It’s rare for me to read a truly efficient police report. Because so many officers say they dislike paperwork, you’d expect them to try to write as concisely as possible. Let’s get it done! But the opposite is true. Most reports are swollen with unnecessary words that don’t do any work and waste time for both the writer and anyone who reads them.
Here’s what’s really strange: many of those reports – despite their excessive length – omit some of the details needed for a thorough, objective, and totally professional report.
Today we’re going to look at a recent example of an effective police report that could – however – have been better. On August 20, neighbors reported a noisy party at the Kennedy compound in Hyannis Port. Matthew Kennedy and his daughter Caroline (son and granddaughter of Robert F. Kennedy) were arrested for disturbing the peace and violating a noise ordinance. The Boston Globe published the police report, which you can read here.
Here are my comments:
- Many sentences begin with phrases that don’t add any useful information:
At this time
Upon walking up
Upon my arrival
Here’s an example:
Upon my arrival on Irving Ave., I shut down my cruiser approximately 200-300 feet before Iyanough Ave. I could clearly hear loud music and loud music coming from the corner house. I also observed several people walking up the road carrying coolers. I also observed Hyannisport Security off at the intersection.
If you were 200-300 feet away and you shut down your cruiser, it’s obvious that you had arrived. (Incidentally, the detail about 200-300 feet away is useful because you’re dealing with a noise complaint. If you could hear the music that far away, the noise complaint was justified. As I said, in many ways this is an excellent report.)
“At this time” is just as unnecessary. What other time would it have been? In many years of reading reports, I’ve noticed that officers always do a good job of recording events in the order they happened. (Would you put the arrest before the investigation? I’ve never seen a report do that.) You don’t need “at this time,” “whereupon,” and similar expressions. Just record – in order – what happened.
2. Sometimes the report takes a roundabout route to recording a simple fact. Here’s an example:
I asked the above-referenced unidentified male for identification.
How about: “I asked Kennedy for identification”? And see what you think of this sentence:
I observed Kennedy to have noticeably blood shot and glassy eyes and he was sweating profusely during our conversation.
“Saw” is a perfectly respectable word. And why “noticeably”? How could you have known that his eyes were bloodshot if the redness hadn’t been noticeable? And there’s no need to write “during our conversation.” The report just pointed out that the officer was questioning him.
Here’s a more efficient (and perfectly professional) sentence:
I saw that Kennedy’s eyes were bloodshot, and he was sweating profusely. EFFICIENT
In tomorrow’s post I’ll discuss some details that were omitted from this report. Meanwhile, you might want to read the report yourself and see what you think.