You Need to Read This!

Recommended reading: “Two Words that Should Never Appear in Your Police Report.”  You can read the article at www.PoliceOne.com

My thanks to Bruce A. Sokolove, Law Enforcement Consultant at Field Training Associates, for sending me this link! 

report



Sign up for our FREE Police Writer e-Newsletter and receive a free copy of “10 Days to Better Police Reports,” ready to download! Your privacy is protected: We NEVER share emails with third parties.

 

 Criminal Justice Report Writing by Jean Reynolds (paperback, $17.95, Maple Leaf Press) is a practical, low-cost book that will help you write better reports. 

Go to www.Amazon.com for a free preview. 

You can purchase your copy at this link: http://amzn.com/1470164450.

Share

Is Your Report Complete?

Every officer knows that police reports have to be complete. That sounds like an obvious principle – but defining complete can be a judgment call.

Share

Drew Rosenhaus

I just came across a police report that’s no longer newsworthy (the incident happened in January, and it wasn’t much of a story then). Why write about it? I think it’s an example of mistaken thinking about report writing. In a minute I’ll explain what I mean.

The report involves Drew Rosenhaus, an agent who represents NFL football players. In January he and his wife had a major fight, and she called the police. Nothing physical happened, and she ended up leaving for the night. You can read the story and police report here. (According to TMZ, Rosenhaus has since filed for divorce. The couple had been married for 13 months.)

Here’s the police report. Notice anything?

OFFICERS RESPONDED TO THE ABOVE LISTED ADDRESS IN REFERENCE TOA VERBAL ALTERCATION BETWEEN MR. ROSENHAUS AND MRS. THOMSON (WHO ARE MARRIED, UPON ARRIVAL OFFICERS MET WITH BOTH PARTIES. MRS. THOMSON ADVISED THIS OFFICER THAT SHE WOULD BE LEAVING FOR THE NIGHT IN ORDER TO AVOID FURTHER ARGUMENTS. BOTH MR. ROSENHAUS AND MRS. THOMPSON APPEARED CALM AND WERE COOPERATAIVE. NEITHER PARTY MADE CLAIMS OF BATTERY NOR DID THEY HAVE VISIBLE SIGNS OF INJURIES. IT IS UNKNOWN WHAT THE ARGUMENT WAS ABOUT. MRS. THOMSON TOOK SOME PERSONAL ITEMS WITH HER AND LEFT THE PROPERTY.

What struck me (besides the misspelling of cooperative) is that there’s no “I” in this report. It says “officers responded” and “this officer” (“Mrs. Thomson advised this officer”).

You can see professional thought processes at work in the report – for example, someone looked for signs of injuries but didn’t find any. Someone also asked what the argument was about. But who?

This is old-fashioned report writing – the mistaken belief that if you don’t say “I,” you’re objective and professional. Suppose this officer testified in court. Wouldn’t he (or she) use “I” on the witness stand?

Other outdated practices include “above listed address” (where else would the officers have gone?) and “advised…that she would be leaving for the night to avoid further arguments.” There was no advice: Mrs. Thomson told the officer that she was leaving.

Overall, the report is concise and professional. All that’s needed is some updating to make it an example of effective report writing.

Drew_Rosenhaus by Chris J. Nelson

Share

Missing Police Reports in Dallas

There’s an ongoing debate about releasing police reports to the public. Some police departments feel that it’s important to protect citizens’ privacy by limiting the amount of information that’s published. But citizen groups and the media sometimes feel withholding police information means that they aren’t adequately informed about what’s happening in their communities.

A new records management and field reporting system launched by the Dallas Police Department is raising some questions about the right to privacy vs. the right to know. Installation of the new system was supposed to shut down the online records port for 30 days – but three months went by before the port was operational again. More seriously, citizens and reporters no longer had access to the narrative section of reports.

There’s a reason for that, according to Major Rob Sherman. Some officers were pasting the internal narrative into publicly accessible reports. That meant anyone could see protected information about victims of sexual assault or domestic violence.

“We continue to look for ways to get the public information online,” Major Sherwin says. “That’s the preference. But how do you filter the right information, complying with the law, while offering the public what they want?” So the debate continues: How to provide information to the public while protecting citizens’ privacy.

You can read more at this link: http://www.dmagazine.com/publications/d-magazine/2015/march/dallas-police-reports-system-change

Dallas


Share

The Elliott Rodgers Report

Thanks to an excellent police report, we now know more about what prompted mass killer Elliot Rodger to go on a killing spree in La Isla Vista, California on May 23, 2014. Rodger killed six people and injured 13 others before committing suicide. (You can read more about Rodger at this link.

On July 21, 2013, Rodger attended a party where he said he was mocked and beaten. That incident convinced Rodger to carry out the mass murder he had been planning. Click here for an account of the party and a link to the police report. It is clear, objective,  and thorough.

It could, however, be written more efficiently. Notice the repetition in this paragraph:

I asked Rodger how much alcohol he had been drinking when the altercation began and he said, “I drank two beers.” I asked Rodger why he had been attacked and called a “Faggot” and he said, “I don’t know why.” I asked Rodger why he didn’t call law enforcement after he was assaulted and he said, “I didn’t know who to call.”

This version eliminates the repetition (“I asked Rodger,” “I asked Rodger,” “I asked Rodger,”):

When I questioned Rodger, he told me:

-“I drank two beers.”

-He didn’t know why he had been called a “Faggot.”

-He didn’t call law enforcement about the assault because “ “I didn’t know who to call.”

Passive voice crept into Rodger’s descriptions of the men who attacked him:

I asked Rodger if he could describe any of the subjects who attacked him and he informed me of the following:

The first suspect was described as an Asian male, approximately 18-22 years of age, 5’09”, average build, with black hair, wearing blue jeans, and dark blue sweatshirt.

The second suspect was described as an Hispanic male approximately 18-22 years of age, 6’-2”, skinny build, short black hair, and unknown clothing description.

Here’s the same information in active voice (he told me), making it clear that Rodgers provided the description:

I asked Rodger if he could describe any of the subjects who attacked him. He told me: 

-The first suspect was an Asian male, approximately 18-22 years of age, 5’09”, average build, with black hair, wearing blue jeans, and dark blue sweatshirt.

-The second suspect was  an Hispanic male approximately 18-22 years of age, 6’-2”, skinny build, short black hair, and unknown clothing description.

Overall, though, this is an excellent example of a professional police report.

Rodger_small 2


Share

Bobbi Kristina Brown

Bobbi Kristina Brown is the daughter of Whitney Houston, who was found dead in a bathtub in 2012. Houston’s drowning was ruled “accidental,” with heart disease and cocaine use listed as contributing factors. Since then, daughter Bobbi has led a stormy life including a complicated relationship with Nick Gordon, a longtime family friend who’s had troubles of his own.

On January 31, Gordon found Bobbi face down in a bathtub. She is reported to be on life support and not expected to recover. The media have been busy digging into Gordon’s past, and a number of police reports have been released to the public.

I always recommend reading police reports written by other officers, so I’ve chosen one about a 2014 automobile crash involving Nick Gordon. Read and evaluate it (below), and then scroll down for my comments:

On 8/28/2014 at approximately 1138 hours I, Officer ROBINSON was dispatched to the area if 7439 Holcomb Bridge Rd reference an automobile crash involving an overturned vehicle. Upon my arrival, I confirmed there was an overturned vehicle with no one inside and made contact with the driver, NICHOLAS GORDON. During the entire exchange GORDON displayed thick delayed speech. His facial expressions were also delayed and his eyes were heavy droopy. He was unsteady on his feet and was not able to stay still. I advised him a number of times to have a seat in an effort to keep him from falling over but he was constantly trying to stand up. Even while being checked by EMS he was not able to stay still and focus on their questions. After advising GORDON he was under arrest for failure to maintain lane, DUI less safe and suspended license I read him implied consent for adults 21 and over. GORDON refused by saying he was not going to say anything until he talks to his attorney. Considering his refusal combined with the fact that he had just been in an accident I did not attempt fields.

My comments:

This is an unusually well-written report! It’s objective, thorough, and concise. I especially like the details about Gordon’s appearance. A less skilled writer might have said that Gordon “seemed intoxicated” – wording too general and vague for a police report. This officer provided convincing details: thick, delayed speech; delayed facial expressions; and heavy, droopy eyes. And there are detailed descriptions of Gordon’s behavior at the scene: unsteady on his feet, unable to stay still, unable to focus on the EMT’s questions.

There’s not a single passive-voice sentence (a persistent problem with police reports).

I would recommend only two changes:

  • Don’t say advise when you mean tell (“After advising GORDON he was under arrest for failure to maintain lane, DUI less safe and suspended license I read him implied consent for adults 21 and over.”) Save advise for actual advice.
  • The first sentence is probably unnecessary, although some agencies continue to insist that officers state the date, time, nature of call, etc. there. If you’re writing on a laptop, you’ve probably filled in that information already in spaces on the screen. Why repeat it? But longtime practices are slow to change!

Overall, though, this is an excellent report.

Bobbi Kristina Brown and her mother, Whitney Houston

Bobbi Kristina Brown and her mother, Whitney Houston

Share

Don’t Let It Happen to You!

Embarrassing story: On a recent February night, two young men used their keys to enter the family-owned store where they live with their parents and younger brother. Two San Diego police officers thought they were breaking in and called for a backup. A scuffle ensued, and one brother was punched repeatedly. Both young men and their mother were arrested. (Charges were later dropped, and a file for unspecified damages has been claimed. Luis, the brother who was punched, has been in treatment for a brain tumor.)

OK, mistakes happen…but then things got worse. Surveillance video cameras in the store proved that the officers lied in their police report about the encounter. Police spokesman Lt. Kevin Mayer confirmed the department is conducting an internal affairs investigation over the incident. The incident made national news.

A word to the wise: Use your police reports to document your professionalism and integrity. 

http://voiceofsandiego.org/all-narratives/police-misconduct/their-crime-walking-into-their-own-home/

surveillance camera ok

 

Share

Two Articles That Are Worth Reading

Amaury Murgado is a special operations lieutenant with the Oscola County Sheriff’s Department in Florida. He is a lifelong student of martial arts. Here are links to two recent articles that are worth reading:

What should an officer do if he or she walks up to a robbery in progress?http://issuu.com/amur/docs/poli_16-19_robbery_in_progress

Here are sensible tips for law enforcement supervisors about giving orders and instructions: http://issuu.com/amur/docs/poli_8-9_be_specific

Amaury 2

Share

The NFL…Again

Once again the NFL is having to deal with the issue of sexual violence. Last month Baltimore Colts linebacker Josh McNary was charged with felony rape in Indianapolis. You can read  the full report at this link: http://deadspin.com/colts-linebacker-josh-mcnary-charged-with-rape-1679572197

The report is an excellent example of police writing: Thorough, objective, professional. There’s no police jargon and no passive voice. The report is written in normal, everyday English.

The Colts released this statement:

We are aware that there has been a report about Josh McNary, but unfortunately that’s the limit of our knowledge. At this time we are very concerned and trying to find out what the relevant facts are, but we have insufficient information to venture any opinion. As we learn more we will make appropriate updates.

This is just the latest headache for the NFL, which has repeatedly had to deal with accusations  of sexual assaults and domestic violence against its players. I wrote an article about the problem for Law Enforcement Today last year: You can read it by clicking here.

football 2

Share

A Type 4 Report

Yesterday’s post asked you to evaluate a police report about an assault charge against George Zimmerman. Now I have another question for you – two questions, actually. Are you familiar with the four types of reports? And do you know what type of report you would write about Zimmerman’s arrest?

Answer: It’s a Type 4 report. (See the chart below.) Here’s a quick summary of what I’m talking about: There are four basic types of police reports. Type 1 is the simplest, and each subsequent type adds another feature. Type 4 is the most complicated type of report.

What makes Type 4 reports different? The officer (or, in the Zimmerman case, officers – there were two of them) initiates the action. Because the officers make the decision on their own to get involved, probable cause is an issue.

Take a moment to read the Zimmerman police report and see if you can spot the sentence about probable cause. 

Did you find it? It’s this sentence: 

The officers advised they heard glass break, and saw the [blacked out] drive off without headlights on…

That sentence establishes probable cause for stopping the car and talking to the woman who claimed that Zimmerman assaulted her.

Understanding the four types of reports can save time and ensure that every report meets criminal justice standards. Studying the chart below is a good place to start!

Types of Reports

Share