A Police Report from Phoenix, Arizona

On May 29, a family was shopping at a dollar store in Phoenix, Arizona. A four-year-old girl allegedly took a doll out without paying for it. A Phoenix police officers is accused of threatening to shoot the children and using excessive force against their parents.

A citizen standing nearby videotaped the encounter on his phone. After the video went public, Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams said she was “disturbed by the language and actions.”

The police report does not seem to match what actually happened outside the store. Meanwhile, more information about the couple’s background has been found, and a 16-page investigation has been released.

You can learn more and read the police report here: https://www.azcentral.com/story/news/local/phoenix/2019/06/14/phoenix-police-release-report-controversial-response-shoplifting-incident/1461089001/

You can watch the bystander’s video here: https://www.cbsnews.com/video/phoenix-mayor-apologizes-after-controversial-video-shows-police-officers-altercation-with-family/

Our interest here is – of course – in the police report. Most of it is extremely well written. Three features impressed me. The sentence structure is excellent. There’s no jargon – no advised, for example. And the officer correctly used active voice in a sentence about transporting the suspect to jail:

AFTER BOOKING PROCEDURES WERE COMPLETE, OFFICER HERRICHT AND I TRANSPORTED RENITA TO 4TH AVENUE JAIL WITHOUT ANY INCIDENTS.

But there were also two awkward sentences:

RENITA WAS WITH CHRISTINE WHO SHE SUPPOSE TOO TAKE CARE OFF.

N 0527-19 AT 1153 HOURS, OFFICER HERRICHT READ RENITA HER RIGHTS, FOR WHICH IN UNDERSTANDING SHE STATED ‘YEAH!’ RENITA THEN SAID SHE WILL NOT TALK TO OFFICER HERRICHT OF WHAT HAVE OCCURRED AT THE ABOVE STORE AND ASKED FORA LAWYER.

What happened? Was the officer getting tired? Did he run out of time for proofreading?

Every police report is a legal document that reflects on both the police officer and their agency. Always take time to review what you’ve written. Don’t hesitate to ask for input from someone else.The words Write, Review, Submit

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 Criminal Justice Report Writing by Jean Reynolds is available from Amazon.com for $17.95. For a free preview, click on the link or the picture below.

Updated, with a new chapter on Writing Efficiently

“It will definitely help you with your writing skills.” – Joseph E. Badger, California Association of Accident Reconstructionists Newsletter

Criminal Justice Report Writing is also available as an e-book in a variety of formats for $9.99: Click here.

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Drugs at Burger King?

On May 7, police officers in St. Petersburg, Florida, searched a woman in a Burger King restroom. They found seven syringes containing a clear substance. Charges were later dropped. You can read the story and the report here: http://thesmokinggun.com/documents/crime/syringe-case-update-764829

I’m concerned about one sentence in the report: subject showed several indicators of narcotics usage. That is a subjective statement (an opinion). It needs to be backed up with details.

What unusual behaviors did you see? For example, was the woman agitated, confused, or lethargic? Were there physical signs of drug use? They might include nausea, bloodshot eyes, slow speech, a seizure, a dull stare, or uncontrollable shaking.

In this case, police were called because the woman was agitated. What did she say? Was her voice shrill? Uneven? Were there long gaps between words? Writing the exact words and the way she spoke could indicate confusion or paranoia. At that point you might have probable cause for a search.

When a report doesn’t give objective facts, a district attorney might decide to drop charges. Always list your observations (not your opinions, hunches, or conclusions!) when you write a report.

an empty syringe for injections

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 Criminal Justice Report Writing by Jean Reynolds is available from Amazon.com for $17.95. For a free preview, click on the link or the picture below.

Updated, with a new chapter on Writing Efficiently

“It will definitely help you with your writing skills.” – Joseph E. Badger, California Association of Accident Reconstructionists Newsletter

Criminal Justice Report Writing is also available as an e-book in a variety of formats for $9.99: Click here.

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Another Bicycle Incident

This seems to be the week for bicycle incidents!

In Santa Rosa, California, a police officer tackled a bicyclist who was allegedly violating traffic laws.  As a result, the bicyclist’s elbow was broken. You can read the entire story here: https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9631121-181/santa-rosa-police-records-detail

Below is a summary that was released to the public. Pretend that you’re a supervisor. What advice would you give the officer who wrote it? (Note that this is not an actual police report. But police departments often issue summaries like this one.)

The incident involved a case of a man known to Santa Rosa police who an officer said was swerving while riding his bike, violating traffic laws and appearing not to heed an officer’s attempts to pull him over.

The man’s claim, as seen on police body-camera footage, was that he didn’t know he was being pulled over or was resisting arrest, having thought the officer’s signals were only to allow the police vehicle to pass by.

As the cyclist continued on his way, Officer Mark Fajardin, a 12-year veteran of the department, exited his patrol vehicle, chased the man on foot, tackled him off his bike and detained him after a brief struggle on the ground.

My comments: This is an excellent summary. The sentence structure is crisp and professional. The facts are objective and straightforward.

But there’s a problem: the writer crammed too much information into each sentence. Here’s a rule of thumb that many professional writers (including me!) try to follow: one idea per sentence. Your writing will be easier to read (and to write!). And you’re far less likely to make errors when you keep your sentences short.

Here’s my revision:

The incident involved a case of a man known to Santa Rosa police. An officer said the man was swerving while riding his bike. He was violating traffic laws and didn’t obey an officer’s attempts to pull him over.

The man kept riding his bicycle. Officer Mark Fajardin, a 12-year veteran of the department, left his patrol car. Officer Fajardin ran after the cyclist, tackled him, and brought the cyclist to the ground.

Body-camera footage showed the cyclist arguing with the officer. The cyclist said he didn’t know he was being pulled over or was resisting arrest. He thought the officer’s signals were only to allow the police vehicle to pass by.

1

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 Criminal Justice Report Writing by Jean Reynolds is available from Amazon.com for $17.95. For a free preview, click on the link or the picture below.

Updated, with a new chapter on Writing Efficiently

“It will definitely help you with your writing skills.” – Joseph E. Badger, California Association of Accident Reconstructionists Newsletter

Criminal Justice Report Writing is also available as an e-book in a variety of formats for $9.99: Click here.

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The Borrowed Bicycle

Below is a summary of a recent police report that was released to the media. Pretend you were a supervisor as you read the report. What changes would you recommend?

Police said a 45-year-old woman was allegedly assaulted Friday afternoon in the 400 block of Carroll Boulevard after confronting another woman about a borrowed bicycle, according to a police report.

Officers responded to the incident around 5:30 p.m. in the 700 block of Fort Worth Drive, where the woman called police. The caller told police she confronted the woman because she wanted her to return a bicycle she had borrowed.

Their verbal argument escalated into a physical altercation, the report states. The woman who borrowed the bike pushed the caller to the ground and wrestled with her for a few moments, according to the report.

Police observed abrasions on the victim’s ankle, knee and forehead.

Here are my comments:

  1.  Overall this is a professional, objective report. Well done!
  2. Delete verbal. There’s no difference between an argument and a verbal argument. Police officers are busy people with no time for unnecessary words.
  3.  Change “abrasions” to scrapes, bruises, or scratches. Use ordinary words whenever you can. Be as specific as you can.
  4. Change “physical altercation” to fight. Again, use ordinary words whenever you can.
  5.  The sentence below is confusing. Never use she when there are two women in a sentence:

The caller told police she confronted the woman because she wanted her to return a bicycle she had borrowed.

In my version, I changed the second “she” to the suspect. Now the sentence is easier to understand:

The caller told police the suspect had borrowed a bicycle and didn’t return it. The caller demanded her bicycle back.

a red women's bicycle

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OJT and Police Reports

My favorite tips come from men and women who have been writing and reading police reports for  a long time. Some time ago, Mark Gallo – a traffic accident reconstructionist in Michigan – told me about two problems he’s seen in numerous reports.

I’d call the first “writing on automatic pilot” – repeating the same wording other officers use over and over. Mark says, “Many years ago I concluded that there must be a key on police typewriters (I said it was many years ago) that entered the entire description of a drunk driver: “the above-named subject had bloodshot watery eyes an odor of alcohol coming from his head area his clothes were in disarray….” Everybody wrote it exactly the same way, almost like they were reciting the Miranda warning.”

You might wonder what’s so bad about doing this. If the wording works for other officers, why not use it yourself?

Here’s why: You sound as if you weren’t paying attention. There’s nothing there that YOU observed. Not to mention that “odor of alcohol” might get you in trouble in court because alcohol is odorless. (Better wording: “Odor of an alcoholic beverage.”)

And why “above-named subject”? Just use “he” or “she” – or the person’s name. And clothes “in disarray”? I’ve seen some very tidy people who were under the influence of alcohol. If you do notice disheveled clothing, be specific: stained jacket, torn sleeve.

Mark Gallo’s second complaint concerns the word “head area.” What, he asks (and I have the same question) is the difference between a “head” and a “head area”?

So many of these verbal patterns are the result of OJT – on-the-job-training – learning how to write reports by imitating what other officers have been doing. That’s a great practice if those officers are great writers. It’s not so smart if you could do better by adopting some different writing patterns.

Good food for thought. (Incidentally, my book Criminal Justice Report Writing has a useful chapter on OJT.)

On the job training OJT

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 Criminal Justice Report Writing by Jean Reynolds is available from Amazon.com for $17.95. For a free preview, click on the link or the picture below.

Updated, with a new chapter on Writing Efficiently

“It will definitely help you with your writing skills.” – Joseph E. Badger, California Association of Accident Reconstructionists Newsletter

Criminal Justice Report Writing is also available as an e-book in a variety of formats for $9.99: Click here.

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The Mike Bibby Restraining Order

Mike Bibby is a basketball coach who played 14 seasons with the NBA. In February 2019, Phoenix police investigated Bibby for allegedly sexually abusing a high school teacher in February 2017.

Because two years had gone by and witnesses had conflicting accounts, no charges were filed. You can read the entire story here: https://tucson.com/sports/arizonawildcats/basketball/police-report-witness-saw-mike-bibby-pull-teacher-into-car/article_4fb7b6ce-7dc4-11e9-98a5-af0e7f8bce8a.html

The victim obtained a restraining order, claiming that Bibby was stalking her. You can read and download it here: https://www.azfamily.com/restraining-order-against-mike-bibby/pdf_df427dce-3a26-11e9-877a-13cc69a3924f.html

The order – written by the teacher herself – is a model of good writing. Details are crisp and clear. Here’s an excerpt:

At approximately 2:30 – 3:00 pm, while returning to my classroom via outside route, Mr. Bibby was driving on our campus. He stopped his vehicle in from of us, waved to us to come to the driver’s side of the car. 1 don’t know this man personally. He specifically waved to me when I pointed to myself for clarification. I walked over to the drivers’ side of his SUV when he swung open the door and jumped out. He picked me up around the hips with my legs around his waist to hang on.

Notice that sentences are short. There’s no attempt to use fancy language or elaborate syntax. Although the writer is a teacher – not a police officer – this is a good model to study if you’re trying to improve your own reports.

Former NBA player Mike Bibby

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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 is available from Amazon.com for $17.95. For a free preview, click on the link or the picture below.

Updated, with a new chapter on Writing Efficiently

“It will definitely help you with your writing skills.” – Joseph E. Badger, California Association of Accident Reconstructionists Newsletter

Criminal Justice Report Writing is also available as an e-book in a variety of formats for $9.99: Click here.

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Take This Quiz!

Here’s an opportunity to check your English usage skills. This quiz will take just a few minutes. Scroll down for the answers.

1.  Mayor Santos asked Captain Floyd and (I, me) to serve on the crime prevention committee.

2.  Joan showed me the vaccination records for her (family’s, families’) cats and dogs.

3.  Which version is more appropriate for a police report?

a)  The car swerved across the center line three times in less than a minute, whereupon I activated my flashers and siren. At that point the car proceeded to stop, prompting me to approach and interact with the driver. I made a request to see her vehicle registration and driver’s license, which she showed me.

b)   The car swerved across the center line three times in less than a minute.I activated my flashers and siren, and the car stopped. The driver showed me her vehicle registration and driver’s license.

ANSWERS

1.  Mayor Santos asked Captain Floyd and (I, me) to serve on the crime prevention committee.

It’s easy to get these pronouns (I, me, he, him, etc.) right if you make the sentence shorter: Mayor Santos asked me to serve on the crime prevention committee. You can hear that “me” is the correct word. (To learn more about pronouns, click here.)

2.  Joan showed me the vaccination records for her (family’s, families’) cats and dogs.

Joan is talking about her family! (Families is plural.) 

3.  Which version is more appropriate for a police report?

Version a) has unnecessary words. Police officers are busy! Version b) is more efficient. 

a)  The car swerved across the center line three times in less than a minute, whereupon I activated my flashers and siren. At that point the car proceeded to stop, prompting me to approach and interact with the driver. I made a request to see her vehicle registration and driver’s license, which she showed me.

b)   The car swerved across the center line three times in less than a minute.I activated my flashers and siren, and the car stopped. The driver showed me her vehicle registration and driver’s license.

How did you do?

A+ grade ok

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The David Stringer Police Report

Rep. David Stringer is a former member of the Arizona House of Representatives. He recently quit the legislature after a 1983 arrest report came to light. Stringer had received probation and a community service sentence for allegedly having sex with two boys.

Questions have been raised because the report was expunged in 1990. Stringer went on to become an attorney and teacher, and he passed all background and fingerprint checks.

You can read the full story here: https://www.nhonews.com/news/2019/apr/02/1983-police-report-former-rep-stringer-paid-sex-un/

You can read the report here: https://heavy.com/news/2019/04/david-stringer-sex-crimes/

I have three points today.

  1. This is an unusually well-written report. Sentences are straightforward and readable. There’s no jargon, no wordiness, and no passive voice. (Passive voice finds its way into almost every police report I read, so this one truly is exceptional.)
  2. Every police report is important. The officer who wrote this one back in 1983 had no expectation that more than 30 years later, this report would be featured in a national news story.
  3. Police officers are busy men and women who often work long, tiring shifts. Sometimes it’s challenging to find the time to produce a precise and well-written report. The officer in this case had an additional challenge – no laptops were available back then. Congratulations are in order (belatedly!) for a fine example of professional writing.

                                  David Stringer

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Illinois Mayor’s Police Report

I sometimes hear recruits and sworn officers say that report writing intimidates them. They never get comfortable about doing it.

I always ask the same question: How many reports have you read lately? The answer is usually a sheepish “None.”

One of the best ways to learn how to write reports is to read reports. Every report has something to teach you! There are practices to imitate and mistakes to avoid.

If you aim to be a topnotch police officer, you need a police officer’s brain. (Common sense, isn’t it?) That means programming it with lots of content. I often provide links to actual reports. There’s plenty of material on this website for you to read!

* * * * * * *

On March 31, police investigated screams coming from the home of Carbondale mayor Mike Henry. There was insufficient evidence for an arrest. You can read the story here:  http://www.wsiltv.com/story/40294719/police-report-gives-details-about-domestic-incident-at-carbondale-mayors-home

You can read the police report here: https://wsil.images.worldnow.com/library/516045f0-a2b6-44b6-ad4a-82763f6acb14.pdf

It’s an excellent report – clear, objective, and written in ordinary English. There’s no passive voice – impressive!

I do have a few suggestions:

1.  You don’t need “upon my arrival.”

Upon my arrival, I met with CPD Officer Murray and CPD Sg. Acray.  INEFFICIENT

I met with CPD Officer Murray and CPD Sg. Acray.  BETTER

2. The word advised should be changed to said. Save advise for when you counsel someone:

Cpl. Fager advised me Carbondale Police Officers were already on scene and requesting assistance.  JARGON

Cpl. Fager told me Carbondale Police Officers were already on scene and requesting assistance. BETTER

3. I would omit the first sentence, which repeats information the officer had already entered into the online form: “On 3/31/2019, at 0007 hours, Cp. Fager, Cpl. Tuthill….”  

Overall, though, the writing is excellent. Here’s an example:

Officer Murray stated he and CPD Officer Jeters were in the area of W. Hill Drive conducting uniformed burglary patrol on foot and heard a female screaming.  PROFESSIONAL

              Mayor John “Mike” Henry

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A Missing Police Report

A domestic violence incident involving a mayoral candidate is raising some important questions about how police reports are stored and accessed. You can to read the story here.

Greg Brockhouse is running for mayor of San Antonio. In 2009 police were called to an alleged domestic violence incident. Although a police report was written, Brockhouse was never charged. Now reporters are looking for the report and can’t find it. There’s a date, a case number, and a badge number, but no report.

And that raises questions. The San Antonio Express News has investigated the alleged incident and questioned legal experts about police report practices. The experts say that police reports are public records. They don’t disappear unless they’re officially expunged. But Brockhouse was never charged. In San Antonio, reports can’t be expunged (deleted) unless there’s been an arrest.

So here are some questions:

Why wasn’t Brockhouse arrested?

Why was a report written?

Why did it disappear?

The Express News is also concerned about the process for expunging a report. Who decides which police reports are expunged – and how?

Newly elected District Attorney Joe Gonzales, who took office in January and was not a party to any of this, said it’s against the law to even acknowledge an expunction occurred. “My understanding is even if the person didn’t meet the qualifications for an expunction, and wasn’t eligible for one, that if the parties agreed to it, then it could happen and it could get expunged,” he said.

That raises questions about accountability. Should there be a procedure to review whether an expunction was properly and legally accomplished?

 *  *  *  *  *

The Brockhouse incident might be a good starting point for other agencies and districts to review their policies. Who decides when a police report should be written? How is that decision made? Is it ever acceptable to remove a police report? Who makes that decision, and how? And should those decisions be subject to review by someone outside the process? If so, who should undertake that review?

                                       Greg Brockhouse

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