When people lie to you, or they make false reports about anything, it's not normally a big deal. However, when you, a
police officer, make a false report about anything, it is a very big deal.
When you become a police officer, you'll experience frustration when you realize that few things will be totally under your
control. However, there is one thing that is totally under your control, and the only way you can lose that control is if you
relinquish it through dishonesty, incompetence, stupidity, or indifference. Your credibility is yours to cherish and preserve,
or it's yours to lose...there is no middle ground.
When you prepare a report, and you put your name to it, you're stating that the contents of that report are true and
accurate to the best of your knowledge. It doesn't matter if the subject of your report is a minor incident or one of more
importance. Truth and accuracy are not applied on a sliding scale. They are applicable to everything all of the time.
If you join a police department where supervisors and commanders insist on accuracy, and the department has a quality
control system in place to ensure the integrity of its reporting practices, you'll experience continuous reminders of the
importance of credibility. If you join a police department where supervisors and commanders are more interested in
reducing the reported incidents of crime than they are in ensuring accuracy, you'll be exposed to bad influences, and it will
be your sole responsibility to protect your credibility.
When police officers, whether from dishonesty or simple laziness, knowingly submit false reports, they place themselves
and others in jeopardy.
The year was 1990. I had just changed over to day work, and day work always brings housekeeping duties like serving
criminal summonses or misdemeanor arrest warrants. As I sat at roll call glancing through several summonses and a
couple of arrest warrants, one name name; instead, it was a very recognizable name. A man by the same name was a
Maryland State Senator. The name appeared as the defendant on one of the arrest warrants charging the defendant with
misdemeanor theft under $300.
The warrant was in the form of a warrant control sheet. It verified the existence of the arrest warrant filed at the
department's Central Records Division. The warrant control sheet didn't have a copy of the probable cause statement
attached, so I had no idea regarding the details of the offense. It didn't matter, the control sheet was all I needed to
lawfully execute the warrant and take the defendant into custody. In fact, you'll learn that a police officer is never to
question the content of an arrest warrant. The rule is simple. A court issues an arrest warrant, and a police officer
executes the arrest warrant. However...as you read on, you'll see another example where there will always be an exception
to every rule. Just remember...if you ever go up against a judge, you'd better have all your facts and be 100% right.
When I looked at the defendant's address, I assumed the defendant must be another person who just had the same name.
I knew the neighborhood wherein the Senator resided, and the address on the warrant was located in a different area of the
district all together. I was curious since the defendant's date of birth put the defendant within the Senator's age range, so I
made that warrant my first order of business that morning.
I knocked on the front door of the two story row home. As I was about to knock a second time, the door opened, and a
man greeted me, "Good morning, Officer." My silent pause evoked a question from the man, "Can I help you, Officer?"
My response put an expression of bewilderment on the man's face, "It really is you," I said as I smiled. "Pardon me," the
Senator asked? "I have a warrant for your arrest, Senator." The Senator tilted his head, and the blank expression on his
face turned to a small smile. He leaned his head forward, and he glanced up and down the street as if looking for someone
he knew. He then asked, "This is a joke...right?"
The Senator had good reason to believe he was being subjected to a practical joke since the General Election was only three
days away, and he was running for re-election to his state senate seat. While the Senator may have first suspected a joke,
my well learned suspicious nature made the whole thing smell bad to me.
I explained all that I knew about the warrant to the Senator, and he stressed that he could add nothing since he had no idea
what had caused a warrant to be issued for his arrest. The Senator simply asked, "What do we do now?" I explained that,
as a matter of law, I was required to take him into custody. The Senator nodded and stated, "I'll do whatever you say,
Officer." Now, here was a guy who had been a senator for many years -- a politician -- and he wasn't giving me anything
close to a hard time. Of course, I'd already determined that I wanted to see the actual warrant, before I put my handcuffs
on this man.
During our conversation, I learned that the house was owned by the Senator, but it was a vacant rental property. It was
just a coincidence that I'd located the Senator at the residence since he'd only stopped by to check on the security of the
house. I directed the Senator to go home, call his attorney, and wait for me to contact him. Talk about a sincere look of
gratitude...the Senator thanked me, and he assured me he would anxiously await my return.
I stood at the counter in the Central Records Division reading the probable cause statement within the actual arrest
warrant. Firstly, the charging document had originally been issued as a criminal summons by a court commissioner. The
criminal summons simply required the signature of the defendant to promise to appear for trial...just like a traffic citation.
Of course, since the Senator did not reside at the address on the summons, previous efforts to serve the summons had
been unsuccessful. After thirty days, and several unsuccessful attempts to serve, the summons had been returned to the
court where a District Court judge upgraded the summons to an arrest warrant.
It was clear from the typed portion of the document that the victim, or the court commissioner, had identified the
defendant from property records, because the court commissioner initially typed the names of both the Senator and his wife
as the defendant. Since only one person goes on one charging document, someone had crossed out the name of the wife.
The probable cause statement, itself, had been written by the victim who was the owner of another vacant house next to the
Senator's house. The victim, like the Senator on this day, had previously stopped by her property to check its security.
She found an electrical extension cord running between her house and the Senator's house. The suspect(s) had entered the
victim's house through a window and plugged the cord into an outlet. The other end of the cord ran through a partially
opened window of the Senator's house. The victim was alleging theft of electricity. The charge of theft was incomplete.
The top charge should have been burglary since the victim's house had been entered by the suspect(s). Anyway, so far, so
The part I liked best was the victim's description of the police response. The victim identified the police officer by name
and badge number. She described how she showed the officer every physical aspect of the offense. She even listed the
central complaint number of the report which the officer provided to her. Since I was right at the counter, I filled out a
request form for a copy of the police report, and I handed it to the police cadet. Moments later, the cadet returned with a
copy of the officer's report.
It didn't take long to read that report. The offense box said, "Unfounded Larceny." The narrative was longer by one word,
"No larceny occurred."
I immediately set about investigating the incident since this was the first time it received any police attention. I soon
identified a suspect who, prior to the offense, had been doing repairs to the Senator's rental property. During his
employment, the suspect had copied the key to the front door. After the repairs were completed, the Senator had the
electricity turned off, but the suspect returned and used his unauthorized key to take up residence in the house. When the
Senator was made aware of the suspect's presence, the Senator ordered him from the dwelling, and he had the door lock
My next stop was the District Court where I met with the judge who issued the arrest warrant. The Judge, a very
competent one I might add, read the results of my investigation with great interest. Shaking her head, the Judge simply
asked, "How did I miss that?" She was referring to missing the Senator's name, and the circumstance of the upcoming
election. The fact was that criminal summonses being upgraded to arrest warrants was a routine matter that occurred in no
small numbers. Had she recognized the circumstances, she would have had the same questions I did, and the summons
would have received more scrutiny, before it was upgraded to an arrest warrant.
With the arrest warrant for the Senator recalled, I set about obtaining the proper warrants charging the proper suspect
with burglaries of both vacant houses. As for the Senator, he still had to suffer the embarrassment of appearing before the
same judge to have the original charge against him dismissed in open court. Of course, that Judge was just as embarrassed
as the Senator.
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You'll probably agree that I did the right thing by questioning the content of that arrest warrant, but doing the right thing
will never make you immune from criticism. I received a fair amount of criticism from some other police officers and
supervisors. You'll learn that some police officers, no matter their experience or rank, take a pretty narrow view of a lot
of things. Those same officers and supervisors considered my actions to be worse than the total incompetence displayed by
the original police officer who did absolutely nothing and topped it off with a blatantly false report. That incompetent
officer escaped all criticism, or worse, through the only competent thing he'd probably ever done as a police officer...he
Before you even become a police officer, you must realize that your credibility will be the most important thing you own.
Every report you write will follow you forever, and if you knowingly make a false report, you'll be doing a grave injustice to
yourself and those you serve. Most police officers who write false reports, as in the example above, justify that despicable
act as a matter of expediency, because they don't view the incidents of sufficient importance. Big or small, a lie is a lie, and
if you do it, it makes you a liar.