How to Document Offensive Language

On June 24, Seahawks backup quarterback Tarvaris Jackson was arrested and charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon in Kissimmee, Fla. The charge is a third-degree felony.

You can read the news story and police report at this link: http://www.seattletimes.com/sports/seahawks/report-former-seahawk-qb-tarvaris-jackson-arrested-for-allegedly-pulling-gun-on-woman/

Officers often ask me how to document offensive language in a police report. What if someone uses obscene or racist language? Should you try to clean it up?

The answer is no – you should record exactly what was said, even if some of the words are ugly. This report gets it right: You can read exactly what Jackson allegedly said to the woman at the scene.

This report has another impressive feature: The correct use of a semicolon with however. (Many people – not just officers – mistakenly use a comma instead.)

When asked if there was a firearm in the house Tarvaris stated that there is no gun; however, on the kitchen counter I observed a black Ruger 9mm caliber handgun.  CORRECT

I would recommend just one change in this report: Use “told me” or “said” instead of the jargonist advised, which should be reserved for situations in which you’re counseling someone.

Tavaris Jackson

                     Tavaris Jackson

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Criminal Justice Report Writing by Jean Reynolds

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

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

You can purchase your copy for $19.95 at this link: http://amzn.com/1470164450Criminal 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 Michael Jackson Police Report

In December 2003, police raided Neverland ranch, home of pop singer Michael Jackson, and searched for evidence of child molestation. Shortly afterwards, Jackson was officially charged with child molestation. Last week the Radar Online entertainment website released a previously unseen police report from the 2003 raid.

Family and fans of Jackson’s are asking why the report was released after so many years have passed. (Jackson was acquitted of all charges in 2005, and he died in 2009.) The officer who looked at the pictures declared in his report that they do not meet the definition of child pornography. He noted, however, that they might have been used to groom youngsters and desensitize them to sexual advances.

You can read the news story at this link: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/everything-you-need-to-know-about-the-michael-jackson-police-report_us_576ad5d1e4b09926ce5d611b

You can download the police report and view some of the pictures that were found at this link: https://web.archive.org/web/20160621193645/http://radaronline.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/mj-docs.pdf

If you take the time to read the police report, you’ll notice the following features:

  • the report is jargon-free and written in everyday language
  • the officer cites his training when he evaluates the pictures
  • the report is lengthy, objective, and thorough

Studying actual police reports – especially reports that exemplify professional practices – is an excellent way to sharpen your own writing skills. There’s much to learn from this report about Michael Jackson’s Neverland ranch.

Michael Jackson

         Michael Jackson

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Available from www.Amazon.com

Criminal Justice Report Writing by Jean Reynolds

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

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

You can purchase your copy for $19.95 at this link: http://amzn.com/1470164450Criminal Justice Report Writing is also available as an e-book in a variety of formats for $9.99: Click here.

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Investigating a Rape Allegation

A student at Lynn University in Florida is having second thoughts about a rape allegation against another student. The alleged victim said she had been drinking heavily and may have consented to the sexual encounter. Friends and family pressured her to call police, but she later said she never intended for the alleged perpetrator to be charged with rape.

The incident (from September 2015) illustrates some of the complex issues that can arise when police investigate a rape allegation. An additional complication is that the student accused of rape says that he was prevented by the University from having a lawyer. (Lynn University denies that claim.)

One element in this incident stands out, however: The police report. The officer conducted a professional investigation, interviewing the victim and four other students. (Police were not able to locate the alleged rapist during the initial investigation.) The writing is clear and free of jargon, with one exception: The repeated misuse of advise. (Said or told is preferable.)

The report (which you can read here) is worth studying if you’re a recruit or officer who wants to learn more about  conducting and documenting an investigation of an alleged sexual assault.

The news story (which you can read at this link) can also be a useful starting point for a discussion of the challenges that can arise during a rape investigation.

Stop Sexual Violence

 

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The Pizza Problem

An Iowa man named Dusten Kemp is out on $8500 bail after threatening to shoot a Domino’s Pizza delivery driver on June 15. You can read the affidavit below. (To learn more about the incident, click here.)

This is an exceptionally well-written narrative. I’m especially impressed that the officer who wrote it put the periods inside the quotation marks. Many writers don’t know how to punctuate quotations – but this officer did it correctly.

Question: Can you find the usage mistake? See below for the answer. (The same mistake appears twice.)

There’s also a pronoun problem. Can you find it?

Overall this is an exceptionally well-written report. It’s efficient, objective, and thorough.

Domino's Pizza

Answers:

1.  Pizza’s is wrong. The plural of pizza is pizzas. (Apostrophes belong in of expressions: “There was cheese in the pizza’s crust.”)

Here’s how the sentences should have been written:

They stated that the defendant called back in tonight and they agreed to send out two free pizzas.

When the delivery driver arrived at the address given and turned the pizzas over, the driver stated that the defendant was drunk and took his clothes off.

2.  The previous sentence also has an error called an indefinite pronoun reference – a fancy way of saying that one of the pronouns is unclear. Look at this wording:

…the driver stated that the defendant was drunk and took his clothes off.

Did the defendant take off his own clothes – or did he undress the driver? His clothes could refer to either person.

Be careful with his and her, especially if a sentence refers to two people of the same sex. Here’s better wording for our example:

…the driver stated that the defendant was drunk and undressed himself.

How did you do?

Domino's_Pizza_(Malaysia),_Chicken_Pepperoni,_NY_Crust

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Available from www.Amazon.com

Criminal Justice Report Writing by Jean Reynolds

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

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

You can purchase your copy for $19.95 at this link: http://amzn.com/1470164450Criminal 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 Brock Turner Police Report

Brock Turner is a former Stanford University swimming star who was accused of rape in January 2015. A storm of outrage greeted a judge’s decision to sentence Turner to six months in jail (with good behavior, he will probably serve only three months). You can read the latest developments – which include new discoveries about Turner’s past sexual behavior – at this link: http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-stanford-attack-20160610-snap-story.html

If you’re trying to learn how to write better reports, the initial police report in the Brock Turner case is worth reading: It is objective, thorough, and jargon free. It’s available at this link: http://www.documentcloud.org/documents/1532973-complaint-brock-turner.html

Brock Turner

                  Brock Turner

 

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Getting Yourself Noticed

I’m a big Denzel Washington fan, and last week I watched The Bone Collector for the second time (it’s that good). If you’ve seen the movie, you’ll remember that Washington plays a forensics expert confined to bed by a serious injury. Angelina Jolie plays a New York patrol cop who comes across a dead body in an empty train yard. Her quick thinking impresses the forensics expert, who makes her part of his investigative team.

A psychological thriller like The Bone Collector obviously has little in common with actual police work – but there’s one detail in the movie that I’d like to focus on for a moment: Getting noticed. The Angelina Jolie character is an exceptionally quick-thinking, courageous, and competent officer. But no one notices her special qualities until she successfully deals with an unusual challenge: Stopping a moving train that’s about to destroy valuable evidence.

Many smart, ambitious officers at the beginning of their careers are hungry for a chance to show what they can do. Unfortunately, many of them choose an ineffective way to call attention to themselves: Through pompous, overblown writing. Instead of house, they write residence. For Johnson, they write the abovementioned suspect. The everyday word saw becomes the ridiculous ascertained.

But jargon and wordiness don’t impress – just the opposite. They create confusion and waste time. But there is a way to use words to showcase yourself, and I have an example for you. In April, New Orleans Saints defensive end Will Smith was fatally shot in connection with a traffic collision. Here’s an excerpt from the police report:

Officer Williams observed a Ruger semiautomatic, SR45 model, .45 auto caliber, serial number 380-09942, with the magazine removed, on the hood of an orange Hummer at the location. Officer Williams, while wearing latex gloves, cleared and secured the firearm.  EFFECTIVE SENTENCES

Did you notice anything?

The report consistently uses a professional sentence pattern that you won’t find in most high-school assignments. It’s called an interrupter, and I would guess that the officer who wrote this report has attended college.

If you read the sentences aloud, you can hear your voice change. Try this one:

Officer Williams, while wearing latex gloves, cleared and secured the firearm.  EFFECTIVE SENTENCE

Notice that there’s no jargon or overblown language. It’s a short, simple sentence – but it sounds sophisticated. Now try contrasting it with this version of the same sentence:

Officer Williams was wearing latex gloves. He cleared and secured the firearm.

That’s a perfectly acceptable sentence – but it doesn’t have the same level of professionalism.

If you’re hoping to climb the career ladder in criminal justice, you need to learn how to write professional sentences that are efficient and clear. Gobbledygook won’t do the job for you. How can you learn how to write at that level?

One possibility is to sign up for college writing courses. Another is to read daily with an eye to sentence patterns and vocabulary choices. Another is to study sentence patterns (which you can do, free, at this website: Part I and Part II.)

A few minutes a day doesn’t sound like much, but over time you’ll build new skills that will help your writing stand out. Why not start today? It makes a lot more sense than hoping for an opportunity to stop a moving train!

Bone_collector_poster

 

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What’s Your Definition of “Drug”?

In Chattanooga, Tennessee, a domestic violence case is making news. On May 20 Lacie Stone, senior advisor to Mayor Andy Berke, called police to say that her husband had assaulted her. When the police arrived, Robert Stone, her husband, claimed that she assaulted him. The couple had been arguing about Robert’s fears that Lacie was having an affair with the mayor.

Inconsistencies in the investigation have complicated the case, and Lacie returned to the police department later to make a detailed statement. You can read more at this link

Right now I want to focus on the initial police report. (You can download it at www.Scribd.com by using the search terms “Lacie Stone” and “police report.”) Here are three statements that I would recommend for revision. What changes would you make?

  1.  The defendant stated he then grabbed the defendant by her belt while she was on the floor and drug her out the door and told her to leave.
  2. Both the defendant and victim had evidence of injuries and damaged property to support the report.
  3. Lacie Stone was leaving the house for the night and the defendant thew a rock through the back window of her SUV, shattering the window and damaging the window, the frame around the back window, and the back seat, the defendant reported that during the verbal argument, they had a physical altercation over the phone where he was struck in the forehead from her trying to keep her phone.

Here’s my evaluation:

  1.  Instead of “the defendant,” I would use “Robert.” “Dragged” is more professional than “drug,” which is slang and not appropriate for an official police report.
  2. “Evidence of injuries” is an opinion. In an objective police report, you should describe the injuries: “A bruise above her left eye,” “a three-inch scratch below his right elbow.”
  3.  Two sentences are run together. A period after “back seat” will solve the problem:

Lacie Stone was leaving the house for the night and the defendant thew a rock through the back window of her SUV, shattering the window and damaging the window, the frame around the back window, and the back seat. The defendant reported that during the verbal argument, they had a physical altercation over the phone where he was struck in the forehead from her trying to keep her phone.

I’d also suggest writing the second sentence more efficiently. “Fight” is a better choice than “physical altercation,” and some of the other wording is unnecessary. Here’s a suggested revision:

Robert said that they were fighting about the phone. Lacie struck him in the forehead while she was trying to pull the phone away from him.

Domestic Violence Adobe

 

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A Chicken Massacre

Dan Bristol, the Chief of Police in Heyburn, Idaho, gives online advice about law enforcement issues.Recently a chicken farmer asked Chief Bristol whether it would make sense to file a police report about a domestic dog that attacked chickens on his farm. You can read Chief Bristol’s response at this link.

Because I’m an animal lover, I’m pleased that Chief Bristol favored reporting the incident to the police – but that’s not the only reason I’m posting the link. Chief Bristol effectively puts the report into a larger context, connecting it to various agencies and legal issues. It’s a concise and well-written explanation about why police reports are so important. Recommended reading!

Chickens on traditional free range poultry farm

 

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Football Players at Baylor University

I often remind officers that a routine report can become newsworthy months – even years – after the incident happens. An ESPN news story about Baylor University is a perfect example of the longevity of police reporting.

Baylor – a Baptist University  in Waco, Texas – was widely criticized some years ago for its dismissive attitude towards misbehavior by Baylor’s football players. According to ESPN, Baylor still has not taken the necessary steps to address the problem.

ESPN’s Outside the Lines obtained a police database of assault cases and matched them against Baylor football rosters from 2011 to 2015.  Although a number of Baylor football players were accused of violent behavior, none were charged or disciplined.

The University says it is investigating. You can read more at this link: http://www.tulsaworld.com/sportsextra/baylor/espn-report-police-records-show-more-violent-incidents-at-baylor/article_3584ef42-b832-51c7-9475-e941e62bde31.html

football 2

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Tinsley Mortimer Police Report

Tinsley Mortimer is a socialite and TV personality you may have heard of. On April 9 she was arrested for trespassing at the home of Nico Fanjul, with whom she’d previously had a relationship. Tinsley has claimed that Fanjul had committed domestic violence acts against her in the past, and a police report documents an alleged attack in December 24.

You can read a news article about Tinsley at this link: http://www.people.com/article/tinsley-mortimer-more-police-reports-alleged-domestic-violence

The 2014 police report has been posted here: http://radaronline.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Mercer-Police-Report.pdf

Overall, this is a well-written report – but I have some suggestions for changes. So here’s a challenge for you: Read the excerpts below to see if what changes you would make. Then scroll down to read more my responses. (Incidentally, “Mercer” is Mortimer’s maiden name.)

1. Upon arriving, I assisted Officer Pumalo with an uncooperative subject, later identified as Alexander Fanjul so m 09/25/85.

2. Initially, Fanjul was uncooperative.

3. Fanjul had a strong order of alcohol and appeared to be intoxicated.

4. Contact was made with Mercer’s mother who advised she had not spoken to her since approximately 0200 hours.

5. Fanjul advised that he and his girlfriend, Tinsley Mercer wif 08/11/75 had an argument. Fanjul advised during the argument, Mercer attacked him and scratched him, leaving minor lacerations to his chest, back, and bruising above his right rib cage. Fanjul advised that Mercer left the area after the alleged attack. I checked the premise and did a neighborhood search for the whereabouts of Mercer but ended with negative results. Fanjul advised that officers were called to his residence earlier because of Mercer trespassing. Fanjul advised Mercer left and then came back. Fanjul is unaware if Mercer has a key to the residence. Fanjul advised that if Mercer comes back to his residence that he would like for police to issue a trespass warning.

Here are my comments:

1. Upon arriving, I assisted Officer Pumalo with a man an uncooperative subject, later identified as Alexander Fanjul so m 09/25/85. [Delete “upon arriving” – it’s obvious and doesn’t add anything useful. And delete “an uncooperative subject” because it’s an opinion. 

2. Initially, Fanjul was uncooperative.  [Same problem: “uncooperative” isn’t objective. The report should list Fanjul’s uncooperative behaviors. “Fanjul stood in front of me with his arms folded and did not speak when I talked to him.” “In a loud voice Fanjul told me I had no right to be there and he wasn’t going to answer my questions. He walked into the kitchen and slammed the door.”]

3. Fanjul had a strong order of alcohol and appeared to be intoxicated. [Alcohol is odorless. Also: “appeared to be intoxicated” is an opinion. Preferred: “Fanjul had a strong odor of alcoholic beverage. His pupils were dilated, he slurred his words, and he swayed as he walked toward me.”]

4. Contact was made with Mercer’s mother who advised she had not spoken to her since approximately 0200 hours. [Passive voice is a bad choice because it doesn’t record who talked to her, and how: In person? By phone? Email? A text? And “advised” is the wrong word. It means “counseled” or “suggested.” Use “told” or “said.” Another problem is that “her” is confusing because there are two women, Mercer and her mother. Better: “I telephoned Mercer’s mother, who said she had not spoken to Mercer since about 0200 hours.”]

5. This wordy and repetitious paragraph is inefficient. Write Fanjul’s statement more concisely as a list (also called “bullet style”).

Fanjul told me:

– he and his girlfriend, Tinsley Mercer wif 08/11/75 had an argument

– Mercer attacked him and scratched him, leaving minor lacerations to his chest and back, and bruising above his right rib cage

– Mercer left the area

–  officers were called to his residence earlier because of Mercer trespassing

–  Mercer came back

–  he doesn’t know whether Mercer has a key to the house

 – if Mercer comes back to his house, Fanjul would like for police to issue a trespass warning

Tinsley Mortimer

                      Tinsley Mortimer

 

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