Police Reports from Portland, Oregon

Last month in Portland, Oregon, peaceful demonstrations against the election of Donald Trump turned into violence. The Portland Police Bureau has released the police reports that document the use of force. You can read them here.

Today I’d like to comment about some features I noticed in the beginning of the first report. (Suggestion – read the excerpt below and see what you think before you go to my comments. This is a great way to sharpen your own writing skills.)

On today’s date and listed time I was tasked to Delta squad with Sgt Mooney and Ofc Mawdsley who were also tasked with Delta squad on listed date and time. During this time Sgt Mooney explained there was probable cause to arrest one of the main aggressors who was telling the crowd where to go by way of a mega phone. This included blocking traffic on the Burnside bridge which is public right of way and both lanes of traffic causing the traffic to become clogged. This was a dangerous time because at this time of year it becomes dark early it also made me extra alert because I was watching the male with the mega phone directing this group of about 100 or more kids to sit in traffic and place themselves into direct danger. It was dark enough that even the street lights were on.

We followed and assisted the crowd with it’s movements into downtown Portland. The march eventually lead to SW 5th/SW Salmon St where Sgt Mooney said if the opportunity presents its self then myself and Ofc Mawdsley would affect the arrest of the main aggressor. The main aggressor made his way South on SW 5th in front of the crowd and we were given the go ahead to make the arrest on him. As we walked up to him to arrest him he was immediately grabbed onto by a female later identified as STEVENS.

STEVENS grabbed the male we were trying to arrest as if she was hugging him but when we ordered her back and to let go of the male she refused and visibly tightened her grasp onto him….

My comments: Much of this report is excellent. It’s thorough, and the sentence structure is excellent. I was especially impressed by the absence of jargon. For example, the officer simply used “I” instead of outdated expressions like “this officer.”

But…the report is much longer than it needed to be. You’re an officer, not a novelist. Get to the facts – quickly. Get done!

Here’s a suggested rewrite. Notice that this version is a fraction of the length of the original – 277 words reduced to 61.

Sgt. Mooney, Ofc Mawdsley, and I were dispatched to arrest a protestor who was obstructing traffic on the Burnside Bridge.

At SW 5th/SW Salmon Street we approached the aggressor. As we walked up to make the arrest, a woman (later identified as Stevens) grabbed the aggressor as if she was hugging him. Instead of letting him go, she held him tighter.

Additional comments:

  • Don’t waste time on the date and location if you’ve already recorded them elsewhere on the form.
  • This officer deserves credit for writing in active voice through much of the report. But passive voice crept in to one sentence: “…we were given the go ahead to make the arrest on him.” Who authorized you to make the arrest? That might be critical if there’s an investigation later on (which is exactly what happened in this situation).
  • Officers should be ruthless about avoiding time-wasting words. Notice this wording: “visibly tightened her grasp onto him.” If you saw her tighten her grip, of course it was visible! Better wording would be simply “she tightened her grasp onto him.”
  • Like many writers, this officer has difficulty with the word it. (You can read some tips about using it/it’s/its correctly at this link.) Take a look at this sentence:

We followed and assisted the crowd with it’s movements into downtown Portland.  INCORRECT

It’s means it is. Use its here instead:

We followed and assisted the crowd with its movements into downtown Portland.  CORRECT

Here’s a useful trick: Substitute his (which also doesn’t have an apostrophe).

his movements (no apostrophe) √

its movements (no apostrophe) √

Boarded-up Store after Anti-Trump Rioting

            Boarded-up Store after Anti-Trump Rioting

____________________________________________________________

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.

 
 
 
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
 

On sale for only $16.95 through January 15!

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 the sale price of $16.95 at this link: http://amzn.com/1470164450Criminal Justice Report Writing is also available as an e-book in a variety of formats for the sale price of $8.99: Click here.

Share

Police Reports about Scott Greene

Scott Greene is the accused killer of two Iowa police officers who were murdered in Iowa on November 2.

You can read a series of incident reports about Greene’s encounters with police before the fatal shootings by clicking here.

These reports are worth reading and thinking about. Incident reports tend to be overlooked when criminal justice experts are talking about police recordkeeping. Here’s why: incident reports document situations when no laws were broken and no arrests were made. Often they’re placed in a file and forgotten.

But the Scott Greene case reminds us that incident reports can provide an important paper trail later on, when a series of minor events becomes connected to a major new story – especially a sad one, like the deaths of the two Iowa police officers.

I encourage you to click on the link and spend a few minutes reading the Scott Greene incident reports, especially if you’re new to police writing. I found them to be well written and professional.

I have a few suggestions, however. The writers tend to overuse “advise,” which should be saved for giving actual advice. Use “said” or “told”:

At this time Steven advised me that Scott has mental issues. X

Steven told me that Scott has mental issues. 

Another issue is that these incident reports are sometimes more wordy than they need to be. Busy police officers sometimes need to be reminded to write efficiently. Expressions like “upon my arrival” and “at this time” don’t add any useful information and should be avoided.

Here’s an example of a sentence that could be simplified:

When running Scott’s information through dispatch I was advised of an Officer Safety flag as Scott has hatred for all law enforcement. WORDY

Here’s a more efficient version:

Dispatch told me about an Officer Safety flag noting that Scott hated all law enforcement.  EFFICIENT

police-death

 

Share

The Latest about Baylor University’s Police Reports

Police reports record essential details about crimes, provide important data, and facilitate investigations and prosecutions. But none of these things happen by themselves. Someone in the agency has to ensure that crime scene units, district attorneys, and other entities have access to those reports.

Some police reports – unfortunately – get lost along the way. Last May I wrote a post about problems with missing police reports at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. Although a number of Baylor football players were accused of sexual assault, no one on the team was charged or disciplined.

Now Baylor is in the news again. A recent 60 Minutes investigation found additional evidence of sexual crimes at Baylor. According to the investigation, campus police were guilty of “significant failure” when they held back police reports that should have been provided to the federal government. (Under Title IX, colleges and universities that receive federal funds are required to collect data about sexual crimes, investigations, and prosecutions.)

There are lessons to be learned from Baylor’s problems. Officers need to remember that every report is important: You never know who will be following up on something you’ve written. Administrators need to aware that their agency or department is part of a huge criminal justice system that – down the road – may be very interested in what seemed to be only a local issue.

In the end, it all comes down to integrity and professionalism.

Where do you stand?  

baylor_university_athletics_logo

 

Share

An Effective Police Report

Troy Davis is the only major-college running back to rush for 2,000 yards in consecutive seasons. He will be inducted into college football Hall of Fame next month. 

But Davis was arrested for drunk driving at about 2:30 AM on October 3, about 14 hours after he was honored at the Cyclones vs. Baylor game on October 2. (You can read more here.) Here’s the police report – objective, thorough, and professional:

On the above date and time, I was patrolling on Chamberlain Street when two males approached me saying their friend was extremely intoxicated and about to drive home drunk. I noticed another group of males holding the intoxicated male, the defendant, next to a car. The defendant was unable to stand unassisted.

When I approached the defendant his eyes were extremely bloodshot and watery. I could smell the strong scent of an alcoholic beverage emanating on or about his person. The defendant admitted to drinking 3 Crown and Cokes. The defendant’s speech was extremely slurred and I could smell the strong scent of a consumed alcoholic beverage emanating on his breath. The defendant refused all of the Standardized Field Sobriety tests and the Preliminary Breath Test. I arrested the defendant at approximately 0229 hours.

The officer provides specific details to support the decision to make an arrest:

  • “The defendant was unable to stand unassisted.”
  • “…strong scent of an alcoholic beverage…”
  • “speech was extremely slurred”

Note the words “alcoholic beverage.” Because alcohol is odorless, “alcoholic beverage” is a better term for police writing.

I’m especially impressed that there’s no passive voice in this report. Everything is written in active voice: “I could smell….” and “I arrested the defendant….”

I would recommend only one change: Omit “At the above date and time” if you’ve already recorded that information on the official form.

4869187375_778f71439d_z

 

Share

Handling Requests for Copies of Police Reports

How does your agency handle citizens’ requests for copies of police reports? Have you checked local policies and practices lately? Are any changes needed?

In California, anyone who’s a victim of sexual assault, elder abuse, stalking, human trafficking, or domestic violence is entitled to a free copy of their police report. California’s policy stems from the belief that these victims are entitled to know details of the crime and how it was handled by law enforcement.

But a number of other states are less willing to provide copies of police reports. In Portland, Oregon a woman who was the victim of sexual assault waited more than a year for a copy of her police report. Claire Rood, the victim, was told that her report was not available because it contained confidential information from a witness. It didn’t seem to matter that Claire herself was that witness.

She wanted to see whether her statement had been recorded accurately and what investigative steps had been taken. Eventually, after the district attorney came to her aid, Claire received a copy of her report.

What are the policies in your state – and in your agency? Are requests handled in a timely and professional manner? Or are changes needed – and, if so, who will lead the way? Will you?

report

Share

Solving Diction Problems

If you’re an instructor or supervisor who often comes across errors when you read police reports, today’s post is for you.

The bad news is that many of those errors are caused by diction problems. The good news is that the problem is easy to solve.

Diction refers to the language choices that people make. Right off the bat that explanation might sound strange to you. Words fill our days, and most of those words come out of our mouths automatically. We rarely slow down and think about choices in everyday conversation.

And that’s the problem!

When officers write badly, it’s often because they’re carrying their conversational habits over to their reports: “didn’t have none,” “him and I,” “I seen,” and so on.

But there’s an easy remedy. Most people have had plenty of exposure to Standard English through school, television, radio, movies, and so on. If they stop to think about what they’ve just said or written, they’ll pick up mistakes right away.

It all comes down to who’s in charge. If you’re an instructor or supervisor who fixes all the mistakes yourself, officers have little reason to slow down and write more carefully. But if you hand back the offending report and insist on a rewrite without the mistakes, you’ll soon start seeing better reports.

You get what you ask for!

the_boss

 

Share

Josh Brown

Football is back, and so is Giants Kicker Josh Brown. The NFL has decided to let Brown play despite his history of domestic violence.

Brown was arrested in May 2015 for domestic violence, but there were earlier signs of problems in his marriage. In October 2014 Brown called police to report that his wife, Molly, was kicking him in the ribs. No charges were filed. Brown and his wife subsequently divorced.

That October police report was recently made public at this link. It’s a hastily written report that could have benefited from a second reading and some corrections:

caller wants wife removed from apartment the  had a verbal dispute with his wife then when he bent over she proceeded to kick him in the ribs…

Everything was settled Husband and Wife were advised.

Academy instructors and agency administrators sometimes despair when they see reports like this one. What is to be done with an officer who writes so poorly?

In my experience, the solution is often surprisingly simple: Hold the officer accountable. Insist on a rewrite.

Anyone who graduates from an academy program knows that sentences start with capital letters and end with periods. The officer who wrote this particular report was probably tired. The report was written quickly. The officer didn’t go back to reread it.

The most important determinant in writing quality is…the boss.

If you fix cadets’  or officers’ mistakes for them, and you let careless writing slip by, you’ll get more and more of it.

But if you insist on quality writing, that’s what you’ll get.

Josh Brown

            Josh Brown

 

Share

The Stephen K. Bannon Police Report

You never know when a police report you’ve written is going to make news.

On January 1, 1996, a Santa Monica police officer responded to a 911 phone call hang-up and talked to a woman who claimed her husband had abused her. Charges were later dropped when the woman – Mary Louise Piccard – missed a court appearance. She later said she’d been afraid to show up in court. The couple eventually divorced.

That police report is in the news because the alleged abuser – Stephen K. Bannon – is the new CEO of the campaign to elect Donald J. Trump to the Presidency.

You can read more about the story at this link, and you can read the police report here.

The report is impressive. In 1996 many police reports – including this one – were handwritten. Although the officer did not have the advantage of a laptop to write on, the report is objective, thorough, and jargon free. The officer uses “I” to recount the events at the call.

Here are two objective statements that convincingly describe Piccard’s condition when the officer arrived:

I saw that her eyes were red and watery.

I saw red marks on her left wrist and the right side of her neck.

I have a few quibbles. A few words in the report are misspelled (including argument and a lot). But we need to remember that the report was written before spellcheckers were available.

For efficiency, I’d suggest omitting “upon my arrival” in this sentence:

Upon my arrival, I was met at the front door by X.

Here’s what’s really impressive: If you read the report carefully, you can tell that the writer has been to college. Take a look at this sentence, for example:

X said she spit at him and he reached up to her, from the driver’s seat of his car, and grabbed her left wrist.

The verb should be “spat,” but  otherwise this is an elegant sentence.

This officer deserves credit for an excellent report – and Santa Monica should be proud that it adopted sensible report-writing practices more than 20 years ago.

Here’s a question for you: If one of your reports turned up in a news story 20 years from now, would you – and your agency – be proud of what you’d written?

Make_America_Great_Again_hat_(27150179783)

 

Share

Writing Honest Reports

This week law enforcement received an important reminder about the necessity for scrupulous honesty in police reports. Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson has agreed to fire seven officers for making false reports in the 2014 Laquan McDonald case. Chicago’s inspector general recommended firing the officers after reviewing video footage that contradicts the reports.

Superintendent Johnson noted that the officers violated Rule 14, which prohibits “making a false report, written or oral.”

You can read more by clicking here. Bottom line: Make sure you get every detail right when you write a report.

Chicago_Police_Star

 

Share

Respective

Here’s some advice for professionals who want to improve their writing: Drop the word respective from your vocabulary. It’s a meaningless word, and all it does is clog a perfectly good sentence.

Yesterday I came across an annoying example in an Associated Press article. Chicago Police Chief Eddie Johnson has decided not to fire one of the officers involved in the Laquan McDonald case. Johnson stated there was “insufficient evidence to prove those respective allegations.”

Does the word “respective” tell you anything useful? No.

Sometimes writers use “respective” because they’re hoping to sound serious. It doesn’t work! You just end up sounding old-fashioned and pompous.

(I will concede that respectively can serve a purpose as a sorting word: “John and Jane work at IBM and GE respectively.” But I would just put it like this: “John works at IBM, and Jane works at GE.”)

21473796202_c3076cb3ea_m

 

Share