I grew up with a police scanner, so for quite some time, I’ve been listening to emergency calls. By college, I’d realized that I could be a halfway-decent writer if I put in the time, so when the person writing police logs for the student paper was up for replacement, I accepted the position eagerly. The position required that I read the actual text of the police reports, and then summarize them in a writing style more accessible to students. (Or, more accurately, it required that I have the reports read to me, with sensitive and personal details omitted, and summarize them.)
I learned a few things. The first is that the police need to be really specific about certain things in their reports, because trivial-sounding details can sometimes be really important. Other times, police perform seemingly silly procedures and document them, to cover themselves. So reports sometimes include paragraphs upon paragraphs of really boring details about who did what, and what other officers did the same and confirmed it and who witnessed what.
Another observation was that people who are talented writers rarely pursue careers in law enforcement. This isn’t meant to denigrate police officers (or writers?), but people who are gifted writers are usually wiry nerds like me who would make abysmal police officers. (And besides, if talented writers could become cops, there would be a sudden spike in arrests for “Crimes against the English language.”)
Now that I’ve moved out of rural New Hampshire, I’ve taken a liking to listening to the Boston Police, and reading their blog. They deal with much more serious matters than I’m used to. Occasionally, though, reading their posts brings back memories of writing police logs, and simultaneously irritates the grammar snob inside of me. Consider this one (the second entry: Call by Responsible Citizen Results in Gun and Drug Arrest), which reads, in part:
On arrival, officers immediately observed a male matching the description of the suspect standing outside. As officers approached the suspect, a witness yelled to officers, “He has a gun, I saw it!” Officers detained the suspect and conducted a pat frisk of the suspect but did not find a gun on his person. Officers did however find a holster on his person much like one that would be used to carry a gun.
[…] Officers then examined the suspect’s mouth and were able to recover several pieces of crack cocaine he had secreted in his mouth a brief struggle. After officers placed the suspect under arrest, they looked around to see if the suspect had discarded any other drugs. While looking for other discarded drugs, officers located a firearm under the front on the front passenger side tire of a nearby parked car. While the officers were recovering the handgun, officers that were speaking to witnesses learned that the suspect had been seen hiding the gun under the front passenger tire. A canine confirmed the location of the gun along with a thermal imager.
The bit about the holster “much like one that would be used to carry a gun” is the sort of oddity I love about police reports. To you and I, it is probably apparent what is meant by a “holster,” and if the description were really necessary, we’d probably just say that he had a “gun holster,” rather than a holster “much like one that would be used to carry a gun.”
But that’s nothing compared to the next paragraph. For one, secrete is an ambiguous term. While their usage isn’t incorrect, I’m not sure why “hidden” or “concealed” was deemed unacceptable right there. I thought of secrete in the scientific sense, in which a liquid or goo oozes out of something, like some disgusting critter secreting slime. I confess to not being too knowledgeable about how cocaine is made, but I’m pretty certain that it is not through secretion, and that, if it were, you couldn’t arrest someone for secreting it.
The next bit is exceptionally confusing, though. While looking on and under the front passenger tire of a nearby car for drugs, officers found a handgun. A witness told officers that the crack-secreting man with a holster that was possibly meant to hold a firearm had placed it there, under or on the tire. (Aside: If you were going to hide a gun on or under a tire, and you had it in your holster, why not put the whole assembly on or under the tire, instead of removing the gun from the holster and keeping the holster on your person?)
After recovering the firearm, a gun-sniffing dog was called in. He found the gun on or under the tire, which is pretty impressive since it sounds like the officers had already recovered the gun.
What happens next is also confusing. The way I read it the first time, it sounds like, after the gun had been found twice, officers then brought in a thermal imaging camera to look for the gun, which they proceeded to find for a third time on or under the tire. But reading the story a second time, I realized that I may have misread it, since it certainly didn’t make much sense. The last sentence is a bit ambiguous, but I think a truer explanation would be that the gun-sniffing dog, while sniffing on or under the tire, found both a twice-recovered handgun and a thermal imaging camera.
I’m not sure why a gun-toting crack addict would be carrying, much less concealing secreting, a thermal imaging camera, but there are a lot of things I don’t understand in that story, so I’ll let it go.