Another Police Report about Johnny Manziel

Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel has a history of troubling behavior. Problems erupted again last weekend, when he allegedly struck his girlfriend, Colleen Crowley and claimed that he was going to kill himself. Crowley said she jumped out of his car because she was afraid for her life. No charges were filed, but the NFL is investigating.

If you want to write better police reports, you need to read the official account of what happened between Manziel and Crowley. This is an exceptionally well-written report. It is efficient, factual and – best of all – free of police jargon. The style is confident and professional.

There are a few places where the report could be more concise and objective. For example:

As our investigation continued, Colleen seemed increasingly uncooperative, stating that she did not want to answer any more questions, did not want to fill out a statement or make a report, and did not want officers to photograph her or any of her injuries.

The details here are excellent, painting a clear picture of what Colleen was doing. If I were the officer’s supervisor, I would recommend deleting “Colleen seemed increasingly uncooperative.” It’s a judgment call – and it doesn’t add anything useful to the report. Anyone reading about Colleen’s actions (refusing to fill out a statement or make a report, and insisting that officers not photograph her injuries) could see that Colleen was not cooperating.

Another problem is that Manziel’s name (Jonathan) is misspelled in the report.

On the whole, though, this is an excellent example of modern police writing.

Johnny Manziel

Johnny Manziel

Update: A a judge has signed a protective order instructing Manziel to stay away from Crowley for two years and to pay her legal fees worth $12,000. Click here to read the story.  

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A Toddler and a Window

I just came across an example of an issue that shows up frequently in police reports: Recording a string of connected past events. You’re a police officer reporting several events that happened before you even arrived at the scene. You didn’t witness the events yourself. How do you write your report efficiently and coherently?

Here’s the story (one with a happy ending): A toddler was enrolled in a preschool program. His classroom was on the second floor of a school building. Someone walking a dog near the school looked up and saw the boy hanging from a window. He talked to a para-professional, who told the principal, who called 911. By the time the officer arrived, the child was standing up and talking (saying the word “locked”). He had fallen onto a pile of dirt from a chicken coop.

Whew.

The only part you witnessed firsthand was seeing the child on the pile of dirt. How do you write all of this in a report?

Here’s an excerpt from the narrative of the actual report:

Event #07779 in summary, responded to a call of a child who had fallen from a second story window at the Oscar Mayer School located at 2250 N. Clifton. R/O was met by the principal X who related that she had been alerted by X (Para-professional) at the school that a student was hanging from a second story window located in Classroom #213. X had been outside with a group of students and had been alerted by an unknown male walking his dog by the school that the victim was hanging out of the window.

Here’s an alternative that I think is better. Notice that I used “had” so that you instantly know which incidents happened earlier:

On December 8 I responded to a call about a child who had fallen from a second story window at the Oscar Mayer School located at 2250 N. Clifton. I saw the child with a paraprofessional (X). I checked him for injuries and saw that he wasn’t seriously hurt. I called for an ambulance to take him to Lurie’s Children Hospital for further examination.

I spoke to the principal. She told me that a paraprofessional (X) had told her about the boy hanging from a window. X had been notified by a citizen who was walking his dog past the school. The citizen looked up, saw the boy, and notified the paraprofessional.

Danger Commons ok

 

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The Track Palin Police Report

Former Vice-Presidential candidate Sarah Palin has been back in the news recently. Many voters cheered when she endorsed Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump. Less happily, her 26-year-old son Track was recently arrested for domestic violence.

If you read the police report, you will notice that it’s well written – but with one significant problem: A lack of specifics about the reasons for the arrest. Some observers have speculated that the report may not hold up if it’s challenged in court.

Here’s one problematic paragraph:

Upon contacting Palin, he was uncooperative, belligerent, and evasive with my initial line of questions. I asked him numerous times to tell me what happened, why 911 was called, and the location of the female who also called 911. Palin stated he didn’t know where she was and denied that there was a firearm involved, but did state that there were several spread throughout the residence. Due to Palin’s escalating hostility, the unknown whereabouts of the female 911 caller, and Officer safely, Palin was placed into handcuffs.

The first problems I noticed were the use of passive voice:

“Upon contacting Palin” [who contacted him, and how? Was it by phone, or did you meet with him in person?]

“Palin was placed into handcuffs” [by whom?]. 

More seriously, the report describes Palin as “uncooperative, belligerent, and evasive.” and it refers to his “escalating hostility.” But there isn’t a single detail in the report to support those claims. What did he say? Did his body language suggest hostility? Writing down his exact words and gestures would build a case that’s more likely to stand up in court.

The police report actually weakens the case against Palin by recording what he did say: Palin stated he didn’t know where she was and denied that there was a firearm involved, but did state that there were several spread throughout the residence.

It’s quite possible that Palin really was hostile, belligerent, evasive, and so on – but the evidence isn’t there in the report.

In fact experienced officers say that providing specific details might even prevent a court hearing. A defense attorney might not see any point in trying to challenge a report written by an  officer who has proven that he’s a consummate professional.

Bottom line: Be sure to write a detailed police report.

Sarah Palin

              Sarah Palin

 

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The Chandler Jones Police Report

New England Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones said he made a “pretty stupid mistake” that caused him to be admitted to Norwood Hospital in  Massachusetts on January 10. He arrived at the police station shirtless, disoriented, and asking for help. An officer went to Jones’ house to pick up clothing for him and noticed a smell of “burnt marijuana.” No charges were filed.

Marijuana use is banned by the NFL. A first violation results in the player being referred to the league’s substance abuse program, but no fine or suspension.

The NFL has not commented about the incident. There’s been speculation that Jones was using synthetic marijuana, a legal substance that can cause anxiety and disorientation.

You can read the story and police report here. The report is thorough and professional but overlong. Busy police officers might benefit from reading it and thinking about ways to make it shorter.

Here are some comments from me:

  • I found two problems with the first paragraph.

Approximately 07:40 Hrs. — Officer Foscaldo arrives at officer parking area to START his day shift. Ile and Reserve Officer Headd, who was completing his mid-night shift, engaged in conversation.

I wondered why this paragraph was there, since it doesn’t contain any useful information. Another problem is that it’s written in present tense (“Officer Foscaldo arrives”). The rest of the report is correctly written in past tense. 

  • There are many filler words and phrases. Here’s the second paragraph of the report, with unnecessary words in green. Below is a more efficient version.

It was at that time Foscaldo observed a shirtless black man wearing blue sweatpants. This individual had a muscular build, over 6 feet tall and long arms. in a very hurried fashion this individual scurried through the lot where cruisers were parked, and then made a direct line to the rear, Police Only, entry point to the station. Without warning or provocation the individual abruptly got down on his knees and placed his hands behind his head.

 Foscaldo observed a shirtless black man wearing blue sweatpants. This individual had a muscular build, over 6 feet tall and long arms. This individual scurried through the lot where cruisers were parked, and then made a direct line to the rear, Police Only, entry point to the station. The individual abruptly got down on his knees and placed his hands behind his head.

  • Wording could be simplified. Instead of “observed,” use “saw.” Instead of “the individual,” use “he.”
  • Some important information is missing because the report uses passive voice. For example, note this sentence: The individual was escorted around the rear of the building to the front lot, where our Fire Service ambulance was staged. Who escorted him? Police reports should always document who did what at the scene. Suppose there are questions later about how a situation was handled?
  • Passive voice appears again (as it so often does in police reports!) in the last paragraph: The subject was transported to Norwood Hospital Emergency. Who drove him? And why is Jones called “the subject”? Use he: I transported him to Norwood Hospital Emergency.

Chandler_Jones 2

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Governor Bill Richardson’s Fender Bender

Bill Richardson, former governor of New Mexico, was recently involved in a minor traffic accident in Santa Fe. On January 6 his Jeep rear-ended another car stopped at a traffic signal. Bill Richardson drove away. Later he told police that he thought it was “a little hit.”

It’s always interesting to read and analyze an actual report. You can read this one yourself by clicking here.

The police report is puzzling. Three people were quoted word-for-word: Bill Richardson, the owner of the rear-ended car, and a witness who saw the accident and then drove away to look for the Jeep and its owner. But the narrative does not state that an officer actually interviewed these three people, nor does it explain how Richardson was found. One news story commented on the missing information: 

It’s unclear from the police report how an officer came to talk to Richardson. It doesn’t say whether police found the Jeep or pulled Richardson over based on witness descriptions before he was interviewed.

A positive feature is that the report is jargon-free.

One concern that I had was about the wordiness and inefficiency of the report. Here is a typical paragraph:

D2 [Richardson] stated, “Did I hit somebody?” D2 stated that, “It popped a little bit, but I think it was like a little hit. D2 stated, “It was a stop light and I think I barely popped it.” D2 stated that he would fix it. D2 stated he did not recall making hardly making any contact just a pop. D2 stated that they were going straight and he was going on Paseo to his office and he thinks the vehicle turned to the left and there was a bunch of traffic and he doesn’t think it was much of a pop at all.

It continues to astound me that academies and supervisors don’t teach officers to save time by listing the statements in an interview, like this:

D2 said:

  • “Did I hit somebody?”
  • “It popped a little bit, but I think it was like a little hit”
  • “It was a stop light and I think I barely popped it”
  • He would fix it
  • He did not recall making hardly making any contact just a pop.
  • They were going straight
  • He was going on Paseo to his office
  • He thinks the vehicle turned to the left
  • There was a bunch of traffic
  • He doesn’t think it was much of a pop at all

Results: Efficiency, clarity, and easy reading if you need to refer to the report later.

171px-Bill_Richardson_at_an_event_in_Kensington,_New_Hampshire,_March_18,_2006

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Wordiness

I just read a recent police report about Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel. I’ve put an excerpt from the report below, followed by a revision.  (You can read the entire report at this link.)

Notice the difference in length between the original version and the improved version, and ask yourself: Is all this unnecessary verbiage a good use of a highly trained officer’s time?

From the original report:

Writer pulled to the south of the vehicles, facing southbound, in order to protect the scene. Upon exiting the patrol vehicle, writer made contact with the male, later identified as Johnathan Manziel. Not knowing the details of the incident, Mr. Manziel was instructed to turn around, so that a protective pat down for weapons of his person could be conducted. The male complied and asked if he was being arrested. Writer informed him no and conducted the pat down, which did not reveal any weapons. Writer informed the male of the calls the Avon Police Department received; concerning a female being pulled into a car after an argument At this point, Mr. Manziel briefly explained that he and the female passenger, later identified as his girlfriend, Ms. Colleen Elizabeth Crowley, were coming back from downtown Cleveland and were arguing. Mr. Manziel was asked if he was injured during the argument, in which he stated he was not. Writer then went to check on the welfare of Ms. Crowley.

Writer made contact with Ms. Crowley and asked her if she was ‘OK’ or if she was physically injured. Ms. Crowley responded that she was OK’ and that she was fine. The female standing next to Ms. Crowley, later identified as Ms. Lauren Clarke, advised that she was a witness and would be standing by in her black SUV to speak to an officer.

Improved version:

I parked south of the vehicles to protect the scene and patted down the male, later identified as Johnathan Manziel. He cooperated, and I did not find weapons. I told him I had stopped him because of calls to the Avon Police Department about a female being pulled into a car after an argument, and he was not being arrested. He told me he was not injured during the argument.

I interviewed Ms. Crowley, who told me she was not hurt.

The female next to Ms. Crowley, later identified as Ms. Lauren Clarke, said she was a witness.

Here’s one more example of unnecessary wordiness. Compare these two versions:

Mr. Manziel was asked if he was injured during the argument, in which he stated he was not.  ORIGINAL

Mr. Manziel told me he wasn’t injured during the argument.  BETTER

When you write a police report, don’t spray meaningless words all over the computer screen! Make every word count.

Johnny Manziel

            Johnny Manziel

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Campus Police Reports

On September 13, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology began sending text alerts to students about an active shooter. Shortly afterwards there were more texts to explain that the shots had been fired off campus. News media quickly picked up on the story – and just as quickly discovered that though both city and campus police had investigated, only the Cambridge Police Department’s report was public.

Campus police at private colleges and institutions are exempt from Massachusetts public records law – a matter of some controversy. State Representative Keith Honan has proposed legislation to make campus police records public. “It’s important for parents and students, when choosing a college, to have accurate crime statistics at their disposal,” he said.

The institutions have responded that daily crime logs are already open to the public – although some are available only by visiting the campus. Officials say that forcing greater disclosure might inhibit students from taking concerns to campus police.

But some legislators are asking why private institutions should be treated differently from the University of Massachusetts Boston and other public colleges and universities, which are required to make crime reports public.

A recent article in the Boston Globe noted that 21 private colleges in Greater Boston have police forces. Those officers belong to a category called “special state police officers” that  includes hospitals and railroads. MIT has 59 sworn officers who can carry weapons, make arrests, and use force.

mit picture 2

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

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Online Police Reporting

A number of police departments are encouraging citizens to report non-violent crimes online. In Virginia, the Norfolk Police Department has introduced a new online system that features a virtual police officer to help with the process. The system is available around the clock in both English and Spanish.

“Empowering our residents and community members to report crime is a great asset to enhancing our police services,” said Police Chief Michael Goldsmith. “The solution will play a critical role in assigning our personnel to best protect the needs of the city we serve.”

The system is intended to reduce time and costs associated with reporting so that officers can spend their time on other crime fighting, according to the release. Police said it reduces officer dispatch by up to 30 percent for all reports. You can take a look at Norfolk’s reporting system at this link

The Troy Police Department in New York is another agency that is making online reporting available for non-violent crimes. The Troy PD has added another helpful feature: A downtown computer terminal with a direct link to police. Eventually kiosks will be installed to make it easier for citizens to make reports.

Tedesco said the system, which costs $5,200 annually, will streamline the workload so that these crimes are still reported and attended to, but officers then potentially have more time to investigate city crime hot spots. You can view the system at www.troypd.org.

Domain Name 2

 

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An Old-School Report

New information is becoming available about the Freddie Gray incident in Baltimore, Maryland on April 12. (You will remember that Gray spotted police, ran, was arrested when a knife was found in his pocket, and was found to have serious injuries when the police vehicle arrived at the station. He subsequently died. The knife in his pocket turned out to be a legal pocketknife. An investigation is ongoing.)

What interests me today is the incident report that has been released. Here is the narrative portion:

…the above named Defendant fled unprovoked upon noticing police presence. The Defendant was apprehended in the 1780 Block of Presbury St after a brief foot chase. This officer noticed a Knife clipped to the inside of his front right pants pocket. The defendant was arrested without force or incident. The Knife was recovered

This is old-school report writing. It uses passive voice (“The Defendant was apprehended…”). The officer does not identify himself or herself (“This officer noticed a Knife…”).

Happily, this type of report writing is becoming more rare. Police reports need to state exactly what happened and who performed each action. Did you notice that the name of the person who captured Freddie Gray is missing? And that there are no details about how Freddie Gray was “apprehended?” Was force involved? The report doesn’t say.

Writing “this officer” instead of “I” is a leftover from a kind of magical thinking that used to shape police reports. Criminal justice used to believe that if you said “I,” you could be lying. But if you said “this officer,” or you used passive voice, you were guaranteed to be telling the truth.

Doesn’t make sense, does it?

typewriter old ok

 

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Andy Moeller

Prosecutor Jim Walter in Berea, Ohio has decided not to pursue charges against Cleveland Browns offensive line coach Andy Moeller, who was accused of assaulting a woman at his home. You can read about this latest development at this link. And you can read an earlier news story, along with the original incident report, by clicking here.

Today I’m interested in one sentence from the incident report:

The victim was advised that the original complaint she signed would be forwarded to the Berea Prosecutor for review, and that no arrests would be made on the complaint at this time.

What’s your opinion? Is this an example of good police writing?

My answer is no (although most of the report is excellent) for two reasons.

First, “advised” is the wrong word. There was no “advice.” The victim was told the status of her complaint.

Second, this sentence omits an essential piece of information: The name of the officer who told her what was going to happen to her complaint.

Here’s how the sentence could be written (assuming that the officer writing the report is also the person who told her about the Berea prosecutor):

I told the victim that the original complaint she signed would be forwarded to the Berea Prosecutor for review, and that no arrests would be made on the complaint at this time. BETTER

Cleveland_Browns_New_Uniform_Unveiling_(16947116187) 2

 

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