Joyce Tremel on Civilian Police Employees

Joyce Tremel


Joyce Tremel works for the Township of Shaler Police Department located just north of the City of Pittsburgh. She holds a second degree blackbelt in Taekwondo and volunteered as a trainee instructor for two years. She is a member of Mysterywrights (a critique group), and a member of Pennwriters. Joyce is a former Vice-President of the Mary Roberts Rinehart chapter of Sisters in Crime. You can visit Joyce on her website, or you can read her very popular blog every Thursday on Working Stiffs

Joyce Tremel:

For some reason, when I hear the question, “What does a police secretary do?” it makes me think of the song, “What Do the Simple Folk Do?” from the musical Camelot. Not Spamalot, people. Camelot. You know, Lerner and Loewe? Richard Burton and Julie Andrews? Oh, never mind.

Anyway, in the song, Arthur and Guinevere are pondering what their subjects might be doing. They get it all wrong.

The same holds true with the public and most police work. How many of you knew there was such a thing as a police secretary? Come on. Hold up your hands. Uh-huh. Thought so. We are so under appreciated. You never see us on Law and Order or CSI. One more thing they get wrong!

So, what does a police secretary do? The simple answer is pretty much anything. I work for the Shaler Township Police Department in Pennsylvania. Shaler Township is a suburb of Pittsburgh. Our population is around 30,000 people. (To get an idea of the calls we get look here: ) We have 27 sworn officers-this includes the Chief, two Lieutenants, one Sergeant, two Detectives, one Officer who handles juvenile cases, and the rest are Patrolmen. The two civilians are an administrative assistant, who acts as the Chief’s secretary and does, well, administrative things, and myself.


Shaler Township Police Department

I have my own office which consists of my computer station, a desk and file cabinets. I have a bullet proof glass window that looks out onto the reception area. If someone needs a copy of their accident report, etc, I pass it through the slot at the bottom. After they pay the $15.00 fee for a copy of the report, that is.

My office

My desk


One of my main duties is answering the phone. All the municipalities in Allegheny County have a single 911 dispatch center, so I don’t dispatch any calls. The calls that come into the office are usually people calling to talk to  a police officer, calling for a copy of an accident report, or people filing a complaint by phone. I also get a lot of calls from people who need to see an officer but didn’t want to call 911. I have to tell them if it’s important enough to dispatch an officer, they should hang up and dial 911. If there happens to be an officer in the station, I’ll give him the call, but they’re supposed to stay out on the road unless they’re writing up their reports. Many times, I’m the only one in the station. We do get walk ins (or 10-12s as we call them) and then I’ll get on the squad room radio and ask someone to “10-19 for a 10-12,” which translates to “get your ass in here and talk to this person.” Not literally, but you get the idea.

Squad room

My most important duty is entering the police reports into the computer. We use a software program called “The Informer.” The officers write a report up for every call they get and turn over all the handwritten reports to me the next day. I then make sure that none are missing and spend most of the day typing. We average about 10,000 calls a year, and a report must be filed for all of them. I type most of them with help from the administrative assistant. We always split up the weekend reports on Monday-too many for one person to do.

Someone asked me once why the officers don’t enter their own reports. The most important reason is they have to be entered correctly. For reporting purposes, there are certain things that have to be on the reports and most of the guys would take short cuts. Sometimes what they have written as the type of call is nothing like what it really is. For example, the officer might put “harassment” down where it says type of call, but it’s really a dispute between neighbors. Another reason the officers don’t enter their own reports is time. They would need to be sitting at a computer for hours instead of out patrolling. Even if they could do it from the patrol car, people complain that the officers are loafing if the car is parked somewhere.

Another duty is to enter all the traffic and non-traffic citations. Really, really boring. I also process requests from insurance companies for accident and police reports. They mail in a check and I record it and send them the report. Sometimes I get requests from attorneys for the same thing. I really like it when an attorney asks for a report because his client is suing the other party and it turns out his client is the one at fault. Or someone is suing for injuries and the report clearly states there weren’t any. Now that really amuses me.

I’ve also done things that aren’t in the job description. I’ve fingerprinted people who needed them done for their jobs when the detective who usually does them was out. I’ve done pat-down searches on females who have been arrested. I’ve watched lost children and lost dogs. I watched an arrestee when everyone had to leave on an emergency. I stayed over and helped out when we had a major flood after Hurricane Ivan. I did the same after 9-11 when we were in “lockdown.”

So, that about sums up the glamorous life of a police secretary. At least in Shaler Township. Oh, and did I mention that I only work part-time? I do all this working twenty eight hours a week.


* Tomorrow – World renowned professor of forensic psychology and bestselling author Dr. Katherine Ramsland.

Thursday – San Francisco Private Investigator Peter Gessner

Friday – Police Lt./Law Enforcement Historian/Author Monty McCord

40 replies
  1. Kelli Stanley
    Kelli Stanley says:

    Hi, Joyce! That was really fun reading, and I second all the calls for a series starring a police secretary!!

    Plus, I’m very envious of that Xena doll … but considering everything you do in only 28 hours a week, I think you need a Wonder Woman action figure, too! 🙂

  2. ramona
    ramona says:

    HI Joyce! I am a day late to this blog party, but I thought this was a great and informative post. Good comments and questions, too.

    I can’t add anything useful, except that that seems like a very neat and orderly squad room. It makes me wonder if, when it gets messy, someone gives The Look until it gets cleaned up.

  3. Auntieamy71
    Auntieamy71 says:


    Regarding the comedian, sounds about right for Texas. As for the ‘reappropriation’ of supplies…*laughs*

    Another story about the TX Dept. of Safety…I was in there to get my license renewed and as I approached the clerk, a Trooper came up to her (he was behind the counter with her) and asked her where something was, without even looking around she told him, when he didn’t move, she turned around and told him again and they had a little confab on what exactly he was looking for. Finally, he went away happy.

    I tell this not to belittle the Trooper, because Lord knows I couldn’t do his job, it just struck me funny and your stories about people taking off with your supplies reminded me of it.

  4. Joyce Tremel
    Joyce Tremel says:

    I’ll have to try that with the pink nail polish. That’s probably why no one ever takes my pink highlighter! A funny thing about this–late yesterday afternoon the admin asst came downstairs and asked me if I had any tape or staples because someone took hers!

    No, the Neon was an actual marked police car. I looked everywhere to find a picture of it yesterday with no luck. It was probably too embarrassing to photograph! We didn’t keep the car long because no one wanted to drive it!

    We have had Crown Vics in the past. Right now we have seven marked cars–the Charger, two Expeditions, and the rest are Impalas. The Chief and the detectives have unmarked cars.

  5. SweetieZ
    SweetieZ says:

    Hi Joyce,

    Late long day. Wish I could have had time earlier to read. Yours is not an easy task. That is a tough job.

    Well you have a lot of funny bones going here today also ! Well done.

    If you get this, might I add a trick to working with a lot of men ? Use pink. I have successfully kept tools and desk items with pink spray or nail polish instead of white out …

    Here in California it is a lot of Crown Vics. The Charger is ok, but wait till the guys see what Dodge did to the Challenger. As good as Ford did to redesign the Mustang.

    Please tell us the Neon, a glorified go-cart, was for the meter reader.


  6. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    Joyce – Thanks so much for doing the blog today. Your job is a side of police work that no one sees. It’s a job that’s the glue (or staple) to the whole operation, a job I could never do. Your department is lucky to have you.

    Thanks to Joyce’s pals from Working Stiffs for stopping by, too.

  7. Joyce Tremel
    Joyce Tremel says:

    Monty, I bet the secretary knew the name of your suspect’s wife’s 2nd cousin without even having to look it up.

    We just know these things. Seriously.

  8. Joyce Tremel
    Joyce Tremel says:

    Did anyone notice my initials on my stapler written in Wite-Out? That’s so I can find it when one of the officers STEALS it! I guess that’s easier for them than telling me they need more staples. I have my tape dispenser marked too, but that doesn’t help when they just take the tape and leave the dispenser.

  9. Monty McCord
    Monty McCord says:

    Hi Joyce,

    My hat is off to you. Being a retired police lieutenant, I KNOW how valuable the secretaries are. On those very rare occasions we would forget something (actually not so rare…!) like our court time, the name of a suspects wife’s 2nd cousin that we arrested three years ago and his last known address….you know, little stuff like that. The secretaries always came through. And becoming a command officer with WAY too many areas of responsibility, there’s no way to do it without folks like you. Thanks.

  10. Joyce Tremel
    Joyce Tremel says:

    Antieamy, good eyes! That is a Xena doll. My gorgeous and brilliant sons (see photos on my desk) gave it to me for Christmas several years ago. I like to think it’s a reminder to the guys I work with of just who they’re dealing with!

    Your Texas comment reminds me of the comedian Ron White. He was talking about the death penalty in Texas and said something like, “If you kill someone in Texas, we kill you right back.”

  11. D. Swords
    D. Swords says:

    Hi, Joyce.

    No, you never see the police secreatary on CSI, but if the actors, producers and directors of the TV show didn’t have their own secretaries – you wouldn’t even see the show!

    It’s the unsung heroes behind the typewriters who keep organizations going.

  12. Auntieamy71
    Auntieamy71 says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your day with us, Joyce. Jobs like that are never dull. (Boring maybe but not dull)

    Two things: One, in the picture of your desk, is that a Xena Warrior Princess doll on your desk?

    Two: Speaking of police cars, the Texas Dept. of Public Safety (the state police) have driven Ford Mustangs for well over 20 years.

    When we say Don’t Mess With Texas, we MEAN it! *g*

  13. Joyce Tremel
    Joyce Tremel says:

    Hi Sarah. I’ll be around all day.

    Back in the summer of 1998 I attended a Citizen’s Police Academy here (we haven’t had one since!). Right after that, there was an item in our township newsletter that there was a part time opening so I filled out an application. I was interviewed by the Chief and the administrative assistant and got the job. I think I got the job because I’d attended the citizen’s academy because I had absolutely no qualifications. I’d been a stay at home mom for 14 years! It might have helped that the admin asst is also named Joyce. It makes it easier on the guys that they only have to remember one name.

    My volunteer work was in taekwondo, which I haven’t practiced for about eight years. I miss it, but a girl can’t do everything!

  14. SarahMC
    SarahMC says:

    Hi Joyce –

    I’m not sure if you’re still around since it’s only 9:15 here on the West Coast. I was wondering how you got your job or first thought of applying for the position. I think I read that you were a volunteer first?

  15. kendraelliot
    kendraelliot says:

    Joyce, when I did my citizen’s academy one of the first places we toured was the administrative area. Our eyes boggled at the amount of paperwork and filing. I think they use three full time people to answer phones and run the department. She showed us several 4-inch binders which they had to learn from to be qualified to enter info into NCIC.

    I could tell they loved what they did. They were like a group of moms and the officers were their kids. Definitely the core and heart of the station.

  16. Joyce Tremel
    Joyce Tremel says:

    Lee, I delivered a camera to the detective at a burglary scene, which happened to be my brother-in-law’s house. He lived two streets away from me and I stopped with the camera on my way home from work. I got to watch Dave process the scene.

    I definitely have a different view of things now. I started here in September of 1998 and at the time my boys were 14 and 10, so it was a perfect part time job. I left for work after they’d gone to school and they were only home about 30 minutes alone after school. And if they were sick or there was a school activity, no one minded if I took off.

    I never knew there was crime in Shaler before that. Naive, I know. I used to leave my doors open, car unlocked, etc. Not anymore. I’m much more cynical now–and probably crankier. The kids in the schools are terrible now too (their parents are just as bad), and it’s a shame because we have a good school system. If my kids were young, I’d probably want to home school them just so they wouldn’t be exposed to some of what goes on. One good thing–all the kids in the neighborhood know where I work, so they vandalize the mailboxes on the other streets. They don’t DARE come anywhere near my house!

  17. wbereswill
    wbereswill says:

    Ah, but Joyce, somehow a policman in a Charger becomes a lot more intimadating than the same policeman in a Honda Civic.

    I think it was in Kansas that the State Patrol had a couple souped up Mustangs and Cameros. You knew immediately that you could not outrun them.

  18. Joyce Tremel
    Joyce Tremel says:

    Okay, my hearing must be going. Either that, or I’m doing too many things at one time. That mail truck wasn’t stolen. It was involved in a hit and run and the mailman chased the other car until it stopped. Case closed.

  19. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    Joyce – Seems like I once heard you mention that you were called to deliver some equipment to officers at a murder scene. Were you allowed inside the actual scene? How did you feel? Has working in the police environment changed how you see and relate to crime, especially violent crime?

  20. Joyce Tremel
    Joyce Tremel says:

    wbereswill, don’t get me started on that Charger. I wrote a blog post once on why middle aged males should not be in charge of purchasing the police cars!

  21. Joyce Tremel
    Joyce Tremel says:

    And I still have time to blog, Elena!

    The paper (handwritten) reports are filed away and are kept for three years. Once they’re entered into the computer, it’s much easier to call the report up that way rather than search through all those papers. They do get looked at a lot. Even something as minor as a barking dog complaint. The officer will look to see how many complaints there were before deciding to issue a citation to the dog owner.

  22. Elena
    Elena says:

    All that in 28 hours a week? Do you wear your Super ‘Shero’ suit? I am impressed.

    Do you have a sense of how many of the entered reports are ever looked at in the line of duty?

    After seeing an entire room filled with floor to ceiling shelves all filled with pre-computer active bench warrents I’ve wondered how useful all the yards and yards of information actually is.

  23. Joyce Tremel
    Joyce Tremel says:

    Yep, Lee. That’s about it. There’s one officer here who can write a three page narrative and make it all one sentence.

    I’m sure I could make them sound much better, if only they let me!

  24. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    Cool. Keep us posted on the mail truck heist, Joyce. That will make an interesting pursuit.

    So you even have to type everything in cop-speak, huh? I used to get a kick out of reading the reports. They all sound the same:

    “I observed said suspect running at 0953 hours. I exited my vehicle and gave pursuit on foot. Myself and Officer Himself pursued said suspect north on Main street where I located said suspect. Myself and Officer Himself placed subject under arrest at 1002 hours.”

  25. Joyce Tremel
    Joyce Tremel says:

    Hi Stephen.

    No, they don’t have to approve the reports. I have to type the narrative in EXACTLY as it’s written–even if it doesn’t make sense (which happens a lot!). The only thing I’m allowed to correct is spelling. I would LOVE to be able to correct grammar and punctuation. Only a few of them know the difference between their, there and they’re. It drives me nuts.

  26. Joyce Tremel
    Joyce Tremel says:

    I’m not sure if I heard this right over the police radio, but I think someone just stole–or tried to steal–a mail truck…

    I’ll keep you posted.

  27. Joyce Tremel
    Joyce Tremel says:

    Jennie, I’ve actually thought about using a police secretary as a protagonist, especially if I need to come up with new series. I think she’d be a funny, smart ass type character.

  28. JennieB
    JennieB says:

    Hiya, Joyce. Thanks for letting me know you were going to be here.

    Methinks I have to put a police secretary into my small, fictional, Maine police department… Thanks, dear.

    Sounds like your job is another one of those that would make for a great protagonist for a book. Not exactly a cop, so limited in what she can do – and probably chafing a bit at the restrictions – but right in the thick of things, with lots of opportunities for noticing things and landing in trouble. If you get tired of writing about Summer, you should consider it.

  29. Terry
    Terry says:

    Fascinating, Joyce — here, the patrol officers use their in-car computers to do almost everything, including filling out reports. And yes, people wonder why they’re just sitting around in their patrol cars “goofing off.” (Of course, they’re probably keeping speeders at bay by their presence.)

    But what great story fodder you accumulated on the job.

Comments are closed.