How to Quote Suspects, Witnesses, and Victims

Police and correctional officers often have to quote suspects, witnesses, and victims. Getting their statements right is important. It can mean the difference between an acquittal and a successful prosecution.

Knowing how to punctuate statements from suspects, witnesses, and victims is just as important. That means you need to know how to use quotation marks (“like this”).

In today’s post you’ll review how to quote suspects, witnesses, and victims – and you’ll learn how to use quotation marks.

Here are two tips for getting the words right:

1.  Concentrate. Most people spend most of their time thinking about their own lives and their own problems. In a conversation, they’re usually thinking about what they’re going to say next. As an officer, you need to redirect your thinking to the situation at hand, observing and retaining everything that’s said.

2.  Develop your ability to remember. When you watch TV or listen to the radio, try to repeat exactly what you heard. Keep practicing, and strive to increase the number of words you can retain in your memory. After a conversation or a meeting, see if you can repeat what each person said.

And here are suggestions for writing down what you hear when you talk to witnesses and suspects:

1.  Be specific. “Inmate Jones threatened me” isn’t good enough. You need to record exactly what he said and did:

Inmate Jones took two steps forward, made a fist, and said, “You’d better watch your back, because I’m not gonna quit until I get you for this.”  CORRECT

2.  Don’t shy away from blasphemy, indecent words, and racial slurs. Record what the person said, word-for-word.

3.  Don’t comment or editorialize about what was said. Observations like “I was shocked” or “I knew she was lying” don’t belong in a professional report.

4.  Use standard punctuation. In the United States, periods and commas always go inside (before) quotation marks. There are no exceptions. (Canada and the UK use a different system.) You can see how commas and periods work in the US by looking at the quotations in today’s post (in blue).

Note these examples:

Linda said, “I checked the nightstand for his revolver. It was gone.”

“Put down that knife,” I told Wallace.

“When did you come home from work?” I asked Lewis.

5.  Use quotation marks only for a person’s exact words. If you change the words in any way, omit the quotation marks.

Linda said, “I checked the nightstand for his revolver. It was gone.” QUOTATION MARKS NEEDED

Linda told me she checked the nightstand for his revolver, but it was gone. NO QUOTATION MARKS

Male figure holding up quotation marks


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