Subjective or Objective?

Here are two words that every officer should know: subjective (related to an opinion) and objective (factual).

Simply stated, there’s no place for opinions in a criminal-justice report. If you’re new to report writing, this may take some getting used to.

Of course you want to state that the man in the red plaid jacket was behaving suspiciously or seemed inebriated. It’s tempting to write that the kitchen window was probably the point of entry in the break-in. You’ll want to say that the inmate was disrespectful when you confronted him about disrupting the count.

Don’t do it.

Subjective (based on opinion) reports label you as unprofessional. Even worse, they can get you into trouble in court.

A skillful attorney can use vague descriptions (“The suspect was nervous”) to cast doubt on your judgment, trip you up on the witness stand, or convince a judge that you did not have probable cause for getting involved in the first place.

Objective (factual) reports make you look professional, and they’re especially useful in court. After a long time has passed, you may not remember details about what you saw.

If they’re plainly stated in your report, you’ll have no problem testifying. And many officers say that good reports can help keep a case from landing in court. An attorney who sees that you’ve convincingly stated the facts may decide not to challenge what you did.

Start thinking about ways you can describe rather than label a person who is nervous, inebriated, sarcastic, belligerent, aggressive, disrespectful, frightened, or disoriented. For example, instead of writing “Jones was disrespectful,” you could write this:

Jones told me, “If you knew what you were doing, the count would be finished by now.” OBJECTIVE

Practice thinking of objective ways to describe everyday things you see and hear. The extra effort now will pay off throughout your criminal justice career.

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