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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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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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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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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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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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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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?

1-1b630b2863

 

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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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How the Pros Investigate Rape

Kathy Dobie is a writer who spent several months shadowing a highly professional sex crimes unit. Her in-depth article for the New York Times Magazine covers the challenges the unit has to deal with (legal limitations, budget problems, uncooperative victims, outdated beliefs about what constitutes rape, and more).

Most interesting are the specialized strategies the unit has developed. Officers in the unit say that “he said/she said” cases don’t have to be a dead end: Corroborating evidence can always be found if police know what to look for. Gaps in a victim or suspect’s story can be filled in if officers use specialized interview techniques. I highly recommend this article.

Stop Rape Sign Painted, Open Hand Raised.

 

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Alabama Football Players vs. the DA

A controversy is brewing about two Alabama football players – Cameron Robinson and Laurence “Hootie” Jones.” On May 17, six police officers found marijuana and weapons, including a stolen handgun, in a parked car. District Attorney Jerry Jones dropped the felony charges for lack of evidence. He also made this statement:

I want to emphasize once again that the main reason I’m doing this is that I refuse to ruin the lives of two young men who have spent their adolescence and teenage years, working and sweating, while we were all in the air conditioning.

The police reports – detailed, thorough, and professional – seem to indicate sufficient reason to charge Cameron Robinson and Laurence “Hootie” Jones.

You can read more at this link: http://www.hannapub.com/ouachitacitizen/news/crime/police-reports-dna-evidence-not-enough-for-da-in-alabama/article_56417ac0-3826-11e6-ab1c-f7e46192740c.html?utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter&utm_campaign=user-share

You can download and read the police reports online. They are well written and worth studying: http://bloximages.newyork1.vip.townnews.com/hannapub.com/content/tncms/assets/v3/editorial/f/f5/ff513e52-37fe-11e6-ad12-cbe4ad96c40f/5769bebe9e339.pdf.pdf

One supplemental report connected to this case raises a useful writing issue. Take a look at these two sentences:

I then holstered my weapon and advised the subject to not move and to keep his hands placed out of the window. I opened the backseat passenger door and advised the subject to lay flat on the ground.

I often tell officers not to use advise in their reports. These two sentences demonstrate the problem. If you look up advise in the dictionary, you’ll see that the first meaning is “counsel” or “suggest.” That’s how average citizens – the people who serve on juries – understand the word.

Was this officer suggesting that the passenger to keep still, keep his hands out the window, and lie on the floor? No. Those were orders.

What if the suspect had disobeyed, and the officer used force to gain control? A defense attorney could argue that the force wasn’t justified because the officer was only making suggestions.

Here’s my suggestion: Don’t use advise in a police report. Tell or said conveys your meaning much more clearly.

CrimsonTidelogo

 

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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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