re required to submit a report giving reasons why the call is unfounded.
When coding calls no details are required, so an officer need not overtly lie, or lie by omission. In either case, whether your report is written or coded, a lie is still a lie.
Miscellaneous Incident Report - Preserving Credibility
The miscellaneous incident report can be used as a quality control feature. You’re going to handle incidents on a regular basis where written reporting will not be required. You’ll encounter incidents either by assignment, or you’ll come upon them during your routine patrol activities.
The credibility of police officers is attacked all the time. You’ll enjoy some credibility by virtue of your position as a police officer, but that credibility is minimal and vulnerable. It will always be your responsibility to establish, maintain, and protect your credibility.
There aren’t many things worse than explaining your actions after the fact. An incident that seemed like nothing in the beginning can turn major, and the end results can be catastrophic.
Whenever you find yourself explaining your actions without the benefit of previously submitted documentation, your credibility may be attacked relentlessly. The level of the attack will depend on the severity of the incident’s outcome, and the political, social, or financial status of parties involved.
Your take can determine the extent of media coverage of an incident. Unlike police officers in the past, you’re exposed to the added burden of social media. Media rarely get things right in the beginning if at all. It’s no exaggeration to say that a miscellaneous incident report can prevent sensational media speculation.
Miscellaneous Incident Report - Serving Skepticism
You’ll never become a mind reader, but you will develop a healthy amount of skepticism. That skepticism will help you identify circumstances where the pieces don’t fit together in a logical pattern. You’ll rarely deal with people who think or act logically. Whenever you cannot logically place all the pieces, you should continue trying and exhausting all reasonable efforts.
There will be occasions when your efforts cannot produce a resolution to your personal satisfaction, but you’ll have the miscellaneous incident report. The MI can be a shield in case something unforeseen occurs that could expose you to criticism. If the unforeseen develops, your reporting before the fact will preempt inevitable questions and enhance your credibility.
This Could Happen to You
Let’s look at an example where your submission of a miscellaneous incident report, when not required, would definitely be to your benefit:
In some cases, your communications division will be able to identify the location from which a 911 emergency call is made.
You’re midway through your 4 x 12 shift when you’re assigned to investigate a 911 hang up call from a residence. The caller hung up before having any conversation with the 911 operator.
You knock on the front door of the residence, and a middle aged woman answers the door. The woman’s physical appearance is normal, but you immediately sense a level of emotional agitation. You state the reason for your response, and the woman denies making the call. You establish that the woman is the only person inside the home, but she continues to deny making the call.
Your Best Efforts are Futile
You diplomatically explain why you believe she made the call, and the level of her agitation grows. She’s upset, because she’s caught in a lie. Your gentle pressure finally wins out when she admits she did make the call. She seems more relieved as you begin to question her, but she insists she simply made a mistake.
As much as you try, she will not tell you the reason for her call to 911. When you offer to inspect the inside of her home, she smiles and states, “That won’t be necessary officer. There’s no one else here.” The tone of her response is calm and appreciative indicating to you that she is being truthful.
You Remain Skeptical
You’ve handled 911 hang up calls where everything was resolved to your satisfaction, but this one is different. You give the woman your business card, and you write your cell phone number on the back. You tell her you have four hours left on your shift. If she decides she does need police assistance, she can contact you directly.
You return to your car, and you prepare to clear the call. All you need to do is submit a code indicating that no police service was needed. You’re still not satisfied, so you decide to do some checking. You find no previous calls for police service data based for either the residence or under the woman’s name.
There is no reason why you should submit a written report for this incident. You did everything you could to resolve the call, and you gave it more effort than others would have. Even though there’s no requirement for a report, you decide to document the details on a miscellaneous incident report. You return to service, and you end your shift without any contact from the woman.
The next day you report for work, and you see three television news vans parked outside the station. They have their microwave antennas raised, and the crews are scurrying around preparing for their six-o’clock newscast. You’re barely out of your car when you’re greeted by your sergeant. You’re to immediately respond with him to the district commander’s office. The sergeant can’t tell you the reason you’re wanted since he was not given any explanation for the meeting.
You enter the office which you remember as being rather large. Today, the office seems much smaller, because there are so many people seated inside. There’s only one chair unoccupied, and your district commander politely tells you to be seated. Your sergeant, with no seating available, steps back and stands near the door. He’s probably preparing for a quick getaway.
The introductions are brief. Your district commander, his commander, two homicide detectives, two detectives from the Internal Affairs Unit, and a lawyer from the Legal Affairs Unit are in attendance.
Intimidation is Intentional
You feel intimidated, but intimidation is the primary purpose of this scenario. You can be certain of one thing, something big is up. Another certainty is that your welfare is not on this group’s list of priorities. Your mind is racing, and you’re trying to think of something you did, or didn’t do, that would create this uncomfortable situation.
Your anxiety begins to drain away as one of the homicide detectives begins his questioning. All the questions are directed at your handling of that 911 hang up call you. You soon realize none of these people are aware that you submitted a miscellaneous incident report. As the detective asks question number four, you respond by asking, “Have you read the report I submitted?”
The expressions on the faces around you are priceless. After a few seconds of shock and silence, the whispering and seat squirming begins. The district commander and his boss turn their heads away for a brief whispered conversation. The district commander then turns and says to you, “You’re excused Officer. I’ll get back with you later.”
You learn that the lady from the night before is missing, and evidence has been developed to indicate she may be a victim of foul play. You also learn that the woman has friends in high places. Further, investigators don’t yet have a worthwhile clue in solving what is so far a complete mystery.
When Something Minor Turns Major
When something minor turns into something major, your involvement in the minor stage becomes a point of extreme interest. If you do everything you’re supposed to do at the minor stage, that should keep you out of trouble. When things turn sour due to any reason, your credibility becomes paramount.
Some members of the group probably speculated that you didn’t even respond to the 911 hang up call. If you’d been given the benefit of any doubt, that meeting would have never taken place.
The example shows you what can happen when the pressure is on, and there’s nothing new from an investigation. You might wonder why no one in the group was aware that you’d written a miscellaneous incident report. Since the incident didn’t require you to write a report, none of them were looking for a report.
Your miscellaneous incident report provided no knew evidence to aid the investigation, but it did solidify your credibility. It verified, without any doubt, your efforts on the previous evening. You’ll probably never hear another word about the incident from anyone. Instead of having your head, your bosses will spin your competent actions as a positive aspect of the investigation.
The Miscellaneous Incident Report is Your Friend
You’re not going to write a report for everything, but the Miscellaneous Incident Report is always available. You write the MI when you feel that a report would be appropriate to protect and enhance your credibility. In those instances when it’s your choice to document your actions, it will always be a judgement call. As your experience grows, you’ll become more aware when to utilize the miscellaneous incident report for your own benefit.
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