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
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
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!
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
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
|Copyright © 2019 Barry M. Baker