Please contact E. B. Davis at for information on guest blogs and interviews. October Interviews 10/6 Joan Garcia 10/13 M. E. Browning 10/20 Lori Lewis Ham 10/27 Krista Davis 10/31 Veronica Bond Guest Blogs 10/2 Kathy Manos Penn 10/16 Kate Lansing 10/30 Jule Selbo -----------------------------------------------------------------------------

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


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 (, 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 ( 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!


Joyce Tremel said...

Hi everyone! Thanks again for having me as your guest today.

I also want to add that the post on my own blog about being a police secretary (4/2008) was originally a guest blog post on Lee Lofland's blog, and I cross posted it on mine. Sorry, Lee! I didn't mean to leave you out!

E. B. Davis said...

Recently, I attempted to interview homicide detectives in the setting of my WIP. Since most of the detectives were out, I ended up talking with the secretaries at the various police stations. Some were quite informative (and I hope accurate)and others, it seemed, just wanted to get me off the phone.

Did you ever have to deal with pesky writers wanting information?

Ramona said...

Joyce, as always, your post is equally funny and informative.

But, you forgot to mention your secret weapon: The Look!

Warren Bull said...

Thanks for the information. You're right, I never thought about someone in your ld job.

Joyce Tremel said...

E.B., I never had a writer call me for info. I'd bet the city PD gets a lot of calls, though.

The info you got from the secretaries was probably sound, and close to what you'd get from an officer. It would definitely be more accurate than what you'd get from the chief.

Secretaries tend to tell it like it is, whereas the chief filters the info to make the department look good. The detectives I know love to talk. They'd most likely tell you MORE than you wanted to know!

The secretaries who wanted off the phone were probably just very busy. Did you happen to call on a Monday? Mondays are the busiest day for police secretaries.

Joyce Tremel said...

Ah, yes. The Look. I inherited The Look from my mother. The guys at work carried guns, but they were afraid of The Look. I swear one guy was petrified to come into my office, especially on Mondays.

Anonymous said...

Your post on my blog, a site about cops, CSI, and forensics, was the reason they canned you. And I still feel bad about it. But your book is so cool. Look out Evanovich!

E. B. Davis said...

I don't remember the day of the week. By the time my WIP is finished, I'll have another go at the detectives because the way the county is split up is confusing. My setting is the Outer Banks in Dare County, NC, which also encompasses some of the mainland. My setting complicates getting accurate information and I'm not only dealing with the county police, but DEA and in some areas of the Outer Banks, the National Park Service.

Pauline Alldred said...

I find it hard to understand why you were canned for one blog. People can be petty. What does Lee know about your book that we don't? You have so much insider information to give realistic details to your writing.

Joyce Tremel said...

Lee, don't feel bad! It wasn't just that post. The main one was the one about the police cars I mentioned, and there was one other one that I can't even remember now.

And from some things that I've heard since then, the timing of my firing was not a coincidence.

It was a painful experience, but it turned out for the best.

Joyce Tremel said...

E.B. you'll find that most people in law enforcement are very willing to tell you what they know.

Just don't call secretaries on Mondays!

Joyce Tremel said...

Pauline, you can't get more petty than what happened to me. I could have sued--according to an ACLU attorney I had a good case--but I didn't want to put myself through that to get my job back. There's a reason for everything that happens. I wouldn't have had the idea for my WIP if I was still working there.

Lee read some early chapters from my WIP, (I need a title!) and really liked them. Lee, you'll be happy to know I'm almost done.

Here's the summary of it I wrote for my website:

Irma Jean Bennett, secretary for the tiny Spite, West Virginia Police Department figures it's not her day when the Chief drops dead in her office. Her efforts to find out who poisoned him are hindered by the mayor who wants to keep the murder quiet so as not to upset the town folk, the new acting chief who happens to be her ex, her pink Cadillac-driving-mother hiding out from her fifth husband, and the hunky newcomer with more than a few secrets who is renovating the downtown hotel. What she discovers is that the Chief had secrets of his own and someone is desperate to keep them that way.

Joyce Tremel said...

E.B., if you can get email addresses of anyone at those agencies, that's a good way to get info, too. I use email a lot.

E. B. Davis said...

Wow! Love your hook Joyce. Hurry up and get that WIP finished! We want to read it.

Pauline Alldred said...

Great hook, Joyce. Be sure and tell us when we can read it.

Joyce Tremel said...

I plan on having it ready to query by January (I know. Me and everyone else!) so it could be awhile.

Joyce Tremel said...

Thanks again for having me here, everyone. I've really enjoyed it!