Today, I introduce a former police secretary, a writer, and a member of Sisters in Crime, Pittsburgh. Imagine the insider knowledge she learned at work, details that create a realistic background for mysteries and police procedurals.
JOYCE TREMEL, guest blogger
A lot of people don’t even realize there is such a thing as a police secretary. After all, they never show them on TV. But I’m living proof they really do exist. I was one for ten years.
The department where I worked was in a Pittsburgh suburb of about 30,000 residents. Our PD had approximately 30 officers which included a Chief, two lieutenants, a sergeant (the only female officer), two detectives, and the rest were patrolmen. There was also full time administrative assistant, who was basically the Chief’s secretary, and a part time secretary—me.
My job involved answering the non-emergency phone calls and greeting any visitors or complainants who came into the station. If someone needed to speak to an officer, I’d track one down and tell them to “10-19 for a 10-12,” which meant, “get your butt in here and talk to this person.” Well, not exactly, but you get the idea. (My last year there, the county eliminated the ten-codes in favor of using plain English over the radio, which I thought was a bad idea—busybodies, anyone? But no one asked my opinion.)
The main part of my job, however, was entering police reports into the computer. Every call the officers’ received had to be documented, no matter how minor. They logged the calls on a daily log and assigned a case number to each. They wrote a report for every call. The front side of the handwritten report contained pertinent info, like complainant’s name, address, type of complaint, time of call, time officer arrived on scene, time cleared, etc. On the back of the page, the officer wrote a narrative of what happened. At the end of the 4-12 shift, all the reports for that day were bundled up and I got them the next morning. (On Mondays I got the reports for the entire weekend.)
Entering the daily reports usually took most of the day. The administrative assistant usually helped me out on Mondays. Otherwise I’d always be behind. We used a software program specifically designed for police reports. There were many days I’d have to track down an officer or two to have them decipher what they wrote. (For the record, most doctors have better handwriting than police officers.) And some of them weren’t the smartest grapes in the bunch, if you know what I mean. One thing that drove me nuts was that I wasn’t allowed to correct their grammar or anything when I entered the reports. The narratives had to be typed exactly as they wrote them—even if they didn’t make any sense.
Some of the guys were pretty funny. When the sergeant told one officer his reports weren’t detailed enough, the officer got him back. After a call for a sick raccoon, he wrote a hysterical narrative detailing how the raccoon stared at him with his glassy, black eyes. He took the raccoon out in rather dramatic fashion. When another officer got calls for tree branches on the roadway, he’d write a report regaling how he lifted a giant sequoia from the road and hefted it into the forest, to the great applause of all his onlookers. I really miss some of those guys.
I also ended up with duties that really weren’t in my job description—like fingerprinting. When new state laws required a lot of people like teachers and nurses to be fingerprinted, the detective got backed up and asked if I’d mind helping out. Another duty was doing pat down searches on female arrestees. I did it a couple of times, then decided I wasn’t getting paid enough to take a chance getting stuck with a junkie’s dirty needle.
I wrote about a lot of my PD experiences on my own blog and on Working Stiffs (http://workingstiffs.blogspot.com), which a lot of the guys I worked with read on a regular basis. My former boss even gave me ideas for a couple of the posts. Even now, the post I wrote over two years ago (http://joycetremel.blogspot.com/2008/04/what-does-police-secretary-do.html) on my own blog about being a police secretary gets at least a couple of hits a week.
In July of 2008, however, the officer who chose and outfitted the police cars took issue with a post I wrote making fun of the latest car choice (Hey, it was a Dodge Charger! All I could think about was the Dukes of Hazard.). Hurt his ego, I guess. He went to the township manager and complained. The manager thought my posts “put the township in bad light,” and I was suspended, and then terminated. It still bothers me that the Chief never backed me up, especially because he encouraged me to write about the department. I see him in church once in awhile, and to this day, he can’t look me in the eye.
Instead of being bitter about the experience (although I do have my moments as you can see) I’ve chosen to be thankful, because it gave me the idea for my WIP. It features a police secretary whose boss drops dead in her office. Heh. Coincidence? I think not.
Feel free to ask me any questions about working in a suburban PD—or anything else you want to know. I’ll keep checking back and try to answer them the best I can. Thanks for having me here today!