I often talk to officers who feel frustrated about their police reports. They’d like to improve their writing skills, but they don’t have time – or they think they don’t have time. Another issue is that they’re not quite sure what steps to take. Sign up for a course? Buy a workbook? Hire a tutor?
Today I’d like to suggest a practical way to get better – in your spare moments. All you need is access to the Internet.
What I’m suggesting is that you read as many police reports as you can – and do it with a critical eye. If you Google “police reports,” you’re likely to find some reports about celebrities who have had encounters with the law. You can also visit www.DeadSpin.com and www.TMZ.com, which often post police reports.
Or – just keep coming back to this website. I often post links to actual reports, along with comments of my own. (There’s a link where you can subscribe – free – on the home page.)
This “read lots of police reports” advice is particularly useful if you’re hoping to climb the career ladder. The higher you go, the more paperwork you’ll be doing – and in the criminal justice field, it will often involve evaluating police reports.
Here’s why this advice is so useful: Your brain is like a muscle. The more you exercise it, the more improvements you will see. With practice, reading and evaluating reports will become easier, and you’ll be able to identify both the strengths and weaknesses whenever you read a report or – better yet – write one yourself.
Here’s an opportunity for you to sharpen those skills right now. A British newspaper, the Daily Mail, recently found and posted an old police report involving actor Sylvester Stallone. You can read it here: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-5081605/Sylvester-Stallone-accused-forcing-teen-threesome.html
Back in 1986, Stallone was in Las Vegas to film Over the Top. A 16-year-old girl saw him at the Las Vegas Hilton and agreed to go upstairs with him. Afterward she told the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police that she had felt pressured her into having sex with him and his bodyguard. She didn’t want to prosecute.
A retired Las Vegas detective has confirmed that the report was true. Stallone denies the allegations.
I hope you’ll read the report yourself! It is thorough and professional, and the writing is excellent.
I have a few suggestions (and these are the kinds of issues you should be thinking about whenever you read or write a report):
1. I would have liked to see more details. The generalizations in the sentences below (marked in red) lack objectivity and might be open to a challenge from a defense attorney:
She appeared to be very embarrassed and reluctant to discuss the situation with these officers.
[Name redacted] appears to be a little slow. She has difficulty in relating her thoughts to someone, and she was very emotional.
Specific actions would make a stronger case: “cried,” “hesitated,” “wouldn’t make eye contact with me,” “covered her face with her hands” “tried to talk but couldn’t get the words out.”
2. Some of the writing could be more concise. Busy officers should strive for efficiency. Repetition and unnecessary words waste time without adding anything useful. Here’s one example:
She indicated to these officers that Mr. Stallone said to her, “If you tell anyone about this, we will beat your head in.” WORDY
Here’s a more efficient version:
She said Mr. Stallone told her, “If you tell anyone about this, we will beat your head in.” CONCISE
The revised version has another benefit: it’s more specific (always desirable in criminal justice). “She indicated” could mean that she pointed, wrote, used sign language, tapped out a message in Morse code, or found some other means to communicate. “Indicated” is too general for a police report. “She said” makes it clear that she spoke to the officers.
What were your thoughts as you read the report?