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The Elliott Rodgers Report

Thanks to an excellent police report, we now know more about what prompted mass killer Elliot Rodger to go on a killing spree in La Isla Vista, California on May 23, 2014. Rodger killed six people and injured 13 others before committing suicide. (You can read more about Rodger at this link.

On July 21, 2013, Rodger attended a party where he said he was mocked and beaten. That incident convinced Rodger to carry out the mass murder he had been planning. Click here for an account of the party and a link to the police report. It is clear, objective,  and thorough.

It could, however, be written more efficiently. Notice the repetition in this paragraph:

I asked Rodger how much alcohol he had been drinking when the altercation began and he said, “I drank two beers.” I asked Rodger why he had been attacked and called a “Faggot” and he said, “I don’t know why.” I asked Rodger why he didn’t call law enforcement after he was assaulted and he said, “I didn’t know who to call.”

This version eliminates the repetition (“I asked Rodger,” “I asked Rodger,” “I asked Rodger,”):

When I questioned Rodger, he told me:

-“I drank two beers.”

-He didn’t know why he had been called a “Faggot.”

-He didn’t call law enforcement about the assault because “ “I didn’t know who to call.”

Passive voice crept into Rodger’s descriptions of the men who attacked him:

I asked Rodger if he could describe any of the subjects who attacked him and he informed me of the following:

The first suspect was described as an Asian male, approximately 18-22 years of age, 5’09”, average build, with black hair, wearing blue jeans, and dark blue sweatshirt.

The second suspect was described as an Hispanic male approximately 18-22 years of age, 6’-2”, skinny build, short black hair, and unknown clothing description.

Here’s the same information in active voice (he told me), making it clear that Rodgers provided the description:

I asked Rodger if he could describe any of the subjects who attacked him. He told me: 

-The first suspect was an Asian male, approximately 18-22 years of age, 5’09”, average build, with black hair, wearing blue jeans, and dark blue sweatshirt.

-The second suspect was  an Hispanic male approximately 18-22 years of age, 6’-2”, skinny build, short black hair, and unknown clothing description.

Overall, though, this is an excellent example of a professional police report.

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Bobbi Kristina Brown

Bobbi Kristina Brown is the daughter of Whitney Houston, who was found dead in a bathtub in 2012. Houston’s drowning was ruled “accidental,” with heart disease and cocaine use listed as contributing factors. Since then, daughter Bobbi has led a stormy life including a complicated relationship with Nick Gordon, a longtime family friend who’s had troubles of his own.

On January 31, Gordon found Bobbi face down in a bathtub. She is reported to be on life support and not expected to recover. The media have been busy digging into Gordon’s past, and a number of police reports have been released to the public.

I always recommend reading police reports written by other officers, so I’ve chosen one about a 2014 automobile crash involving Nick Gordon. Read and evaluate it (below), and then scroll down for my comments:

On 8/28/2014 at approximately 1138 hours I, Officer ROBINSON was dispatched to the area if 7439 Holcomb Bridge Rd reference an automobile crash involving an overturned vehicle. Upon my arrival, I confirmed there was an overturned vehicle with no one inside and made contact with the driver, NICHOLAS GORDON. During the entire exchange GORDON displayed thick delayed speech. His facial expressions were also delayed and his eyes were heavy droopy. He was unsteady on his feet and was not able to stay still. I advised him a number of times to have a seat in an effort to keep him from falling over but he was constantly trying to stand up. Even while being checked by EMS he was not able to stay still and focus on their questions. After advising GORDON he was under arrest for failure to maintain lane, DUI less safe and suspended license I read him implied consent for adults 21 and over. GORDON refused by saying he was not going to say anything until he talks to his attorney. Considering his refusal combined with the fact that he had just been in an accident I did not attempt fields.

My comments:

This is an unusually well-written report! It’s objective, thorough, and concise. I especially like the details about Gordon’s appearance. A less skilled writer might have said that Gordon “seemed intoxicated” – wording too general and vague for a police report. This officer provided convincing details: thick, delayed speech; delayed facial expressions; and heavy, droopy eyes. And there are detailed descriptions of Gordon’s behavior at the scene: unsteady on his feet, unable to stay still, unable to focus on the EMT’s questions.

There’s not a single passive-voice sentence (a persistent problem with police reports).

I would recommend only two changes:

  • Don’t say advise when you mean tell (“After advising GORDON he was under arrest for failure to maintain lane, DUI less safe and suspended license I read him implied consent for adults 21 and over.”) Save advise for actual advice.
  • The first sentence is probably unnecessary, although some agencies continue to insist that officers state the date, time, nature of call, etc. there. If you’re writing on a laptop, you’ve probably filled in that information already in spaces on the screen. Why repeat it? But longtime practices are slow to change!

Overall, though, this is an excellent report.

Bobbi Kristina Brown and her mother, Whitney Houston

Bobbi Kristina Brown and her mother, Whitney Houston

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Don’t Let It Happen to You!

Embarrassing story: On a recent February night, two young men used their keys to enter the family-owned store where they live with their parents and younger brother. Two San Diego police officers thought they were breaking in and called for a backup. A scuffle ensued, and one brother was punched repeatedly. Both young men and their mother were arrested. (Charges were later dropped, and a file for unspecified damages has been claimed. Luis, the brother who was punched, has been in treatment for a brain tumor.)

OK, mistakes happen…but then things got worse. Surveillance video cameras in the store proved that the officers lied in their police report about the encounter. Police spokesman Lt. Kevin Mayer confirmed the department is conducting an internal affairs investigation over the incident. The incident made national news.

A word to the wise: Use your police reports to document your professionalism and integrity. 

http://voiceofsandiego.org/all-narratives/police-misconduct/their-crime-walking-into-their-own-home/

surveillance camera ok

 

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Two Articles That Are Worth Reading

Amaury Murgado is a special operations lieutenant with the Oscola County Sheriff’s Department in Florida. He is a lifelong student of martial arts. Here are links to two recent articles that are worth reading:

What should an officer do if he or she walks up to a robbery in progress?http://issuu.com/amur/docs/poli_16-19_robbery_in_progress

Here are sensible tips for law enforcement supervisors about giving orders and instructions: http://issuu.com/amur/docs/poli_8-9_be_specific

Amaury 2

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The NFL…Again

Once again the NFL is having to deal with the issue of sexual violence. Last month Baltimore Colts linebacker Josh McNary was charged with felony rape in Indianapolis. You can read  the full report at this link: http://deadspin.com/colts-linebacker-josh-mcnary-charged-with-rape-1679572197

The report is an excellent example of police writing: Thorough, objective, professional. There’s no police jargon and no passive voice. The report is written in normal, everyday English.

The Colts released this statement:

We are aware that there has been a report about Josh McNary, but unfortunately that’s the limit of our knowledge. At this time we are very concerned and trying to find out what the relevant facts are, but we have insufficient information to venture any opinion. As we learn more we will make appropriate updates.

This is just the latest headache for the NFL, which has repeatedly had to deal with accusations  of sexual assaults and domestic violence against its players. I wrote an article about the problem for Law Enforcement Today last year: You can read it by clicking here.

football 2

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A Type 4 Report

Yesterday’s post asked you to evaluate a police report about an assault charge against George Zimmerman. Now I have another question for you – two questions, actually. Are you familiar with the four types of reports? And do you know what type of report you would write about Zimmerman’s arrest?

Answer: It’s a Type 4 report. (See the chart below.) Here’s a quick summary of what I’m talking about: There are four basic types of police reports. Type 1 is the simplest, and each subsequent type adds another feature. Type 4 is the most complicated type of report.

What makes Type 4 reports different? The officer (or, in the Zimmerman case, officers – there were two of them) initiates the action. Because the officers make the decision on their own to get involved, probable cause is an issue.

Take a moment to read the Zimmerman police report and see if you can spot the sentence about probable cause. 

Did you find it? It’s this sentence: 

The officers advised they heard glass break, and saw the [blacked out] drive off without headlights on…

That sentence establishes probable cause for stopping the car and talking to the woman who claimed that Zimmerman assaulted her.

Understanding the four types of reports can save time and ensure that every report meets criminal justice standards. Studying the chart below is a good place to start!

Types of Reports

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George Zimmerman is Back in the News

George Zimmerman was arrested on January 5 for throwing a wine bottle at a woman in Lake Mary, Florida. The police report (which you can read here) is thorough, objective, and professional – but it’s also wordy.

Here’s an excerpt from the original report:

On 1/05/15 approximately 23:30 hours a disturbance was discovered in occurrence at the address of 1874 Valley Wood Way, in the City of Lake Mary. Officer Langworthy and PFC Snider were on patrol in the area at that residence. Their attention was drawn to that location further by hearing the sound of glass break, and seeing the Victim drive away from the residence without headlights on (at night). The officers stopped the vehicle and made contact with the Victim to investigate. Upon making contact with the Victim they learned that the victim was just involved in a disturbance at that residence with Defendant George Zimmerman.

The Victim indicated to the Officers that she and the Defendant were in an argument over various issues. The Victim indicated that she was X with the Defendant for the past two (to three) months, where they have had an intimate relationship. The Victim indicated that at that time that the officers came into the area the Defendant had just thrown a wine bottle at the Victim. The bottle did not strike her person. The incident scared the Victim so she then departed the area in her car. During the investigation the Victim was extremely upset and emotional. She also indicated that the Defendant caused her cell phone to be broken by throwing it on the ground.  [222 words]

Here’s a more concise version of the same information:

On 1/05/15 at approximately 23:30 hours, Officer Langworthy and PFC Snider were on patrol on Valley Wood Way in Lake Mary. They heard glass break and saw a woman drive away from a house at 1874 Valley Wood Way without headlights on. The officers stopped the car and talked with the woman. She said she had been quarreling with Defendant George Zimmerman. They have had an intimate relationship. He had just thrown a wine bottle at her. It did not strike her. He also threw her cell phone to the ground and broke it. She was afraid and drove away.  [99 words]

Police officers are busy! Repetition doesn’t help a report (“The Victim indicated…The Victim indicated.”) Filler words and expressions use up an officer’s valuable time and don’t add anything useful (“Their attention was drawn to that location further….”). Once you’ve identified Zimmerman as the defendant, you can refer to him as “he” – there’s no need to write out “the Defendant” every time. Similarly you can write “she” instead of repeating “the Victim” again and again.

If you’ve read the entire report, you might notice another possible improvement. The officer wrote, “During the investigation the Victim was extremely upset and emotional.” Specific details are needed. How do you know she was upset? Describe what you saw and heard: tears, trembling, moaning, yelling, darting eyes. Those details might be useful if this case ends up in court.

Reading and evaluating actual police reports like this one can help you improve your own writing skills. What parts of this report did you admire? What practices can you imitate? And what improvements would you make?

Zimmerman,_George_-_Seminole_County_Mug 2

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A Dangerous Ride

Here’s an unusual story: On January 8, a Florida mother drove about 540 yards with her son on the hood of her car. He had jumped onto the hood to keep her from driving off, and she thought that starting the car would prompt him to jump off and, incidentally, teach him a lesson.

It’s not clear whether the experience taught him anything, but he didn’t jump off, and she was arrested.

You can read the police report at this link: http://www.thesmokinggun.com/buster/bad-parents/juvenile-hood-ornament-897631. Suggestion: Read the report, evaluate it, and then scroll down to read my comments.

Here’s what I thought when I read it:

Overall, this is a well-organized and thorough report. Most sentences are written clearly, in normal English.

Suggestions:

  • Avoid unnecessary jargon. “Saw” is quicker to write than “observed”; “house” is better than “residence”; “told” is better than “advised.”
  • Use “she” instead of repeating “Officer Guerra” and “Tojuana.”
  • Avoid repetition. Take a look at these two sentences:

Winter Springs Code Enforcement Officer Terri Guerra, observed a black male juvenile male on top of a black Mazda while in movement on N Moss Road. Code Enforcement Officer Guerra advised over the radio the incident she was observing.  WORDY

It would be more efficient to write:

Winter Springs Code Enforcement Officer Terri Guerra radioed that she saw a black male juvenile male on top of a black Mazda moving on N Moss Road.  BETTER

Here’s a good rule of thumb: If a word or phrase doesn’t add anything useful, don’t use it.

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A Controversial Police Report from Pasadena

If you’ve been following the news, you know that there’s a controversy about the police report for the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, on August 9.

Now another police shooting is in the news, and the same controversy is brewing: How much information does the public have a right to know?

On March 24, 2012, two Pasadena police officers shot Kendrec McDade as he ran from them on Sunset Avenue. McDade, an African-American teenager, was unarmed. McDade’s death sparked protests and prompted an independent review.

The Pasadena Police Officers Association has not released the independent review. Under California laws often called the Peace Officers Bill of Rights, many police records are confidential. California’s supreme court, however, recently ordered that police to release the McDade report.

At the heart of the controversy is a 911 call from a citizen who claimed his laptop had been stolen at gunpoint. Based on that false report, officers fired on McDade. Subsequent investigation found McDade and another youth had been on the scene during the theft, and the second youth actually committed the crime.

On Octobeer 16, Superior Court Judge James C. Chalfant ruled that Pasadena should make public at least a portion of the independent consultant’s report.

City_of_Pasadena,_California,_seal

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A Palin Family Incident

Sarah Palin is in the news again – this time in connection with a brawl near Anchorage, Alaska, involving several family members. (No charges were filed.) You can read about the incident at this link.

Although the story is old news by now (it happened on September 6), the police report wasn’t released until this week. You can read it at this link. Despite a few omitted words and other minor glitches, it’s a model of good police reporting.

1.  It’s objective. The officer sticks to the facts without making assumptions or drawing conclusions. For example, instead of writing “Lebida was uncooperative,” the officer wrote: “Lebida said he was not going to tell me what happened and he just wanted to go home.”

2.  It’s coherent. The situation was chaotic: Several disorderly people – some under the influence of alcohol – were arguing and offering conflicting accounts of what had happened. Punches were exchanged. There was bloody clothing. The officer recorded each person’s statement separately, and he wrote separate paragraphs to document his own observations and actions.

3.  It’s written in clear, simple language (“McKenna said,” “I walked,” “I asked,” “he tripped,” and so on). There’s no police jargon and almost no passive voice. For example, instead of writing “No injuries were observed on McKenna” (passive voice), the officer wrote, “I observed no injuries on McKenna” (active voice).

A few corrections could be made. For example:

  • The officer wrote, “I smelled the strong odor of alcohol coming from the group of subjects.” Alcohol is odorless. It would be better to write “I smelled the strong odor of an alcoholic beverage….”
  • The officer wrote, “MCKENNA said there buddy STEVE was sucker punched by an unknown person.” There is incorrect. The officer should have written that “their buddy STEVE was sucker punched….”

Overall, though, this is an impressive report.

SarahPalin

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