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!

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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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 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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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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Recommended Reading

Here’s a link to a terrific article: “Two Words that Should Never Appear in Your Police Report.” Go to https://www.policeone.com/legal/articles/8466468-2-words-that-should-never-appear-in-your-police-report/

The author – Val Van Brocklin – is a prosecutor. She explains the questions that you might hear in court if you’ve written a weak police report. It’s a perspective you might not hear about in a police standards course.

My thanks to Bruce A. Sokolove, Law Enforcement Consultant at Field Training Associates, for sending me this link.

Eight signs saying "no"

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For Correctional Officers

I taught in a prison school for almost four years and wrote my share of disciplinary reports and incident reports. This article by Ryan Shanks has some excellent suggestions for corrections reports.

I’d like to add two suggestions about Shanks’ model sentence: “During a targeted pat search due to the inmate’s suspicious behavior, I did discover a lock tied inside of a sock, which is commonly used as an impact weapon.”

a)  Instead of “I did discover,” I’d write “I discovered.” 

b)  It would be helpful (especially if there’s a disciplinary hearing) to document what constituted “the inmate’s suspicious behavior.”

Still – this is an excellent article! Prison cell with bed inside Alcatraz main building san francisco california

photo by:

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Border Patrol Protest

On March 19, three students disrupted a University of Arizona classroom where two Border Patrol agents were talking about career opportunities to members of the Criminal Justice Club. The three protesters were arrested for disorderly conduct and disturbing the police.

You can read the report and learn more about what happened at this link: https://news.azpm.org/p/news-articles/2019/4/16/149844-ua-police-report-details-march-protest/

The report is exceptionally well written. Sentences are crisp and clear. There’s almost no jargon. The reporting is detailed and objective.

I was especially impressed by this sentence from the report:

The agents were trying to continue with their presentation; however, the female was very loud and it caused the presentation to be disrupted.

When you join two sentences with however, you need to use a period or a semicolon, as this officer did. A comma isn’t strong enough to do the job. Well done!

I have a few suggestions:

1.  Upon arrival I observed a female dressed in a black shirt and black jeans yelling from the hallway (leaning forward to get her head inside the classroom).

I would omit upon arrival. It doesn’t add anything useful. Yes, it’s only two words – but once you develop the habit of adding unnecessary words, it can be a time-consuming drag on your efficiency.

2.  I then spoke to X, who advised the room was being used for a club sponsored Criminal Justice event.

Advised means “counseled.” X told you about the room. Don’t capitalize Criminal Justice unless it’s the official title of an organization. Careers aren’t capitalized.

3.  The female was soon joined by a second female who started yelling “murder patrol”.

In the US, periods and commas always go inside the quotation marks: started yelling “murder patrol.”

4.  I did not get the name’s of any of the protesters.

Omit the apostrophe. The names don’t own anything.

Overall, though, this is an exceptionally well-written report.

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Trouble on the Golf Course

Here’s a useful practice activity for you. Two Pennsylvania golfers assaulted each other during a dispute over the rules governing puddles of water on a golf course. You can read about the incident here.

The affidavit has been published online, and it’s reproduced below. Here’s your challenge: List the changes that would be needed to transform it into a modern police report. (Scroll down for some suggestions.)

Affidavit of Probable Cause

On 08/03/14 at approx. 1300 hours the following incident took place a the Springdale Golf Course, located in South Union Township, Fayette County. A group of 5, which included the Defendant and the Victim, started playing a round of golf. At some point, early on, it rained, interrupting play. Rain stopped, and play resumed. There was a conversation and somewhat heated debate regarding e rules involving “casual water” on the 5th green, which was resolved. Play on the 6th hole continued without incident. All 5 teed off on the 7th. The Defendant and the Victim ended up about even on opposite sides of the fairway. The rule debate reignited when the Victim stated they are “rolling the ball on the fairway”. The Defendant took odds with that. Words were exchanged. This went back and forth. The Victim was saying things back to the Defendant and pointing his finger at him. The Defendant walks across the fairway, still saying things and pointing his club at the Victim. At this point the Defendant is right up to the Victim, with his club in the Victims face. The Victim put his hand up and said “get that club out of my face”. At this point the Defendant, who had his club in his hand – gripping it up near the head, swung the club, striking the Victim in the left forearm and top of the head. The Victim had put his hand up to deflect the blow, which resulted in the strike to his forearm. The Victim goes down from the blow on all fours. The Victim got up and a scuffle ensued, resulting in both of them being on the ground. During the scuffle, the Defendant was struck in the left side of his face and his lower lip by the Victims fist. The fight was broken up, both men were treated in Uniontown Hospital ER for injuries sustained during this incident. The Victim sustained swelling and redness to the top of his head, a mild concussion, and swelling and redness to his left forearm.

Suggestions:

  • You can omit many of the details that happened before the assault. Begin your report at the 7th green:

On 08/03/14 at approx. 1300 hours the following incident took place a the Springdale Golf Course, located in South Union Township, Fayette County. A group of 5, which included the Defendant and the Victim, started playing a round of golf. At some point, early on, it rained, interrupting play. Rain stopped, and play resumed. There was a conversation and somewhat heated debate regarding e rules involving “casual water” on the 5th green, which was resolved. Play on the 6th hole continued without incident. All 5 teed off on the 7th. The Defendant and the Victim ended up about even on opposite sides of the fairway.

  • Use names rather than “Defendant” and “Victim”
  • Use simple, straightforward sentences to recount what happened. As a busy police officer, you should try to avoid fillers like “The rule debate reignited” and “This went back and forth.”
  • Clarify where your information came from. Have one heading for Bryan Bandes and another for Robert Lee Harris. Organizing your report this way enhances your objectivity and credibility. You’re not taking sides; you’re reporting what each person told you.
  • Stick to past tense. “The Victim goes down from the blow on all fours” should be rewritten as “Bandes went down on all fours.”
  • Avoid wordiness: “The Victim got up and a scuffle ensued, resulting in both of them being on the ground. During the scuffle, the Defendant was struck in the left side of his face and his lower lip by the Victims fist.”
    It would be more efficient to write, “Bandes got up and fought with Harris. Both fell to the ground. Harris used his fist to strike Bandes on the left side of his face and on his lower lip.”
  • Stick to active voice. “The fight was broken up” omits important  information: Who broke it up? How? Did you take a statement from that person? That testimony might be important if the case goes to court.
  • Use an apostrophe in “Victim’s face,” “Victim’s injuries,” and similar phrases.

(Here’s one more piece of information: The rulebook for golf covers what to do when a ball lands in a mud puddle! The golfer is allowed to move the ball to a green as long as it isn’t placed closer to the hole.)

Golf club and ball in grass

 

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Make a Judgment

Let’s say you recently accepted a supervisory job for a law enforcement agency several states away. You’re just getting to know the officers you’ll be supervising.

You want to evaluate the writing skills in the department, so you decide to read some recent police reports. The first report includes this sentence:

Bruising was observed on the alleged victim’s right cheek. Scratches were observed on her throat. Spots of blood were seen on the front of her blouse.

You pick up another report and read these sentences:

I saw a broken plate, three pieces of fried chicken, and a baked potato on the floor near the kitchen table. I noticed a kitchen chair was lying on its side.

You glance at the names and see that the reports were written by different officers. What impressions would you form?

 *  *  *  *  *

Years ago, supervisors would have trusted the first officer (“bruising was observed…”) and mistrusted the second (“I saw a broken plate…”). The word “I” immediately raised the possibility that an officer was biased and unprofessional. To ensure objectivity and accuracy, officers had to write in passive voice (“was observed,” “were seen”).

Do you still fall into the passive-voice habit? Many police writers do.

Here’s the truth – and it’s either good news or bad news, depending on how up-to-date your training has been:

Objectivity and accuracy are character traits, not verbal tricks. Because police officers are human beings, it’s possible that bias will find its way into a report, or an officer might omit necessary information. Fatigue, time pressure, and human frailty can lead to errors.

You can’t guarantee honesty and professionalism by writing in passive voice and avoiding “I.” Sorry!

Let’s go back to those two officers. Are they telling the truth? Are they unbiased observers? Do they have a passion for thoroughness and accuracy? 

To find the answers to those questions, you’ll have to get to know them. You can’t just dismiss Officer #2 as unprofessional because he used “I” – and you can’t accept everything Officer #1 says as absolute truth because she used passive voice.

Here’s one conclusion you can safely draw, however: Officer #1, who writes almost every sentence in passive voice, may benefit from a refresher course in report writing!

a broken dish

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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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Three Naked Women

Here’s a bizarre story. On April 10, a Florida Highway Patrol officer saw three unclothed women lying in the open at an I-75 rest area. The women told the officer to keep his distance. They ran to their Nissan and drove off in a hurry, striking a pedestrian along the way.

You can read the story and the officer’s report at this link: http://www.thesmokinggun.com/documents/stupid/jeniyah-mcleod-in-custody-041295.

Overall the report is detailed, objective, and thorough. There’s a minimum of jargon, and he used “I” when he recorded his observations and actions.

I encourage you to click the link, read the entire report, and evaluate it yourself. That’s a great way to sharpen your writing skills.

As often happens, I saw opportunities for edits. Here’s an excerpt from the report:

On 410/19 at 10:24 I arrived on scene to the rest area on 1-75 Northbound in reference to 3 naked females. Upon my arrival, I observed 3 younger black females on the lawn North of the building.  All3 females were visibly nude from the parking lot. As I pulled into a parking spot, the females observed me; they began dressing.

My suggestions:

  • “I arrived on scene” isn’t necessary
  • “in reference to 3 naked females” is unclear. Did someone report them? Was he dispatched?
  • You don’t need repetition – “I observed 3 younger black females” and “All3 females were visibly nude”
  • “Visibly nude from the parking lot” is confusing

What the officer was trying to accomplish is commendable. If there was a court hearing, he might be asked how he knew the women were undressed.

One solution would be to estimate the distance: “I parked my car approximately 20 feet away. From there I could see that all three were nude.”

One detail from his report adds strength to his account: “they began dressing.” (He also notes that he saw soap and water nearby, and they told him they hadn’t had time to shower earlier.) Overall, it’s an effective report.

an embarrassed emoticon

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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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The Stephon Clark Police Report

On March 18, 2018, Stephon Clark, a 22-year-old black man, was shot and killed in Sacramento by two police officers who thought Clark was holding a gun. A later investigation showed that Clark was holding a cell phone, not a gun.

The police report has been released and can be read here: https://cbssacramento.files.wordpress.com/2019/03/stephon-clark-police-report.pdf

It is an exceptionally well written report. Sentences are objective. There’s practically no jargon. The officer used everyday words – I, me, we, he, house, and so on:

“I continued my infrared camera search and located a subject standing at what appeared to be a glass door or window in the backyard of XXXX 29th Street.”

“I activated our onboard video recorder and continued my observations.”

My only gripe is that the officer kept using advised instead of said or told. (Please, please – save advise for when you actually give advice!)

Since the shooting and the release of video footage, there have been questions about what happened. You can view the video and read more information at this link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shooting_of_Stephon_Clark.

                                                  Stephon Clark

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