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?

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