02 July 2024

A Misheard Announcement

 Some months back, I reported in this blog that I had retired from my day job as a criminal magistrate. Those golden years lasted for days.

            I’ve returned to meeting jail inmates, albeit on a part-time basis. The staff calls me on an emergency basis to plug the holes that sometimes occur in any small office—illnesses, vacations, etc. I'm happy to help. I enjoy the work, and the occasional magistrate session keeps my bar card from getting dusty.

            They also allow me to read that collection of typos and misunderstoods that crop up occasionally in police reports. Often, these mistakes happen when a patrol officer in the field calls in their report using the department’s voice-to-text system. Others arise when line personnel use a word and, perhaps, aren't entirely clear on the definition. In either case, the results can be entertaining.

            What follows are a few of the recent examples of reporting errors. Besides a bit of fun, I hope they remind writers and citizens that police officers are human. They make mistakes just like the rest of us. Rarely are the errors cataclysmic breaches or deliberate violations of constitutional norms. More commonly, they are the errors we all make. A failure to proofread carefully or the assumption that what we actually said was what we intended to say. Anyone who has ever dictated a text message understands. We want our police officers to be flesh and blood people so that they might empathize with the individuals they encounter. That doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy it when that humanity is displayed.

            “Behind the driver’s seat, I located a bottle of permanent schnapps.”

J.H. Henkes, Creative Commons.

        The sentence stopped me when I saw it in a police report. I had a vision of a Harry Potter-like, never emptying liquor bottle. If you have a bottle of permanent schnapps, don’t hop on a broom or behind the wheel of a car. Cast a spell for a Lyft.

            “The driver appeared to have delighted eyes.”

            I believe that the officer who called in a report intended to say that the allegedly impaired driver had the enlarged pupils of someone with dilated eyes. The voice-to-text knew better. Maybe Alexa or Siri or whatever system handled the transcription hoped that since the rest of the driver’s body was going to jail, at least his eyes might be happy.

            “I was marinating my right leg across his back.”

            Usually, given enough time, I can discern what the officer intended to say--peppermint schnapps, dilated eyes—before voice-to-text seized control. Here, I still don't have a clue. Perhaps we can make this one a contest. The best answer to the question of what the officer was trying to do during this arrest wins.

            Although, imagining this visual continues to make me smile.

            “The suspect possessed a machine gun conversation device.”

            Although I suspect that the police found the defendant in possession of a conversion device, the sentence as written begs the question. What conversation does one really need to have with their machine gun except possibly, "Don't point that at me, please" or "Put that down now!" Everything else seems useless chatter.

            “He knows he is accomplished.”

            This one may not be immediately as funny as some of the others. Hence, I buried it in the middle. The officer set out facts leading her to conclude that the defendant had sufficient intentional involvement in the crime to be guilty as an accomplice. But, perhaps, the defendant also had a healthy sense of self-esteem. He was an accomplished accomplice. That's good. In court, prosecutors get paid to say bad things about a defendant. Without a healthy ego, the defendant's psyche might be bruised.

            And, speaking of…

            “A bruise farm on her arm.”

            Likely, the officer dictated that a bruise began forming on her arm. In the relationships-as-punching-bags world of domestic violence, however, the phrase as electronically adjusted might be accurate. On some days, the bruising seems to sprout across a field of victims.

            Finally, my favorite for this collection.  

            The following sentence offers a potent lesson on the dangers of misusing homophones. Think about your interpretation and your emotional reaction to the sentence as reported and the sentence as intended.

            “The gun was concealed in his waste.”

            “The gun was concealed in his waist.”

            The second sentence (the intended one) offers a hint of danger, the real-life work-a-day world of the beat cop. The first offers a visual that has stayed with me as I envisioned the grumbling patrol officer tasked with collecting that bit of evidence. Likely, that duty would fall to the rookie officer. In police work, as in other jobs, waste slides downhill.

            I hope your eyes have been delighted to review the list of typos and misheards. If not, toss the blog in the waist basket.

            (I’ll be traveling on the day this posts. If you have an answer to what the officer meant by his marinating leg, I’ll likely be slow in responding to you.)

            Until next time. 


  1. Considering the heat and the humidity, no doubt he was referring to his SWEATY leg.

  2. My guess: He was "maneuvering" his right leg.
    I enjoy your police typo reports. They make me laugh!

  3. Yes, he was "maneuvering" his right leg - but he could also have been pouring Italian dressing on it while riding the subject like a horse...
    These are always hilarious!

  4. Mark, funny as always. I had guessed the word maneuvering, but soon found that N.M. & Eve had beat me to it.

  5. Mark, very funny. I believe we've found our very own Rumpole.

  6. Elizabeth Dearborn03 July, 2024 16:02

    I worked in court & then medical transcription for many years. Voice wreck has a long, long way to go! My favorite example: "Res judicata" was transcribed as "Race you to the car."


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