How to Make a Report Better

Here’s a police report that needs improvement. 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 northbound. 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  • “This officer” is old-fashioned police jargon – it makes you sound outdated, and it doesn’t enhance the report.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 victim seems to have seen something happen to her fence – or perhaps a neighbor saw the incident and told the victim about it. As the investigating officer, you need to be clear about who saw what. Who spoke to you, and what did they say? That could be important in court later on.

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 are an effective officer who knows what to look for.

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