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.”)

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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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Pokémon Go

A police report I just read about a Pokémon Go game (of all things!) is a good opportunity to review a couple of important principles about police reports.

On August 8, an Iowa man was charged with child endangerment after he went off to play Pokémon Go with his older son, leaving his sleeping six-year-old son home alone. A concerned neighbor called the police. You can read about the incident and view the police report here.

Here are the first two sentences from the report. What would you say about them if you were a supervisor or academy instructor?

Officers were called to the above location on above date and time for a six year old unattended male. The child woke up from a nap and found his father had left home. The child exited the house and went outside to find an adult.

My reactions:

It’s inefficient to write “the above location on above date and time.” It’s true that police officers used to start every report with the date and location. But today’s computers provide spaces for that information. Some die-hard officers are continuing the old practice – but that simply doesn’t make sense. 

The narration beginning “The child woke up from a nap” needs an attribution. How could the officer know this? Police don’t have a crystal ball or time machine that allows them to visit the past. The report should state the source of the information – presumably an interview with the neighbor who called police or the little boy himself.

Overall, though, this is a thorough and objective report.

Pokémon_Go_-_screenshot_of_map

 

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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.

 
 
 
 
____________________________________________________________

 

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 $15.70 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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Third Person or First Person?

Should you use the first-person pronouns “I” and “me” in a police report? For many years the answer was no. Third person was required by most police agencies. In recent years, however, many officers have been using “I” and “me.” Is that a favorable trend – or a practice that should be deplored?

The answer is that the change is a good thing. The old-fashioned rule that officers should never use “I” and “me” was…quite simply…a mistake. It was based on wishful thinking that has no place in a law enforcement agency.

Here’s what I mean. Criminal justice professionals used to believe (wrongly) that “I” and “me” were subjective words. Officers who wrote “I heard a scream” might be lying. But if they wrote, “A scream was heard by this officer,” they were certain to be telling the truth.

That is absolute nonsense. Honesty and objectivity are character traits, not verbal tricks. You can’t turn a dishonest person into an honest one just by banishing the words “I” and “me” from their vocabulary.

And here’s something else to think about. If you were testifying in court, you would use the words “I” and “me” repeatedly to describe what you saw, heard, and did. “I” and “me” are perfectly good words.

There’s one more point: The verbal gymnastics needed to avoid saying “I” and “me” waste time and lead to tangled sentences. Try spending a day without saying “I” and “me” and you’ll see exactly what I mean. “This person would like a cup of coffee, please.” “No, coffee is taken black by the person who ordered it.” Good grief!

Magic Wand Pixabay ok

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Solving Common Mistakes

If it’s been a while since you last enrolled in an English course, you might be rusty on some usage points. Here’s a quick refresher about some common mistakes.

  1. Many writers wonder when to write everyday as one word, and when to write it as two. Here are some points to remember:

Every day (two words) is an adverb: 

Joe packs his own lunch every day to save money. CORRECT

(Think: Joe packs his own lunch each day to save money.)

Everyday (one word) is an adjective:

I’m packing just my everyday clothing for the trip. 

(Think: I’m packing just my ordinary clothing for the trip.)

You can easily learn the difference between everyday and every day even if you’re unfamiliar with grammatical terminology. Memorize this box (or copy it and carry it with you):

everyday

Need more help? Here’s a trick that has helped many writers: “ordinary” (everyday) is one word; “each day” (every day) is two.

2. There’s a controversy about what to do with used to when it’s combined with didn’t. Many authorities say that both used to and use to are correct:

I didn’t used to like Chinese food.  CORRECT

I didn’t use to like Chinese food.  CORRECT

Some people, however, have a strong preference for didn’t use to. I’m one of them, and I’m happy to report that the prestigious Cambridge Dictionary agrees with me. Click here to read more.

3. When you use either…or in a sentence, skip the first part and go straight to or. That part of the sentence will determine your verb. (You can download a free subject-verb agreement handout at www.Scribd.com. It’s posted under my name: Jean Rafenski Reynolds.)

Either the aides or the supervisor has the key to the storage room. CORRECT

Compare this version, which switches the words around:

Either the supervisor or the aides have the key to the storage room. CORRECT

4.  It’s easy to make mistakes with subject-verb agreement. Try this sentence: Is have the correct verb – or should it be has?

Overuse of prescription painkillers have/has become a huge problem.

There are two ways to think about this sentence, and both will get you to the correct answer. “Of prescription painkillers” is a prepositional phrase, so you should skip over it when you think about the subject and verb:

Overuse of prescription painkillers has become a huge problem.

Overuse of prescription painkillers has become a huge problem. CORRECT

Here’s another way to do it: The beginning of the sentence is the most important part, so you should focus on the word overuse. (Click here to learn more about the beginnings of sentences.)

Overuse of prescription painkillers has become a huge problem. CORRECT

A+ grade ok

 

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Handling Official Police Correspondence

If you’re planning a long career in law enforcement, you need to know how to handle many types of professional writing tasks. One of the most important is official police correspondence. Today we’re going to look at a response to a request from a media representative.

Early in July, Neo-Nazis and protesters clashed at the Capitol in Sacramento, California. A week later Drew Bollea from CBS 13 filed an official request for Highway Patrol records related to the incident. You can read the story at this link: http://sacramento.cbslocal.com/2016/07/14/only-1-police-report-filed-after-bloody-capitol-melee/

Here’s how the Highway Patrol responded to Bollea’s request. The letter is courteous and professional:

Records Request

But the letter could have been written more efficiently. The first two paragraphs tell Bollea what he already knew – that he filed his request on July 7.

That information – the type of request and date – already appears in the subject line. Why waste time repeating it?

Records Request

Both the writer and Bollea could have saved time if the letter got to the point immediately:

Dear Mr. Bollea:

We were happy to assist with your July 7 request. Despite a diligent search and reasonable inquiry, the Department did not identify any records that are relevant. If you have further questions, please call me at 555-555-1212.

Sincerely,

Sacramento_Capitol

 

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Jenelle Evans Police Report

Jenelle Evans is a star in Teen Mom 2, a reality TV series. She was a passenger in a car that was rear-ended on July 6. The police report indicates that she was at least ten weeks pregnant.

The report is objective, jargon-free, and well written. In a moment I’m going to make two suggestions for changes. Before you read my comments, I suggest that you read the report yourself and see if you notice anything:

  1. Driver #1 stated that he was approaching the traffic light leading from Martin Luther King Jr Pky north bound toward N 3RD St and rear ended driver #2 while same was stopped at the traffic light near the Isabel Holmes Bridge on ramp.
  2. Driver #1 stated that he thought driver #2 was going to “continue through the yellow traffic light” and not come to a complete stop. Driver #1 rear ended driver #2 as a result causing major front distributed damage to vehicle #1, and minor rear distributed damage to vehicle #2.
  3. The passenger in vehicle #1 stated that she is at least (10) weeks pregnant and complained of abdominal pain. She was transported for treatment to NERMC by EMS #33. No other injuries or property damage was reported at this time.
  4. Driver #1 was issued a citation for Failure to Reduce Speed.
  5. End of report.

My comments:

  • Did you notice something odd in this sentence? The passenger in vehicle #1 stated that she is at least (10) weeks pregnant and complained of abdominal pain.
    Why is 10 in parentheses? The answer is that military documents used to write numerals twice: ten (10) weeks pregnant. Nobody knows why they started doing it that way. It didn’t make sense then, and it certainly doesn’t make sense now. Write it this way: at least 10 weeks pregnant.
  • This report – like so many that I read – lapsed into passive voice near the end: was transported…was issued a citation. The sentences should be written in active voice: EMS #33 transported her for treatment to NERMC. I issued Driver #1 a citation for Failure to Reduce Speed.

Overall, though, this is an effective report.

Teen_Mom_2_Card

 

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What Words Are Necessary?

I worry about wordiness. Excessively long reports might mean that an officer was too busy with paperwork to attend to other priorities. (Some professional writers use the term “deadwood” to describe this problem.)

Sometimes the problem can be traced to insufficient training. Officers need to be taught to evaluate and prioritize information instead of stuffing every detail into a report. For example, is it really necessary to say that you scanned the mailboxes along Lincoln Road to find the address you were looking for?

My example today is from Portland, Oregon, which just hired a new police chief, Mike Marshman. Concerns have been raised about an allegation that Marshman assaulted his 17-year-old stepson in 2006. The Portland Police Department has obtained Chief Marshman’s personnel records and released them to the public. Portland’s mayor has publicly declared his support for Chief Marshman.

You can read a news story about Marshman here, and you can read the personnel file here (recommended if you’re interested in learning about the kinds of reports that administrators write).

I’ve extracted part of a paragraph from the report (below). After you’ve read it, scroll down to read some comments from me about drawing the line between excessive wordiness and necessary information.

On 091406 a meeting had been prearranged between Detective Carter and Attorney Mike Staropoli to take place at the Child Abuse Team office located at 10225 E Bumside at approximately 9:30 a.m. Mike Staropoli arrived for mid meeting as scheduled. Introductions were made and 1 provided Mike Staropoli with a business card. I thanked Mike Staropoli for coming to the meeting and for Detective Carter assisting in arranging it. I explained to Mike Staropoli that myself and Detective Carter were assigned an investigation involving MIKE MARSHMAN. It was explained to Mike Staropoli that two anonymous letters had been received at the bureau regarding allegations of possible abuse to MIKE MARSHMAN’s stepson. I provided Mike Staropoli with the postmarked date of the first letter being June 23, 2006 and stated that the first letter was very vague. I explained to Mike Staropoli that the second letter dated August 14, 2006 that had been sent to the bureau was a little mom specific. I went on to explain to Mike Staropoli that the second letter mentioned photographic evidence. 

My comments:

1.   I would revise the information about the meeting. Is it relevant that Mike Staropoli was on time, the meeting was “prearranged” (most meetings are), everyone was thanked, and introductions were made? I would say no. Here’s my rewrite:

At 9:30 a.m. on 091406 I met with  Detective Carter and Attorney Mike Staropoli  at the Child Abuse Team office located at 10225 E Bumside to discuss the Marshman case.

2.  I would streamline the sentences about the exhibits. Here’s my rewrite:

I showed Mike Starpoli two letters about the Marshman case. The first, postmarked June 23, 2006 is vague; the second, postmarked August 26, 2006, is more specific and includes photos.

3.  An important detail: I would use “I” rather than the jargonish “myself.”


It’s important for law enforcement professionals to be thorough. But they may also need to be reminded that extra words don’t add anything useful: They just waste time. What do you accomplish if you write “the month of October” instead of “October” – or the jacket was “blue in color” instead “a blue jacket”? Nothing.

What strategies do you employ to avoid time-wasting verbiage in your reports? And – if you’re an instructor or administrator – what do you do to encourage officers to handle paperwork efficiently? Clock Wiki Commons

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The Evander Kane Police Report

On June 24, a woman in Buffalo, New York told police that Sabres left winger Evander Kane had threatened her. Six months ago Kane was involved in a similar incident. Police decided there was no reason to arrest Kane either time.

The incident report for the June 24 encounter has been released:

On above D,T, L compl states that while inside Bottoms Up nite club, suspect threatened compl and made derogatory comments to her. While outside in the parking lot of bar suspect grabbed compl around the throat and tried pushing her into his car.

Brevity is one of the hallmarks of an effective police report – but I would call this one too brief. It’s possible, of course, that this is a condensed report meant for publication. Still, it’s an opportunity to review the kinds of information that need to be included in a police report. Suggestion: Reread the report, list what you think could have been included, and then check your list against mine.

Here’s the report again to get you started (“D,T,L” refers to date, time, and location):

On above D,T, L compl states that while inside Bottoms Up nite club, suspect threatened compl and made derogatory comments to her. While outside in the parking lot of bar suspect grabbed compl around the throat and tried pushing her into his car.

Here’s my list:

  • Explain how the officer was dispatched to the night club. Did someone call police? Who?
  • What exactly did the suspect say? What sounds like a threat or a derogatory comment to one person may sound harmless to another. If there’s a court hearing, the exact words could be an important factor.
  • How does the officer know that the suspect grabbed and pushed the complainant?
  • What did the suspect say?
  • Were there any injuries? Did the officer photograph them?
  • Did anyone else  – the bartender, manager, other patrons, other employees – corroborate or challenge the complaint?

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The Pulse Nightclub Shooting

If you’re interested in police reports, you should take a look at two news stories that followed the Pulse nightclub mass shooting in Orlando on June 12.

Orlando police have released the official incident narrative about the Pulse shooting. It’s a useful example of administrative writing that you should look at if you’re trying to learn more about advanced reports. Here’s the link: http://www.cityoforlando.net/cityclerk/wp-content/uploads/sites/12/2016/06/OPDPulseLIVECAD_June172016-by-narrativeandunitassignment_Redacted.pdf

The second news story focuses on the decision not to release recordings of the 911 calls made during the shootout. Florida laws take an exceptionally broad approach to public records, routinely making most government information – including 911 calls – available to the public. But Orlando police have decided not to release the 911 calls from the Pulse shootings, and there has been an outcry. You can read more about the story here: http://fw.to/YyJkPpR

Some journalists and concerned citizens are saying that holding back public records – despite laws to the contrary – is becoming more common. Similar demands for more transparency are common in many states. For example, the New York Police Department is blocking demands for information about its surveillance of Muslims. The federal government often hears complaints about its decisions to keep certain kinds of information secret.

Government agencies have responded that sometimes there are good reasons for withholding records. One issue is financial: Releasing public records costs money because someone must be paid to track down government records; often time-consuming redactions are needed as well. You can expect to see more news stories about the pros and cons releasing police records.

Pulse

 

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The Macaroni and Cheese Arrest

University of Connecticut student Luke Gatti was arrested in May when he broke out of a Florida rehab center and assaulted a female police officer. Gatti, 20, had been in treatment for alcohol and drug abuse, and this was his second encounter with law enforcement.

Last October Gatti went on a drunken tirade because the university cafeteria wasn’t serving macaroni and cheese with bacon and jalapeño. Gatti was sentenced to probation. He subsequently made a videotaped apology and even traveled to South America to apologize to the cafeteria manager.

Our interest, of course, is police reports – and the report for Gatti’s assault-related arrest in May is worth reading: http://nyp.st/2920Hoc. Sentences are objective and professional, there’s no jargon, and I’m particularly impressed by the details in the report. The officer explains, for example, how he made the decision to confine Gatti under the terms of the Baker Act. Recommended reading!

Update: The UConn-owned Blue Oak Tavern is now serving patrons a dish called “Luke’s Macaroni and Cheese.” It features diced jalapeño peppers and applewood smoked bacon. The menu description says “Worth getting arrested for!”

Mac & Cheese

 

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