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.

The Bill Murray Incident Report

On August 10, police were called to a club in Martha’s Vineyard to deal with a dispute between Bill Murray and photographer Peter Simon (brother of Carly Simon). (No charges were filed.) You can read the report below.

The report is thorough and professional – but wordy. It rambles, and that’s not an efficient way for busy police officers to write reports. You need to use your critical thinking skills to decide which information is relevant to the matter at hand. For example, it might not be necessary in this report to say that Simon was sitting in his car. (In a different situation that might be important information.)

Here’s a sample from the report:

The RP, Peter Simon, claimed that he was harassed by Bill Murray. I, Sgt. Curelli responded and located Simon seated in his vehicle in the parking lot. Simon advised that he was “on assignment” taking pictures for the MV Thus at Lola’s. Simon advised that he was taking pictures of the people in the restaurant and was accused by Bill Murray. Simon advised that Murray was irate that Simon was taking picture.

Here’s a more concise version:

Sgt. Curelli and I talked to Simon in the parking lot. Simon told us he was on assignment taking pictures for the MV Thus at Lola’s. Bill Murray became angry and poured a drink on Murray’s shirt. Simon told me that he didn’t recognize Murray. Simon told me that shortly thereafter, Murray grabbed him and poured a drink on his shirt. Simon told me that he was not injured but he didn’t think it was right and he wanted an apology.

You could also save time by writing Simon’s statement as a list:

Sgt. Curelli and I talked to Simon in the parking lot.

Simon told us:

  • he was on assignment taking pictures for the MV Thus at Lola’s
  • Bill Murray grabbed him and poured a drink on Simon’s shirt
  • Simon didn’t recognize Murray
  • Simon wanted an apology

Other suggestions: Don’t begin your report with “On the above date and time” – it doesn’t add anything useful. Avoid advise (police jargon) unless you actually give someone advice. Told and said are better choices. Often you can omit thereafter and other pompous words.

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The Perils of Mindreading

It happened to all of us when we were kids: During a tense moment, some adult (Mom, Dad, a teacher, a principal, or someone else in authority) ordered us to “Take that look off your face!”

What look? I was trying as hard as I could to be completely expressionless. And, since of course I couldn’t see myself, I had no idea (and still don’t, to this day) what that person saw. Defiance? Mockery? Anger? I’ll never know.

Incidents like that one teach a useful lesson: Don’t try to guess at another person’s intentions.

That principle is especially important to report writing. Labeling a person as “belligerent,” “hostile,” “confused,” “helpless,” or some other mental state is risky. In a court or disciplinary hearing, the person might come up with a totally different description and explanation, damaging your credibility.

The rule for report writing is the same one that professional writers use (and you are a professional writer, after all!): Show, don’t tell.

So, instead of writing that she was “driving erratically,” write down what she did: Crossed the center line three times in less than a minute, or braked five times while approaching a stop sign.

Don’t write that he was “belligerent”: Record exactly what he said to you. Note the signs that signaled to you that a witness was frightened: darting eyes, trembling lips, shaking hands.

Train yourself to notice and remember what people around you are doing. That kind of practice will help you develop the descriptive skills needed for effective reports.

 Police officer makes an arrest at a traffic stop

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The Beto O’Rourke Police Report

Beto O’Rourke is a Texas Democrat who’s running against incumbent senator Ted Cruz in the November election. In 1998, when O’Rourke was 26, he was arrested for drunk driving and trying to leave the scene of an accident. That accident has become an issue in the senatorial campaign.

You can learn more and read the police report at this link.

I always encourage officers to read actual reports with a critical eye. What does the report do well? Is there anything that could have been written differently?

Here’s an excerpt from the Beto O’ Rourke report for you to read and think about. My comments are below.

I met with the reporter who said he was traveling west bound on I-10 and observed a black in color Volvo traveling the same direction at a high rate of speed. The driver then lost control of the vehicle and struck a truck traveling the same direction sending the defendants vehicle across the center median and pointing eastbound. The driver attempted to leave the accident but was stopped by the reporter. It was then determined after a brief interview that the defendant/driver was intoxicated. The defendant was then transported the El Paso Police West side Sub Station Where he was given the Breath Test, subject failed.

My comments:

1.  Overall, it’s an excellent report: concise, objective, professional. There are a few capital letter issues, probably because the officer had a limited amount of time for writing.

2.  To make the report more efficient, I would have used bullet style:

I met with the reporter, who said he was traveling west bound on I-10. He saw a black Volvo traveling fast in the same direction.

The reporter told me the following:

  • the driver lost control of the vehicle
  • it struck a truck traveling the same direction
  • it crossed the center median and pointed eastbound
  • the driver tried to leave the accident 
  • the reporter stopped him

2.  The report would be more likely to hold up in court if there was specific evidence that O’Rourke was intoxicated:

It was then determined after a brief interview that the defendant/driver was intoxicated.  VAGUE

I smelled liquor on the driver’s breath. When I asked his name, his speech was slurred.  SPECIFIC

3. The report omits two important pieces of information: who drove the defendant to the substation, and who administered the breath test. That information could be important if there’s a court hearing later, and the judge wants to ask questions about the trip to the substation or the breath test:

The defendant was then transported the El Paso Police West side Sub Station Where he was given the Breath Test, subject failed.  PASSIVE VOICE

Officer Jones transported O’Rourke to the El Paso Police West Side Substation and administered the breath test, which O’Rourke failed.  ACTIVE VOICE

4. “Black in color” is wordy and unnecessary. Just say “a black Volvo.”

Seal of the US Senate

 

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Plurals of Names

As a police or corrections officer, you’re going to be writing people’s names in almost every report – an easy skill for most officers until they encounter plurals.

It’s easy to write down what Cynthia Santos said or did. But what if you interview the whole family? There’s already an “s” at the end of Santos.

And simpler names can also present difficulties. How do you form the plural of Smith, Clark, Patterson, and similar names?

Help is on the way…along with a memory device.

Let’s start with words (not names) that end with “s” and see how they’re done:

boss     gas     kiss     virus     witness     iris

To form the plural, just add -es:

bosses     gases     kisses     viruses     witnesses     irises

Now let’s do the plurals of names ending in “s.” They’re done the same way: Just add –es.

Santos     Jones     Reynolds     Willis     Thomas     Lewis

Santoses     Joneses     Reynoldses     Willises     Thomases     Lewises

What about ordinary names that don’t end in “s”? Well, how do you form the plural of an ordinary word? You just add “s,” of course. Names work the same way:

Smith     Clark     Patterson     Riley     Brown

Smiths     Clarks     Pattersons     Rileys     Browns

For good measure, here are two tips:

  • If “Reynoldses” sounds odd to you (it does to me, even though it’s my family’s name!), just use the Reynolds family.
  • Don’t use an apostrophe to mean more-than-one. Apostrophes are for “of” expressions:

Mr. Riley’s car was found in an empty lot two blocks away. CORRECT

We asked the Rileys if they’d seen or heard anything unusual.  CORRECT

well done

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Right or Wrong?

Like all professionals, officers want to speak and write well. I hope you go over your reports several times to make sure everything is grammatical and correct.

Here’s a problem, though: Sometimes right sounds wrong. Today we’re going to look at three usage points that might sound wrong to people who don’t have a solid background in English usage.

1.  That uniform looks good on you.   CORRECT

The man (or woman) on the street might mistakenly say “looks well.” Nope! “Looks good” is correct. Technically speaking, looks is a copulative verb that requires an adjective. No need to dig into all that grammar, though: just remember that “looks good” is correct.

2.  Major Hanley asked Carol and me to lead the meeting.  CORRECT

Many people, thinking that “I” is more elegant than “me,” incorrectly say “Carol and I” in this sentence. Wrong again. Here’s how you figure this one out:

Major Hanley asked me to lead the meeting.

Major Hanley asked Carol and me to lead the meeting.

For comparison, here’s are sentences in which I is correct:

Yesterday I led the meeting.

Yesterday Carol and I led the meeting.

To learn more, click here and read about Pronoun Rule 3. You can also watch a short video here.

(By the way, you also need to avoid the hideous “to he” construction beloved of sports announcers: Ovechkin passed the puck to he. NO! It’s to him.)

3.  Fifteen minutes is usually enough time to get across town.  CORRECT

You’ll often hear “fifteen minutes are” – a common error. Fifteen minutes is a unit, not fifteen separate things: Use is, not are. On the other hand, you would say “Fifteen laptops are on order” because laptops are separate things. To learn more, click here and read about Rule 2.

sticky notes asking if it's right or wrong

 

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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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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?

a quiz 

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