Murder Investigation Prompts Changes in Report Writing Guidelines
Ask law enforcement officers what they like least about their jobs, and “report writing” is likely to be one of the answers. It’s not unusual for agencies to have policies in place to make writing tasks less onerous for their overworked officers. For example, officers may not be required to write a report about a call if no arrest was made.
But one agency is revising its report writing policy as the result of a domestic violence case that ended in murder. Although police in Lakeland, Florida, had been called to the victim’s home three times before her dead body was discovered, no reports were filed.
The Lakeland Police Department in Central Florida is conducting an internal investigation into the death of Virginia Varnum, whose brother found her body in a shallow grave on October 28, 2010. Varnum had been stabbed multiple times. Varnum’s boyfriend, Monday Demarsh, will go on trial for the murder next May. Police officers had paid three visits to Varnum’s home, in response to concerns about possible domestic violence, but no arrests were made, and no reports were filed.
The LPD internal investigation has run into difficulty because neighbors have given conflicting accounts of what they saw and heard. The lack of documentation makes it difficult to determine whether LPD officers adequately assessed the danger to Virginia Varnum and took appropriate steps to protect her.
LPD Chief Lisa Womack has recommended changes in reporting requirements for the agency. As she told the Lakeland Ledger, “This case brought out some specific points we need to review.” The newspaper reported that “a full overhaul of the department’s policies and procedures” has been instituted.