The Reuben Foster Police Report

On February 11, 49ers linebacker Reuben Foster was arrested and charged with felony domestic violence. You can read more here. Elissa Ennis, the alleged victim, later said Foster never hit her, but the DA is still prosecuting Foster for domestic violence and other charges.

Below is a paragraph from a police report released by the Los Gatos-Monte Sereno Police Department. Today I’m going to ask you three questions about this paragraph.

 1. What is your opinion of this paragraph?

Upon arriving at the scene, police took photos of Ennis’ injuries, which included a swollen right lower lip, scratches and a cut on the back of her neck and a scrape on her left knee. She also complained of ringing and poor hearing in her left ear, which subsequently was diagnosed as a ruptured ear drum.

My answer: I’m impressed. This is sophisticated writing! The vocabulary (subsequently) and complex sentences (two which clauses and an embedded list) suggest that it was written by an officer who’s taken some college writing courses.

2. Could you write the same information without the elaborate sentences?

My answer: yes, of course. Here’s my version:

Police arrived at the scene and took photos of Ennis’ injuries. They included a swollen right lower lip, scratches and a cut on the back of her neck and a scrape on her left knee. Ennis also complained of ringing and poor hearing in her left ear. Later doctors said she had a ruptured ear drum.

3.  Which version is better: the first – with complex sentences – or the second – with simple sentences?

My answer: this is a trick question. Both versions are fine. Your goal is to record what happened at the scene and what you learned from your investigation. If you like to write sophisticated sentences, that’s great – as long as they’re clear and correct.

It’s also fine to write short, straightforward sentences…and there are important advantages to writing simply. You’re less likely to make mistakes, and your report will probably be easier to read.

I always tell officers to go for plain-and-straightforward writing. After a long and tiring shift, there’s no need to make your report sound like a bestselling novel! Just get the facts down.

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