Do More Words = Better Reports?

Police academies have always emphasized the importance of brevity in police reports. Officers are busy, and unnecessary words waste not only the officer’s time, but the time of anyone else who might read the report – a lieutenant, judge, district attorney, newspaper reporter, or someone else.

Lately, though, many officers have been writing longer and longer reports.

A report just posted about an incident in Jacksonville Beach, Florida, provides a good opportunity to consider whether longer reports are always better reports.

Two police officers investigated an alarm that went off at a restaurant. The alarm was triggered accidentally, but the restaurant owner had some strong words for the officers who responded. The owner said that his employees have been spitting in the food served to police officers – and he himself was very angry about actions of police officers he had encountered.

No charges were filed.

You can read about the incident and find a link to the reports (there were two officers) at this link.

If you were one of those officers, would you record every detail – or would you include only facts you consider useful and necessary? 

Here, for example, is the first paragraph of one of the reports:

NARRATIVE On 02/06/2017, at approximately 0913 hours, Officer T. Brown ft 1263 and myself where dispatched to Cruisers Grill Located at 317 23 rd Avenue South, in reference to a reported audible alarm. Officer Brown and I arrived and parked on the south side of the building to make our approach along the west side of the building.

No crime was in progress. In this case, is it useful to note where you parked and how you approached the building?

Here’s the next paragraph from the police report:

Contact was made with an employee of the business who advised the business owner, Robert Handmaker, accidentally set the alarm off. While talking to the employee, Handmaker walked up and advised he accidentally set the alarm off. Afterwards Handmaker said, “Do you mind if I talk to you two for a second?”, we replied  “Sure”, and followed Handmaker to his office located on the north side of the building.  ACTUAL REPORT

If you were the officer, would you have written out the conversation in detail – or do you prefer this version?

We talked to an employee, who said the business owner, Robert Handmaker, accidentally set off the alarm. Handmaker confirmed that he’d set it off. Then he asked to talk to us in his office.  REVISED VERSION

The first version is 73 words; the second is less than half that long – 34 words. Do the additional words add useful information?

I’m a strong advocate for brevity and efficiency. In my opinion, officers should be taught how to evaluate a call and determine which information is relevant.

What’s your opinion?

If you were (or are) an instructor in an academy – or a supervisor in an agency – would you encourage officers to write efficient police reports – or do you feel that brevity is no longer an important requirement for police reports?



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