Newcomers to law enforcement sometimes wonder why all the paperwork is necessary. With time and experience, though, a bigger picture emerges. Officers begin to see that what might look like routine recordkeeping can take on much larger significance.
A new statistical study coming out of Philadelphia is a good example. The study – compiled by the ACLU and released on May 23 – examines the racial implications of police actions in the second half of 2016. (You can read more here, and you can read the entire report here). The Philadelphia Police Department is compiling its own statistical study, and the results are expected soon.
Whether you’re a recent recruit or a long-time officer, the report is worth reading and discussing. Here are some issues raised by the study that have implications for the kinds of reports that officers write every day:
- How would you define the terms “reasonable suspicion” and “probable cause”?
- What documentation is needed in a police report?
- What legal issues come to mind when an officer makes a “reasonable suspicion” stop and search? A “probable cause” stop and search?
- What agency policies apply to these terms?
Supervisors might want to consider an additional issue: About 25% of the reports included in the study failed to provide a legal reason for the stops.
- What are some possible reasons for those omissions?
- Should the Philadelphia PD be concerned about that statistic?
- Do officers need additional training and support?
- Are there implications for other agencies?
Often it takes time for new officers to fully grasp the role of police reports in the overall functioning of an agency. Supervisors, instructors, and FTO’s can fill in some of the gaps and help these new officers write reports that are professional and complete.