Myrtle Beach Police Department Minimalism

For some time now, Myrtle Beach Police Department has made their incident reports available to the public on their website, which was convenient considering their routine refusal to comply with Freedom of Information Act requests – incident reports are subject to FOIA and must be made available upon request of any citizen.

Following the publication of Officer William Heine’s detailed report of a fight in Myrtle Beach by the Smoking Gun, Gawker, and other media, Myrtle Beach has stopped posting their incident reports online (at least temporarily, I am not aware of any official announcement as to the reason the reports are no longer available).  The officer charged two women with disorderly conduct for fighting, and the complete narrative of the report reads:

Both share a baby daddy. They locked horns like bulls on the stairs to the Aquarius.

The Aquarius is a local motel, by the way.  I do respect the artistic value of the report – in 16 words the officer tells a brief but compelling story.  It is intriguing.  It is poetic.  There is a rich back-story and history that is implied but not spoken – the imagination easily fills in the rest of the story.  The problem, of course, is that this is not poetry – this is the complete narrative in an incident report following the arrest of two women who may or may not have defenses to what they were charged with.  Who will be marked with criminal records if they are convicted of the offense.

Officers are taught at the police academy the importance of writing competent incident reports, so prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges, and others who become involved in the case will know what the officer’s observations were.  So that when the officer comes to court a year or more later for the trial of the case, the officer will be able to refer to the report and remember what happened on the date of the incident – officers can’t be expected to remember every detail of every incident months and often years after the incident, and they often have only their reports to refer to prior to or during their testimony in court.  Often, if it is not in the report, it didn’t happen.

The sad thing is that this incident report is typical of Myrtle Beach police reports written by patrol officers.  It is also sad if the city’s response to the publicity is to stop publishing their reports, as opposed to training their officers and requiring professionalism in officers’ investigation and report writing.

(According to the Horry County Public Index, Eisman pled guilty to time served, but Zarko’s charges are still pending as of today.)

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