I’ve posted repeatedly in the past about the increasingly common practice of police agencies using "templates" in drunk driving cases. See, for example, Pre-Written DUI Police Reports, Xeroxed DUI Symptoms and Ready-Made DUI Police Reports. Instead of writing an official police investigation report after the arrest that summarizes the observations of the officer, they are essentially written before the arrest — containing such "facts" as driving symptoms, physical appearance and performance on field sobriety tests. This saves time, of course, but also ensures that commonly observed incriminating "evidence" is included — whether present or not.
A related issue involves the common requirement in law enforcement agencies of having all arrest reports reviewed and approved by a more experienced supervising officer. However, as with pre-written reports, the safeguards in DUI cases are increasingly being bypassed by rubber-stamping these "approvals"…
City Suspends DUI Cases While Police Investigate Rubber-Stamping of Arrest Reports
Seattle, WA. March 21 — Seattle police have launched an internal investigation into the alleged mishandling of dozens of drunken-driving cases by members of the department’s DUI Squad, prompting city attorneys to put some prosecutions on hold.
City Attorney Peter Holmes said in a statement that his criminal division will review current and past driving-under-the-influence (DUI) cases to determine whether they may be affected by the pending findings of the police investigation.
The investigation, disclosed by sources familiar with the matter and later confirmed by the department, is focused on accusations that arrest reports weren’t properly screened and approved by a sergeant in the DUI Squad, as required under department policy. The investigation has forced the department to pull all but one member of its five-member DUI Squad from the street and assign them to desk duties, according to police…
Among the allegations is that the sergeant, David A. Abe, a 32-year veteran, routinely did not report to work and approved DUI arrests by telephone, one source said.
A rubber stamp then was used by DUI officers to affix the sergeant’s name to reports, the source said.
The practice has been going on for about a year, another source said.
The Police Department is looking into the possibility that the sergeant’s name was put on reports without first contacting him, the department said…
"The scope of the investigation at this point focuses on the administrative policy violation of screening all arrests with a supervisor in person, which department policy requires," the statement said. "This investigation is in its infancy. The scope may change as new information is developed."
Whenever officers arrest or detain someone in any type of crime, the Seattle Police Department manual states that a sergeant "shall be notified so that an in person review of the incident can occur … "
Once at the scene or the precinct, supervisors are supposed to review the circumstances of the arrest and the condition of the suspect. The supervisor is supposed to evaluate the appropriateness of any allegation, sign off on any jail booking or release, and ensure evidence is properly collected and preserved, according to the manual.
"It’s just an opportunity to have a second set of eyes look at the facts and circumstances of an arrest," said Sgt. Sean Whitcomb, the Police Department’s chief spokesman.
(Thanks to Ari Weiner.)