by Ian D Scofield
I was reading a news article for freelancing project I had when I came across an article with this title Houston Police To Stop Using Whataburger Order Numbers To Mark Crime Scenes(here). At first I laughed because there was no way that the article could be real. I thought it had to be a police version of Duffel Blog. Then I continued and found out it was real, and laughed some more.
Here is what happened:
Whataburger is a popular Texas fast-food burger chain and the order number markers have become a favorite keepsake for a lot of people. Occasionally people will grab these little markers and keep them for souvenirs. But not all of them were used for souvenirs.
In 2014 a crime scene photo from a shooting made its way onto the internet. All of the things that you would expect at a crime scene appear in the photo, a police car, police tape, evidence, etc. Then several Whataburger markers are noticeable on the ground.
No, someone was not robbed while eating their burger. Police officers who responded to the scene improvised crime scene markers so that evidence could be noted before the crime scene unit showed up. Patrol officers aren’t always issued markers as part of their standard kit and have improvised. This often happens in rainy situations or cases where the evidence needs to be documented right away.
The department started receiving inquiries from the public as to whether or not Whataburger was endorsing the police department, whether they were a sponsor, or if Whataburger was in some other way connected with the Houston Police Department.
The number of calls lead captains from the Houston Police Department to order officers not use Whataburger markers at crime scenes. Or any other markers with visual branding.
Now after I laughed this off I thought about it some more. Besides being one of those news articles that you don’t think could possibly be real, it serves a few purposes. Let’s take a few things away from this besides laughs.
First, it is important that departments provide their officers with all of the tools that they need to complete their jobs. While it might not be a patrol officer’s job to mark evidence, it is obviously happening. Officers want to be helpful and protect evidence when it appears likely that it will be compromised.
If a department doesn’t want to provide every patrol officer with markers, some should at least be provided to shift leads, corporals, or sergeants. That way evidence can be preserved when the crime scene unit is delayed in responding.
Your department has the common goal of catching and prosecuting criminals after all. It takes a team effort.
Second, this article is a good example of why it is important to use official equipment. Or at least equipment that appears official. The world is full of cameras and everything you do runs the chance of ending up on the internet, and then on the news.
While it may have been a practice that higher ups at the Houston PD knew about, once using Whataburger signs came to light, officers were sure to have received at least a stern talking to. Uniformity and using official department equipment helps to present a proper image to the public. A proper image builds trust, shows unity, and reflects on every officer in the department.
For officers who believe they need equipment they don’t have as part of their regular kit, they should address this issue through the chain of command. Sometimes a department will say no, for one reason or another. Other times, your department might surprise you and say yes.
Just because a department can’t afford a certain tool doesn’t mean that it is possible to get it. There are plenty of grant programs out there and organizations willing to help officers be better prepared. Having a well thought out argument, and potentially even some research, will prepare you to go into explain the need to your seniors.
About The Author:
Ian is a staff writer at APTI and hospital security officer at a major medical center who has a Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice with a Specialization in Administration of Justice. He has held multiple positions in the security industry from patrol supervisor to auxiliary public safety officer. At APTI he brings his writing skills to help further the careers of others and provide quality content. Feel free to visit his freelancing site or his creative writing site.
Did you just get a job as a law enforcement officer or are you trying to get one?
Law enforcement is a very rewarding career, one that can enhance your life and benefit you greatly. Preparing for a job in law enforcement shares some similarities to other careers. At the same time it has unique challenges to overcome.
Let’s take a moment to examine how you can prepare for a job as a law enforcement officer.