Category Archives: police reports

Writing tips, English usage and grammar review, and news stories for officers and other criminal justice professionals who deal with police reports.

Try Another Report Writing Quiz!

Last month you had a chance to test yourself on Part I of the Top 10 Grammar Mistakes. Today you’ll have a chance to practice with Part II (click here for a review). When you’ve finished the quiz, scroll down to check your answers.

1.  There was alot of confusion about  the new procedures.

2.  Although, we’re gradually getting used to new ways of doing things.

3.  The suspect claimed that “he was innocent and didn’t drive a red Ford.”

4.  He kept saying, “You’ve got the wrong person”.

5.  But several people seen him run out of the house that morning.

6.  For your info, i no the people who done the work for our dept.

Here are the answers:

1.  There was a lot of confusion about  the new procedures. [a lot is always two words]

2.  However, we’re gradually getting used to new ways of doing things. [two mistakes here: Never put a comma after although. Anything starting with although is an extra idea, not a real sentence.]

3.  The suspect claimed that he was innocent and didn’t drive a red Ford. [Use quotation marks only for a person’s exact words.]

4.  He kept saying, “You’ve got the wrong person.” [Periods and commas always go inside quotation marks.]

5.  But several people had seen him run out of the house that morning. [Seen must be used with a helper: is seen, was seen, has seen, had seen.]

6.  For your information, I know the people who had done the work for our department. [two mistakes here: done must be used with a helper (had done, have done, is done); don’t use texting style.

(For more help with commas, go to Commas Made Simple.)

a quiz

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 Criminal Justice Report Writing by Jean Reynolds is available from Amazon.com for the low price of $17.95. For a free preview, click on the link or the picture below.

Updated, with a new chapter on Writing Efficiently

“It will definitely help you with your writing skills.” – Joseph E. Badger, California Association of Accident Reconstructionists Newsletter

Criminal Justice Report Writing is also available as an e-book in a variety of formats for $9.99: Click here.

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Apostrophes Quiz

Today’s quiz will help you review apostrophes. Scroll down for the answers. (To read an explanation about placing apostrophes correctly, click here. To view a video about apostrophes, click here.)

1.  I saw scratch marks near the lock on the front door of the Browns house.

2. Officer Lewis investigation was thorough and efficient.

3.  The Browns were out of down all weekend.

4.  A TV in the childrens bedroom was missing.

5.  Mrs. Browns jewelry box was still in its usual place, undisturbed.

ANSWERS

1.  I saw scratch marks near the lock on the front door of the Browns’ house.  (house of Browns)

2. Officer Lewis’ investigation was thorough and efficient.  (investigation of Officer Lewis – “Lewis’s” is also correct)

3.  The Browns were out of down all weekend.  (no apostrophe: there’s no “of” idea)

4.  A TV in the children’s bedroom was missing.  (bedroom of the children)

5.  Mrs. Brown’s jewelry box was still in its usual place, undisturbed.  (jewelry box of Mrs. Brown) (For more apostrophes practice, click here.)

empty jewelry box

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A Police Report and an Election

Jeff Greene is a candidate in the upcoming Florida primary that will determine the Democratic candidate for governor. A five-year-old incident report about Greene has just come to light about an incident at a beach resort.

Greene was in a restaurant with his family. The music was too loud. To get a server’s attention, Greene “smacked her on the arm.” The waitress said she was not injured, she did not believe Greene intended to hurt her, and she wasn’t interested in having the case prosecuted. (But she did say she was “very offended,” and she later quit her job.)

You can read the story here: https://miami.cbslocal.com/2018/08/09/five-year-old-police-report-surfaces-against-greene/

Here are some comments from me:

1. This is a well-written report with excellent sentence structure. It’s objective and thorough. Clearly the officer knows which information is important and useful.

2.  The opening sentence is unnecessary:

On Monday, 011413, at approximately 1600 hours, I responded to the Police station regarding a report of delayed assault that occurred in December Of 2012.

There are spaces on the first page of the report for the date, time, and location.  Repeating those facts is a leftover from the days when officers used plain paper to write their reports. Officers are busy and shouldn’t be asked to record that information twice.

3.  Other repetition in the report can also be eliminated. There’s no need to repeat “I asked” – “she said”:

I asked her if there were any witnesses and she said yes, that information was documented with the hotel. I asked her if she wanted to prosecute and she said “No.” 

Here’s my version:

She told me there were witnesses, and that information was documented with the hotel. She said she didn’t want to prosecute.

4.  There’s wordiness in the last paragraph, along with passive voice.

She requested a police report for the purpose of documenting the incident. She was issued a courtesy card with a case number for her records. 

For the purpose of is wordy – just use “to.” She was issued doesn’t document who provided the courtesy card.

It’s puzzling that some police agencies – despite emphasizing completeness in police reports – don’t insist that officers record who made the arrest, read the Miranda card, drove the patrol car, provided a victims’ brochure, and so on in the disposition part of a report. That information could become an issue if there’s a court case, and a judge might want to know who performed those actions.

Here’s my version: 

She requested a police report to document the incident. I gave her a courtesy card with a case number for her records.

One final point: this incident is a useful reminder that any report can become a news story years later!

Picture of Jeff Greene

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Doublecheck the Endings of Words

Speaking is not the same as writing, even though we use the same words for both activities. So making the transfer from talking to writing can create difficulties, especially if you’re new to report writing.

Difficulties in transferring from one to the other especially show up in word endings. When we talk, we naturally run sounds together, and we tend to omit letters.

When you’re talking, that’s not a problem. But those omitted letters will detract from the professionalism of a report you’re writing.

For example, listen to yourself while you read this sentence aloud:

Bill tried to find the source of the contraband.  CORRECT

Chances are you ran the “d” in “tried” together with the “t” in “to.” Everyone does it!

Here’s the problem, though: Are you going to remember to write that –ed ending, since you don’t hear it? All too often, officers write sentences like this:

Bill try to find the source of the contraband.  INCORRECT

Here’s another one. Again, listen to yourself read this sentence aloud:

The memo lists the days and times for next month’s meetings.  CORRECT

Chances are you omitted the final “s” in “lists”: It’s difficult to say correctly, especially when you’re talking fast. Unfortunately, the sentence may look like this when an officer writes it:

The memo list the days and times for next month’s meetings. INCORRECT

Male sure you put the “s” ending on lists:

The memo lists the days and times for next month’s meetings. CORRECT

Let’s try two more. Here are phrases that often omit the -ed ending: supposed to and used to. There’s a reason: you can’t hear the “d.” But you still have to write it!

I used to work every holiday. CORRECT

We’re supposed to receive a raise next month. CORRECT

The next time you write a report, take a few minutes to reread it and check the word endings. It’s a strategy professional writers use – and you should too.

 

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Try This Report-Writing Quiz!

Here’s a short quiz based on Part I of the 10 Top Grammar Mistakes that officers make. Click on the link for a review, and then try this quiz. Scroll down for the answers.

1.  The door was open, we heard a woman scream.

2.  The Powells’ house is located on a busy downtown street.

3.  The Powells’ have lived there for five years.

4.  I set up a time to talk to he and she about the break-in.

5.  I walked up to the car, it looked abandoned.

ANSWERS

1.  The door was open. We heard a woman scream. OR The door was open; we heard a woman scream. [Sentences end with periods or semicolons, not commas. If you use a semicolon, lower-case the next letter unless it’s a capitalized name.]

2.  The Powells’ house is located on a busy downtown street. [Correct: Think house of the Powells.]

3.  The Powells have lived there for five years. [No apostrophe: There’s no “of” idea.]

4.  I set up a time to talk to him and her about the break-in.

5.  I walked up to the car. It looked abandoned. OR I walked up to the car; it looked abandoned. [Sentences should end with periods or semicolons, not commas. Here’s a handy rule of thumb: It starts a new sentence. Semicolons are followed by lower-case unless it’s a capitalized name.]

How did you do?

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The LeSean McCoy Police Report

Buffalo Bills running back LeSean McCoy has been in the news in connection with a home invasion, a jewelry theft, and an assault on his former girlfriend – but no charges have been filed.

Several police reports have released in connection with the story. You can read them here. Today I’d like to discuss two excerpts from one of them. The report is exceptionally well written (jargon-free, active voice, thorough, objective). Still, I would recommend a few changes. Read the excerpts below and see if you notice anything:

1.  Cordin called dispatch to report that people were taking belongings from the home and she saw them through her Ring doorbell camera. She stated that there was not supposed to be anyone at the home. She stated that she was out of town in Virginia and her boyfriend and owner of the home, LeSean McCoy was out of town as well. She stated that she saw a moving truck in the driveway along with several people.

Here’s what I thought: this paragraph is actually a list, and you’ll save time if you write it that way. (Officers are busy!). There’s no need to keep repeating she stated…she stated…she stated.

Cordin called dispatch and said:

  • people were taking belongings from the home
  • She saw them through her Ring doorbell camera
  • No one was supposed to be  at the home
  • She was out of town in Virginia
  • Her boyfriend and owner of the home, LeSean McCoy was out of town as well
  • She saw a moving truck in the driveway along with several people

2When myself and Sergeant Baronian arrived on scene there were several people removing bags and furniture from the home.

I would have used Sergeant Baronian and I. There’s nothing wrong with the word I! Myself is pompous and awkward. Use it only for emphasis: “When Jane didn’t show up for the meeting, I presented the report myself.”

 *  *  *  *  *  *  

I have one more question for you. Can you figure out why I cheered when I read this sentence from the report?

I informed her that since LeSean and Delicia shared the home, they would have to go to civil court to divide the items.

Here’s why I was so happy about this sentence: The officer used informed (correct!) instead of the jargonish advised that’s I see so frequently in police reports. (If you read the entire report, you’ll notice that the officer correctly used advised to mean “counseled” – every time.)

I hope you’ll take a few minutes to read the report yourself! It’s a great way to develop your reading and writing skills.

LeSean McCoy in his football uniform

 

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Solving Verb Problems in Police Reports

Verbs are action words (like goworkhelp, and run). Most of the time verbs are easy to use correctly. You should be aware, though, of common verb problems that can mar your professional image.

Here are a few errors to watch for:

  • Using seen without a helper:
    Carruthers seen him with his sister several times. WRONG
    Carruthers had seen him with his sister several times. CORRECT  (“had” is a helper”)
    Carruthers saw him with his sister several times. CORRECT (when you’re not using a helper, “saw” is the correct word)
  • Omitting the “d” ending with supposed to and used to:
    Wilson use to fix cars before his arrest. WRONG
    Wilson used to fix cars before his arrest. CORRECT
    We’re suppose to attend a training session next Tuesday.  WRONG
    We’re supposed to attend a training session next Tuesday. CORRECT
  • Placing the apostrophe in the wrong place in contractions. Remember that the apostrophe takes the place of a missing letter: Do not becomes don’t; is not becomes isn’t; was not becomes wasn’t; and so on.
    Farris was’nt on duty yesterday. WRONG
    Farris wasn’t on duty yesterday. CORRECT
    I’am thinking about getting a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. WRONG
    I’m thinking about getting a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. CORRECT

If you’re writing on a laptop, a PC, or a Mac, the spellchecker or grammar checker may warn you that you’ve made an error. ALWAYS check your reports before you submit them, and ask a friend or co-worker to read your reports as well.

It’s much better to catch and correct errors before your report is seen by a supervisor, media reporter, or attorney!

a fat pencil

 

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Use Pronouns Correctly

Pronouns are little words like I, me, he, she, him, and her. Using pronouns in police reports requires attention to a few easy rules.Here are some tips:

  • I” and “me” are perfectly appropriate in criminal justice reports. Calling yourself “this officer” instead of “I” does not automatically make you objective and professional. (If only it were that simple!)
  • Don’t use “she” when there are two females: It’s too confusing. Similarly, don’t use “he” when there are two males. Give names or revise the sentence for clarity.Here are two examples:

Mrs. Brown called her mother after work. She thought she heard a noise outside. UNCLEAR: Which woman heard the noise?

Mrs. Brown thought she heard a noise when she called her mother after work. BETTER

Be careful not to confuse “she” and “her” (and “he” and “him”). Note these examples:

He lived in the apartment upstairs. CORRECT

His wife and he lived in the apartment upstairs. CORRECT

His wife and him lived in the apartment upstairs. INCORRECT  [You wouldn’t say “Him lived,” would you?]

He told me about the break-in. CORRECT

He told my partner and me about the break-in. CORRECT

He told my partner and I about the break-in.  INCORRECT  [You wouldn’t say “He told I,” would you?]

To learn more, click here and read about Pronoun Rule 2. You can download a free pronoun handout at bit.ly/PronounsMadeSimple.

a checkmark

 

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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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How Many Words Do You Need?

Former Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel is back in the news. After a two-year-absence from professional football, there’s talk that he might return to the NFL. (You can read more here.)

Manziel’s time with the Browns was marred by personal problems, and eventually he sought treatment in a rehab center. One difficulty was an alleged domestic incident in 2016. According to Manziel’s ex-girlfriend, he threatened to kill her and end his own life. Because she was unwilling to file charges, he was never arrested.

You can read the story and police report hereThe report is detailed, professional, and worth a look, especially if you’re an officer who writes reports about domestic incidents.

There’s another reason why you might want to read the report: to develop an eye for unnecessary words. Take a look at the excerpts below. Can you find any words that could be omitted? (My comments appear below each one, in blue.)

At this time, Colleen reported that Johnathan began xxxx and aggressive towards her.

[Omit at this time. Be specific: “aggressive” might not hold up in court. Did Manziel ball his fists, shout threats, kick, or hit?]

Colleen and Johnathan arrived back at her apartment located at 2101 Park Hill Dr some time in the early morning hours but Colleen informed that she does not have an approximate idea of what time it was.

[Colleen and Johnathan returned to her apartment at 2101 Park Hill Drive. She didn’t remember what time it was.]

Officers asked Colleen if there was any further assault that occurred once they were back at her apartment in Fort Worth and she began to become irritated with officer’s questioning.

[Be specific: how did she show her irritation? If she spoke to them angrily, what did she say? The first part of this sentence can be simplified: Colleen would not say if there was another assault at her apartment.]

Colleen did not know the address where Johnathan’s parents reside.

[Colleen did know where Johnathan’s parents live.]

Police officers are busy men and women. Police reports should be thorough but efficient. Don’t clog your reports with unnecessary words!

Johnny Manziel at Browns training camp

 

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