The quality of information that can be retrieved from any of the seemingly innumerable databases that are maintained within the criminal justice community is dictated by the quality of information that has been entered into them. The person who makes or breaks the success on either end of the equation is the police officer.

But such clerical work is often deemed a pain in the ass, and the anal-retentive posturing by micro-managers over minutiae doesn’t help. Even the most conscientious of officers can become inhibited at the prospect of inputting anything that has to pass muster.

For these reasons and others, many cops prefer to delegate such tasks to secretaries who are left to make the best of the handwritten hieroglyphics given to them. Even if these clerical folks are somehow able to read the information, their backlog may preclude timely data entry.
Meanwhile, the clock is ticking.

During these times, pertinent information is inaccessible. Stolen vehicles don’t get entered into the Stolen Vehicle System as such. If they are entered, other pertinent information such as the method used in the crime might be overlooked. Vehicle pursuits of suspects wanted for carjackings may be canceled as simple GTAs. In house, the lack of information can prove lethal.

An example: When Nevada Highway Patrol trooper Carlos Borland pulled over a Chevrolet Blazer on I-80 in response to all call that originated from a nearby truck stop, he did so without the knowledge that the vehicle's driver was an escapee from a North Carolina prison and that he had allegedly murdered two people the previous week. The Blazer was itself reported stolen and bearing license plates stolen from yet another vehicle.

Prior to effecting the traffic stop, Trooper Borland conscientiously requested a registration check on the Tennessee plates. However, due to the lack of an NCIC entry, he was not given any information that would arouse suspicion beyond the vehicle having been involved in the misdemeanor theft of $22 worth of gasoline that prompted his response. When Trooper Borland stopped the stolen Blazer and approached the Blazer, its driver fired a round from a .38 caliber revolver into Borland's head, killing him.

Obviously, such oversights take on greater weight when they dovetail with officer safety, public safety, and risk management issues when justifying subsequent vehicle pursuits.
Similarly, crime teletypes can help solve cases, curtail problems, and even save officers’ lives. But how often do crime teletypes generate more questions than they answer?

Whether the person generating the teletype is yourself or a secretary, crime teletypes should be reviewed for clarity and accuracy. Pay attention to ambiguous language, poor grammar, misspellings, and typos. Make sure that all important workable information is included. If you have the license plate of a suspect vehicle that was used in a crime (and wasn’t a reported stolen itself), then include the registered owner’s address. Make sure the agency that has jurisdiction over that address receives a copy, as well.

If the suspect is known to be armed, what is he known to be armed with? Running information is just as important, in cases where cops did correctly input a vehicle as reported stolen, it is nonetheless important that YOU input the correct serial numbers or driver’s license numbers in order to retrieve accurate information.

One particularly tragic situation illustrates the point: A Nebraska officer, Mark 

Zach, erroneously transposed two digits of a firearm’s serial number into a database, leading to a suspect’s release. The suspect subsequently killed four people during a robbery. Overwhelmed with guilt, Officer Zach committed suicide leaving behind a wife and seven children ages 2 to 15.
Two transposed numbers; five lives lost - and many more lives shattered.

They say it's the little things that come back and bite us in the ass. Perhaps it's best to remember that sometimes the little things aren't so little in the first place.


Dean Scoville
Dean Scoville

Associate Editor

Former associate editor of Police Magazine and a retired patrol supervisor and investigator with the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department, Sgt. Dean Scoville has received multiple awards for government service.

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Former associate editor of Police Magazine and a retired patrol supervisor and investigator with the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department, Sgt. Dean Scoville has received multiple awards for government service.

View Bio