The Easter Ham

On April 15 – the day before Easter – a Pennsylvania couple had a serious argument about how to cook a ham. When the woman swung a steak knife at the man, someone called the police. The woman was arrested for felony assault. You can read the police report here.

Overall it’s an effective report. Sophisticated sentences featuring embedded clauses make me think that the officer has been to college. Here’s an example, with the embedded (“inserted”) clause in green:

The victim related that for unknown reasons, as he was putting the ham in the oven, the defendant grabbed an 11 inch steak knife from the top of the oven and began swinging it at him. 

But fancy writing isn’t really necessary in a police report. Even though this one is professional and objective, it could have been written more efficiently. Result: Less time typing on a laptop, and more time available for active policing!

(And there’s another problem: the word related. “Said” is a perfectly normal word and more appropriate for a police report.)

Compare the two versions and see what you think. Here’s an excerpt from the original report:

The victim related that he and his girlfriend, the defendant, who have been dating and living together for approx. 3 ½ years, entered into a verbal argument in the kitchen over how to cook a ham. The victim related that for unknown reasons, as he was putting the ham in the oven, the defendant grabbed an 11 inch steak knife from the top of the oven and began swinging it at him. The victim related that as the defendant was swinging the knife he was able to avoid being seriously cut except for a small cut on his chest.

And here’s a suggested rewrite.

The victim said:

  • he and his girlfriend, the defendant, have been dating and living together for approx. 3 ½ years
  • they argued in the kitchen over how to cook a ham
  • as he was putting the ham in the oven, the defendant grabbed an 11 inch steak knife from the top of the oven
  • she began swinging the knife at him
  • he didn’t know why she swung the knife
  • he was able to avoid being seriously cut except for a small cut on his chest

Notice that the information in both versions is the same – but the second version is easier to read and write.

Some officers mistakenly believe that “more words” = “better reports.” Not true! Saying “the month of December” does not contain any more information than the single word “December.”

The men and women who write – and read – reports are busy people. Everyone wins when officers write clear, efficient, professional reports.

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