Why A Police Report Matters

By Lee White

UPDATE 1:40 p.m. CDT 5/3/2007: I received the following e-mail from ADPS Chief Tyler Brewer:

I would have if you would have contacted me prior to writing the article. If you actually knew me, you’d probably have a different opinion of me but that’s okay….it comes with my job.

God Bless…. and I do mean that,

Tyler 

I received this letter today from the Augusta Department of Public Safety stating that there is no Kansas Standard Offense Report on file from anyone named Brewer for the period April 13 to April 24. The letter came in response to a Kansas Open Records Act request originally filed on April 24. I want to thank Kim Galgon, the records clerk for the ADPS, for the response, as well as City Manager Josh Shaw and Mayor Matt Childers. I know the vast majority of the sworn officers and civilian staff at the department are hard-working, honest folks. Nevertheless, no public agency can function well without accountability.

There used to be strong, local newspapers and radio and TV stations that would report on controversial matters. Due to a combination of factors, including newspapers’ flubbing the digital transition spectacularly, those entities have either gone out of existence entirely or operate as mere skeletons of their former selves with corporate owners who care nothing about anything but a stock price.

Maybe a misguided sense of duty motivates me to continue this blog, but Butler County is a place I know well. I know its history as well as about anyone, having lived it for the past 52 years despite residing elsewhere part of that time. I had great teachers, including the late BCC journalism instructor Bill Bidwell, who knew where every, single body was buried back to the beginning of time.

I see a county that was growing and thriving but has “stalled out” the past decade or so. Augusta, in particular, used to have more going for it economically and otherwise than El Dorado, where I grew up, even though Augusta’s population was less. Some of the stories I read and hear give me pause to consider whether that’s still the case and, as always, I want to get to the “why.” Life circumstances afford me the opportunity to do so. It’s more interesting to me than television or video games, so it’s what I do. And I’m going to continue doing it.

Maybe I’ll live in Butler County again, but I believe I must stay close to KU Medical Center, where my wife receives care for her MS, so I live in Harrisonville, Missouri, where her family resides. If I croak, her wonderful sister is only five blocks away. Such are the choices we have to make in life, but, man, wouldn’t it be fun to be “on the ground” turning stories like a blackjack dealer turns cards (and probably wearing a Kevlar vest)? In the meantime, I encourage you to read Olivia Haselwood’s reporting on the Leader websites. She’s an Augusta native who gives me great hope for the next generation of journalists.

So why did I ask for a police report in the first place? When I watched Chief Brewer’s interview with KWCH-TV in which he stated that his and his family’s lives had been threatened if he didn’t “take care” of the officer who shot and killed a veteran’s dog, I thought about what I would do if someone threatened to kill my family and me. The very first thing I would do is file a police report even if I was a cop. Even though threat reports are often a low priority for law enforcement agencies — and, in most cases, they probably should be — it is crucial to document a threat for a few good reasons.

The main reason is to give detectives a strong clue should the worst happen and the caller carries out the threat. A time, a date, a phone number, what the caller said, whether it was a male or female — all of those bits of information give detectives a starting point if a suspect is on the loose. If the suspect is in custody, investigators can use those clues to match him or her to the threat. That goes a long way toward proving premeditation in a homicide case and the fact that the victim or a member of the victim’s family memorialized information about the threat soon after it occurred strengthens that evidence in the minds of judges and jurors. It’s almost like a “dying declaration”.

Another reason to file a report is to launch an investigation of the threat. I’m not intimately familiar with the legalities of obtaining call trace information from phone companies, but I understand it can be had. Just about any action one takes over phone lines or the Internet can be traced. Making a threatening phone call to a police chief (or anyone) could be charged as a felony for criminal threat and as a misdemeanor for telephone harassment. And it should be! I can tell you that if it happened to me, I would take a civil judgment against the perpetrator for intentional infliction of emotional distress among other torts and obtain a restraining order.

The final reason to file a police report: It lends credibility to the accuser because the report is made under penalty of law. In Kansas, filing a false police report is considered interference with law enforcement and is a Class A misdemeanor. When one has a car accident, the insurance adjuster always wants a copy of the police report. One reason is that the report lends credibility to the insurance claimant because he or she was willing to sign off on a police report concerning the circumstances of the accident.

Police officers who are caught filing a false report can find themselves out of a job permanently or, at the very least, disciplined. There has been quite a bit of news coverage in Wichita concerning the so-called Brady-Giglio list. Being on this list likely ended the career of Wichita Police Chief Norman Williams. Williams had been disciplined for a rather minor report-writing error years ago. That was enough to get him on a list of officers who had credibility issues. The list is shared with defense attorneys if the officer is to testify at trial. Depending on the severity of the transgression, the attorney may use the information at trial to question the officer’s credibility.

Gentle reader, you are free to reach any conclusion you will concerning the absence of a Kansas Standard Offense Report in this case. Maybe there’s an investigation of the threat going on. Maybe there’s not. I certainly hope there is and that the individual who made this threat is swiftly and certainly brought to justice if, indeed, the incident occurred as the chief described it to KWCH-TV.

As for the incident that precipitated this screed, it’ll be up to the courts to decide what occurred on April 13 when the dog was shot. If I were the dog owner, I would hire an attorney named Richard Ney to defend me if I could afford him. If I were the Augusta city prosecutor, I might consider tearing up those tickets and buying Alan Fitzgerald a new dog.

2 thoughts on “Why A Police Report Matters”

  1. So, I’m confused. I thought you were asking for the police report about the actually incident. Presumably, there has to be reports about that. But honestly, I was sure the ADPS released a voicemail of someone threatening the officer. It was on KAKE. I guess I’m just confused as to why it is so important to find out if the anyone on the ADPS felt threatened AFTER the initial incident. I would think that there would be more important and controversial things to investigate. Would you mind explaining? Not criticizing, just want more info.

    1. Chief Brewer made a very specific allegation that he and his family were threatened with their lives if he didn’t “take care” of the officer who shot the dog. That was the police report I was after. I did not want to include language in my Kansas Open Records Act request that would give the ADPS justification not to release the report, so I asked for ANY report filed by Brewer or anyone with the same last name. I cannot find any news coverage that includes a voicemail. Can you provide a link? Even if there is a voicemail, the point of asking for a police report is simple: If ANY officer’s life was threatened, there should be an investigation underway to find the perpetrator. Absent a Kansas Standard Offense Report, I question whether such an investigation exists. And if not, why not? Then again, it took the department a week to open my certified letter, so nothing surprises me.

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