Evaluate a Report

You can learn a lot by reading a police report with a critical eye. Here’s a typical report that has some good information – but also needs revising.

What changes would you recommend? Scroll below for a list of problems with the report and some recommendations for fixing them.

This officer was dispatched to a report of criminal mischief at 315 Cooper Lane. Upon arrival the victim related a fence was damaged by what appeared to be a vehicle that was southbound on Cooper Lane. The vehicle left the roadway and after hitting the fence continued southbound. No evidence was left from the vehicle.

First, let’s look at a few problems with wording:

  • “This officer” is old-fashioned police jargon – it makes you sound outdated, and it doesn’t enhance the report. Use “I.”
  • “Upon arrival the victim…” is a dangling modifier. The victim didn’t arrive: You, the officer, did. Better wording: “Upon my arrival, the victim…”
  • “related…” What’s wrong with “said”?

Now let’s look at wording that could cause problems if this report becomes part of a prosecution later on. The officer wrote that the fence “was damaged by what appeared to be a vehicle…” Why did it “appear” to be a vehicle? If the victim doesn’t know what it was, how can she be so sure it traveled southbound after damaging the fence?

The report states “no evidence was left from the vehicle.” What evidence did the officer look for? It would be much better to state that there were no tire tracks on the ground and no paint chips on the broken length of fence. Reporting these details show that you’re an effective officer who knows what to look for.

Here’s a suggested revision:

I was dispatched to a report of criminal mischief at 315 Cooper Lane. The victim, Marilyn James, told me she saw a light-blue Toyota Matrix drive into a fence. The Matrix was going southbound on Cooper Lane and left the roadway.  It hit the fence and then continued southbound.I looked for paint chips and tire tracks from the car but found none.

The first principle of report writing is to be specific. A few details would make this a much better report.

well done

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