Detective Lieutenant Barry M. Baker (ret.) is a 32 year veteran of the Baltimore Police Department.
The unfounded report should be the most easily understood report. In police departments where it’s most popular, it’s the most misunderstood. People lie. There is no question that you’ll have people lying to you about something day in and day out. Even before you become a police officer, you know that suspects will lie to you. After you become a police officer you’ll learn that some victims will also lie to you.
Victims Will Lie to Avoid Embarrassment
At about 10 pm on a Saturday night, you respond to an industrial area for a report of a street robbery. You meet a middle aged man standing beside his car on a gas station parking lot.
The victim tells you he was robbed at gunpoint by two men when he parked his car two blocks away. You know that something isn’t quite right when he’s hesitant to show you exactly where he was parked.
The victim finally takes you to the crime scene which is very secluded. You become more suspicious, because the victim cannot give you a reasonable explanation why he parked in a secluded location. He finally tells you that he chose the location, because he had to urinate.
You really put him on the spot when you insist he show you exactly where he urinated. He finally points out the spot, and you go to work with your flashlight. Of course, you’re not going to find a wet spot, because the victim is lying to you.
One Lie Does Not Automatically Make an Unfounded Report
In this example the victim was robbed, but some police officers would determine that one lie makes everything a lie. This real robbery would go down as an unfounded report of robbery.
You’re a real police officer, and you take your job seriously. You really start to question this guy. You’re not shy about pointing out your doubts, and it doesn’t take long to break this victim down.
The victim finally admits he picked up a prostitute, or a woman he believed to be a prostitute. The woman directed the victim to the spot where he parked his car. As soon as he parked, there was one of two men at his window pointing a gun at him. As the gunman demanded the money, the woman got out of the car and walked away unobstructed by the robbers.
Think about how your continued investigative efforts have changed everything. Instead of a generic two thug robbery incident, you’ve now uncovered a more sophisticated operation.
This incident could go one of two ways. Another police officer may have made an unfounded report, or another may have taken the report without the additional and critical female suspect information. The worst choice would be the unfounded report.
A Lot of Real Crimes Can Go Unreported
The way you use the unfounded report will depend on how seriously your police department views accurate crime reporting. It all goes to the UCR suppression of Part One crimes. Where the unfounded report receives little scrutiny, a lot of crimes that should be reported will go unreported.
You might be required to write a report every time you receive a call for a Part One crime. For example, you arrive at the location given, and you’re unable to locate a complainant. The narrative of that report could simply state, “unable to locate a complainant.”
Here’s the point. If you can’t locate that complainant, you’ve submitted a truthful report. If, on the other hand, you do locate the victim, but you decide the victim is giving a false report, and you write, “Unable to locate a complainant,” then, you’re making a false report.
The Cost can be high for a False Unfounded Report
A Baltimore police officer responded to a call for a street robbery. During the questioning of the victim, the victim became upset with the officer’s questions. The interview deteriorated; until, the victim finally said, “Forget it… I’ll take care of it myself!”
The officer was required to submit a report, and he did, but in the narrative he wrote, “Unable to locate a complainant.”
Well, the victim did take care of it himself. He contacted the police department’s Internal Affairs Division, and he made a complaint against the officer. The complaint regarding the officer’s attitude was no big deal, but the false report was a big deal. The officer was tried in an administrative hearing for the false report, found guilty, and FIRED!
Must be Explained
And no, you can’t simply write, “unfounded.” When you make a reported incident unfounded, you’ve got to be able to prove that it’s unfounded. The easiest way to prove an incident unfounded is when the complainant admits to you that the crime he or she reported, in fact, never happened. When you become certain a complainant is fabricating an incident of crime, your skill as an interviewer will get the truth out of that complainant better than 90% of the time.
Police officers love the word, “inconsistencies.” A few inconsistencies in a complainant’s statements to you do not alone make an unfounded report. When those inconsistencies become so many and critical that they convince you the complainant is making a false report, you’ve established probable cause to charge the complainant criminally for filing a false police report. There are a few people out there who won’t come clean no matter how many holes you punch through their stories.
Some People Will Never Admit the Truth
The best way to criminally charge a complainant is to first write the crime incident report stating the details of the suspected fabricated incident as described by the complainant. You then list all the inconsistencies establishing your probable cause to charge the complainant. While you could arrest the complainant, I wouldn’t recommend that course.
You should obtain a criminal summons or an arrest warrant from a magistrate or court commissioner. The truth is, most courts don’t take the crime of making false reports to police officers that seriously. You’ll learn that the court will almost always issue a criminal summons over an arrest warrant.
You ask, “If courts don’t take the crime seriously, why should I go to all the trouble of charging the complainant?” If you don’t charge the complainant, how can you prove the crime reported never happened?
Proper Use of the Unfounded Report is Just a Matter of Integrity and Accountability
In a police department that maintains its reporting system at a high level of integrity, you won’t have any problems knowing exactly what’s expected from you. If you join a police department that maintains a poor system of reporting accountability, you’ll have to educate yourself on how to do things right.
Remember, every time you make a crime unfounded which really isn’t, you’re corrupting the only real measure for a police department to analyze and effectively fight crime.
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