Writing a Complete Report

Below are excerpts from two versions of the same police report. (To save time, I’m not using the entire report.) Which one is more complete? (Think of an officer answering questions at a court hearing. Which version is more likely to be challenged by a defense attorney?)

Version 1:

I was dispatched to Lindsey’s Bar & Grill on 30 Jefferson Road to deal with a fight in progress. I went inside and saw a man (Juan Garcia, DOB 8/23/1995) pinned against the wall.  Another man (Paul Winston, DOB 3/14/1993) had positioned his hands around Garcia’s neck. I told Winston to let Garcia go, and I told the two men to sit down in opposite sides of the room. I talked to the bartender (Janice Fields), who told me she had called 911 when the fight started.

Garcia told me he arrived at the bar at about 7:30 pm. Several patrons were complaining about immigrants. Garcia became angry because he’s an immigrant himself. Winston was talking loudest, so Garcia told him to “shut up.” Winston grabbed him by the neck and held him against the wall. Bar patrons saw it all happen but did nothing.

Version 2:

I was dispatched to Lindsey’s Bar & Grill on 30 Jefferson Road to deal with a fight in progress. I was wearing full uniform and driving a marked vehicle. I parked on the west side of Lindsey’s Bar & Grill. Upon my arrival I went inside and saw a man (Juan Garcia, DOB 8/23/1995) pinned against the wall.  Another man (Paul Winston, DOB 3/14/1993) had positioned his hands around Garcia’s neck. Upon seeing this, I advised Winston to let Garcia go, and I advised them to sit down in opposite sides of the room. After I had told the two abovementioned men to sit down, I talked to the bartender (Janice Fields), who told me she had called 911 when the fight started.

I questioned Garcia first. I asked him when he arrived at the bar. He replied that he had arrived at about 7:30 pm. I asked him what happened next. He advised me that  several patrons were complaining about immigrants. Upon hearing what they were saying, he became angry. During the conversation he noticed that Winston was talking loudest, whereupon he he told Winston to “shut up.” Winston became incensed, grabbed Garcia by the neck and held him against the wall. During this incident patrons of Lindsey’s Bar & Grill saw Winston grab Garcia but did nothing.

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Version 2 is longer than Version 1 – about 50% longer, in fact (219 words versus 145 in Version 1).

But does Version 2 contain 50% more information? No. the facts and details in both versions are exactly the same. You would think that a longer report might plug some holes that a defense attorney could use to his or her advantage. But that’s not true in this case.

The real difference between the two versions is empty, time-wasting filler:

  • If you were dispatched to a call, obviously you were in uniform and driving a service vehicle.
  • In this situation, it doesn’t matter where you parked.
  • Transitional words like “whereupon,” “during the conversation,” “abovementioned,” and “during this incident” don’t add anything useful.
  • There’s no need to state your questions. In most situations, all that’s needed is the information you heard from a suspect, victim, or witness.

And here’s something that might surprise you: Version 2 actually gives a defense an opportunity to challenge the officer’s handling of the case. The problem is the word advise (beloved of police officers, who mistakenly think it makes them sound smart and professional):

Upon seeing this, I advised Winston to let Garcia go, and I advised them to sit down in opposite sides of the room.  MISUSE OF ADVISE

Advised means “suggest” or “counsel” (even though cops insist on using it as a synonym for “told”). So a defense attorney could argue that you only suggested that Winston let go of Garcia…with serious results if a suspect refuses to obey your orders.

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Let’s go back to my earlier point: Version 2 is 50% longer than Version 1. Think of all the reports you write in a week – a month – a year. Can you justify making your reports half again as long for no purpose? Or…do you want to start thinking about ways to write more efficiently?

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