The Ferguson Police Department in Missouri has released its police report recounting an alleged strong-arm robbery by Michael Brown on August 9.
If you’ve been following the news, you know that shortly after the robbery, Brown was stopped for jaywalking. He and a companion – also allegedly involved in the robbery – ran from the police officer, who pursued them and fatally shot Brown. The story is still developing. You can learn more about the story at this link.
One interesting development concerns the police report of the robbery. It’s been released to the public, and it’s an excellent example of professional police writing. You can read it at this link. It’s written in first person, with a minimum of jargon (except that advised crept in several times when told or said would have been better). There’s a however sentence that needs a comma:
An apparent struggle or confrontation seems to take place with Brown, however it is obscured by a display case on the counter.
Here’s the improved sentence:
An apparent struggle or confrontation seems to take place with Brown. However, it is obscured by a display case on the counter.
Overall, though, this is an impressive report. Sophisticated sentence patterns throughout the report suggest a high level of writing skill. Here’s an example from the step-by-step description of what is happening in the surveillance video from the convenience store (the name of the clerk was redacted):
[The clerk], no longer between Brown and the door, stops and watches Brown as he walks toward the exit door.
Far more important than the fine points of writing, however, is the question of the public’s right to know. Are police reports internal documents – or does the public have the right to read them? And…who decides?
Just last month, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled against mandatory release of police documents. (You can read the decision here.) Another recent case, still undecided, concerns a university police force in Ohio that does not want to release arrest documents. The Ohio Supreme Court has not yet issued its ruling. (You can read about that case here.)
In Ferguson, Missouri, the unanswered questions center on the report of the shooting of Michael Brown. Did Officer Darren Wilson know that Brown and his companion were suspects in a robbery? That police report has not been released. Does the public have a right to read it? Or is a press release sufficient?
Who will make that decision? We can expect the debate to continue.
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