When I last discussed the Caylee Anthony case, I was disturbed by reports that the meter reader (person finding the little girl’s body) had notified authorities three times regarding his information. I talked about what a responding officer’s approach might be to a similar call including why he/she might be reluctant to consider such a report as credible.
Orange County officials announced a few days ago that the deputy had been reassigned pending an investigation of his actions. The meter reader insists that the deputy did not take his information seriously and failed to handle the call properly. As I discussed in my previous post, the public is not being provided with the complete picture of what transpired on that call. Someone is not being completely honest, and hopefully, the internal investigation will provide additional information.
Calls like “check on information related to a missing person” are common in policing. Unlike police dramas, patrol officers take a multitude of missing person reports. As a patrol officer, I can’t recall the number of missing person reports, both adults and juveniles, in which the person making the report was sure that the victim’s disappearance was related to crime. Fortunately, all of the missing persons cases that I investigated were not related to foul play and were eventually closed.
As with the meter reader’s call, officers many times are required to go against their gut-feeling and do a complete investigation of a report that they may feel is bogus. For instance, I remember getting a call from an anonymous citizen regarding a child’s park left in a field. The citizen suggested that the bike could be related to lost child. No further information was available. My gut feeling was: "why am I in this field looking at a dirty bike that has obviously been here for weeks? Don't kids leave their bikes laying around all the time? Are we not backed up on more important calls tonight?"
Thankfully, there was nothing to this abandoned bike call, but in instances like this, an officer's professionalism has to take the lead. Despite his/her feelings about the call, the officer needs to follow due dilligence and handle the incident properly--closely examine the scene, check through the current missing person information, talk to people near the scene, etc. Officer intuition is an important aspect of being a good officer, but it is certainly not 100% reliable.
Whatever the invesigation reveals as to the meter reader and/or the officer's actions in the Anthony case, due dilligence is required to not only provide citizens with the highest level of service, but to also prevent an officer from prematurely closing an incident that later is determined to have significant case implications.