The Challenge of Objectivity

Officers sometimes ask wonder how the objectivity requirement can be met in an actual police or corrections report.

Here’s an example from my own experience:

I was teaching in a correctional institution. (This was years ago, when the phone company still had human operators). One morning while I was eating breakfast, my phone rang. When I answered it, a woman said, “I have a collect call from John Thompson” [not the inmate’s real name].

I said, “I’m refusing the call” and hung up. I was shaken. “John Thompson” was an inmate in a class I was teaching. How did he get my number? What did he want? Was there trouble ahead?

As soon as I arrived at work, I wrote a report. Notice the challenges facing me: I couldn’t be sure the caller was an operator: I couldn’t see her. Nor was I sure that “John Thompson” was the person who tried to call me. I couldn’t see him either.

Most important, I knew that guesses, hunches, worries, and conjectures have no place in a criminal justice report.

Here’s what I wrote:

At approximately 0725 hours on [the date], my telephone rang. When I answered it, I heard a female voice say, “I have a collect phone call from John Thompson. Will you accept the charges”? I said “no” and hung up the phone.

Of course I was unhappy that an inmate apparently knew my home phone number and had tried to call me. But that information does not belong in an objective report.

I never did find out if “John Thompson” was the actual person making the call. I did, however, hear from the lieutenant that I had written an excellent report. Even better, there were no more collect calls.

 

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