Category Archives: What’s New

Mike Pouncey from the NFL

On July 15, a popular figure on social media who goes by the name “Ricky Vasquez” was allegedly assaulted inside the Cameo Nightclub in Miami. “Vasquez,” whose real name is  James Riquan, was allegedly attacked by NFL player Mike Pouncey. The woman who accompanied Riquan that evening – Niya Pickett – tried to break up the fight and was allegedly assaulted as well.

You can read the story at this link.

And you can read the report below:

V01 (Pickett) /and V02 (Ricuan) advised me that while inside Cameo Night Club (1445 Washington Ave) between the listed times, an unknown male was trying to leave the cub when he pushed V01 and V02 out of the way. Victims state that S01 then proceeded to punch V01 in the head/The V02 in the head causing a large welt/bruising to both V01 and V02. S01 then left the area.

The report is concise and objective. But wouldn’t it have been better to write the whole thing in normal English?

For example, why write advised (which means counseled) when you’re trying to say that Pickett and Ricuan told you about the attack?

And why use V01 and V02 when it would be much simpler to write “Picket” and “Ricuan”?

Here’s another problem. Notice how awkward this sentence is:

Victims state that S01 then proceeded to punch V01 in the head/The V02 in the head causing a large welt/bruising to both V01 and V02.  AWKWARD

The confusion evaporates in this version, written in normal English:

The suspect then punched Rickett and Ricuan in the head, causing large welts and bruising.  BETTER 

Here’s one more thing that’s puzzling. Wouldn’t the officer have seen the welts and bruising, if the attack really did happen? Why not say so? If this case goes to court, the defense attorney is probably going to ask if you saw the injuries. Wouldn’t it make sense to put that information right in your report?

Let’s go back to what’s wrong with terminology like V01 and V02. Picture yourself preparing for a court hearing. You’re reviewing the report you wrote weeks or even months ago to make sure you’ve got all the details straight and you’re ready to testify. And you keep getting mixed up about which victim was 01 and which was 02.

V01, V02, and S01 are useful if you’re redacting names when releasing a report to the public. But that practice only creates confusion when you’re writing a report for your agency. Avoid it!

Mike Pouncey

Mike Pouncey

PHOTO BY Chris J. Nelson

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For Correctional Officers

I taught in a prison school for almost four years and wrote my share of disciplinary reports and incident reports. This article by Ryan Shanks has some excellent suggestions for correctional officers.

I’d like to add two suggestions about Shanks’ model sentence: “During a targeted pat search due to the inmate’s suspicious behavior, I did discover a lock tied inside of a sock, which is commonly used as an impact weapon.”

a)  Instead of “I did discover,” I’d write “I discovered.” 

b)  It would be helpful (especially if there’s a disciplinary hearing) to document what constituted “the inmate’s suspicious behavior.”

Still – this is an excellent article! Prison cell with bed inside Alcatraz main building san francisco california

photo by:

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Gregg Jarrett

Gregg Jarrett is a news anchor for Fox News – or he was until he had a bad experience in an airport lounge in May. He’s on indefinite leave, presumably to deal with his substance abuse issues. You can read more about Jarrett here.

The police report was posted online, and it demonstrates that the officer dealt appropriately with a man who was clearly having a bad reaction to the alcohol and medication in his system. You can read the report at this link.

Because police reports are often written under time pressure,they could benefit from some changes. That’s true of this report as well. Take a look at this excerpt and see what you think:

In my interaction with Jarrett he was very unsteady while sitting at the bar, swaying back and forth while sitting, having to use the bar to support him from falling over.  WORDY

This is a useful and objective description of what the officer saw – but it’s wordy. My suggestion is to record the information more simply. “In my interaction” isn’t necessary: You simply need to indicate that you were there, watching Jarrett:

I saw Jarrett sitting at the bar. He was swaying back and forth while holding on to the bar.  MORE EFFICIENT

The next statement could be rewritten to be more objective: 

Jarrett appeared to be in a “fog” and had difficulty answering questions with more than one word; and when asked questions that required a longer answer, he would just turn away.  SUBJECTIVE

“Appeared to be in a ‘fog’” is a subjective description – so is “had difficulty answering questions with more than one word.” A defense attorney could give the officer a hard time in court over these statements. It might be more useful to record some of the questions and Jarrett’s responses: Exactly what he said, and how he said it.

These are small points, it’s true – but attention to these details can add up to better report writing if you practice them consistently.

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Gregg Jarrett

 

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NHL Star Darren Sharper

If you’re a football fan, you’ve heard of Darren Mallory Sharper.  He spent 14 years in the National Football League playing for the Green Bay Packers, the Minnesota Vikings, and the New Orleans Saints.

Less impressive is Sharper’s history of sexual assault arrests in California, Louisiana, and Arizona. (He was also accused of rape in Florida but will not face charges there.)

If you’re a police officer – or you aspire to become one – you should spend some time reading the March 2014 General Offense Report about Darren Sharper from the Tempe Police Department. It’s an excellent example of how to investigate and document an alleged sexual assault. The report is thorough, professional, and written in straightforward language, with very few of the problems found in so many police reports.

Not surprisingly, a few sentences could be cleaned up – this is, after all,  a lengthy report authored by many officers.

1.  Passive-voice sentences don’t explain who did what:

X was initially interviewed at Tempe Saint Luke’s Hospital and then transported to the Mesa SANE Clinic location for a SANE exam. PASSIVE – CONFUSING

[Officer's name] initially interviewed X at Tempe Saint Luke’s Hospital. [Officer's name] then transported her to the Mesa SANE Clinic location for a SANE exam.  ACTIVE – BETTER

During the investigation it was  X stated that X’s roommate, X, also believed she was drugged but had locked her bedroom door when she went to bed and was not sexually assaulted.  PASSIVE – CONFUSING

During the investigation, X stated that X’s roommate, X, also believed she was drugged but had locked her bedroom door when she went to bed and was not sexually assaulted.   ACTIVE – BETTER

2.  Avoid repetition by using bullets:

REPETITIOUS: The caller stated that she had suspect information. The victim stated she did not have an exact apartment number but knew that it was X complex located at [address] Tempe. The caller stated that there was another female present and both victim’s were currently seeking treatment at Tempe Saint Luke’s Hospital located at 1500 S Mill Ave, Tempe, Room #1. The caller was listed as being an Emergency Room nurse, Renee Little.  

BETTER:  The caller, Emergency Room nurse Renee Little, stated:

  • she had suspect information
  • she did not have an exact apartment number but knew that it was X complex located at [address] Tempe
  • there was another female present
  • both victims were seeking treatment at Tempe Saint Luke’s Hospital located at 1500 S Mill Ave, Tempe, Room #1 

3.  Don’t use “advised” when you mean “told”:

X advised me that they arrived at The Mint at approximately 2330 hours to meet four of Sharper’s friends.

X told me that they arrived at The Mint at approximately 2330 hours to meet four of Sharper’s friends.  BETTER

Note how confusing the next two sentences are. “Advised” means “counseled” or “suggested.” Is that really what Sgt. Kepler did? No! He TOLD the officer to respond. In the second sentence, “advised” again is the wrong word – and the end of the sentence is confusing.

On 11/21/13 at 1700 hours Sgt. Kepler contacted me and advised I needed to respond to [address]. Sgt. Kepler advised me one of the victims of a sexual assault had clothing she had been wearing at the time of the incident that was at her residence.  AWKWARD

On 11/21/13 at 1700 hours Sgt. Kepler contacted me and told me I needed to respond to [address]. Sgt. Kepler told me one of the victims of a sexual assault had clothing at her home she had been wearing at the time of the incident.  BETTER

4.  Be careful with pronouns:

Both her and Sharper were covered in a grey comforter and X could not tell if Sharper was clothed or not.

Both she and Sharper were covered in a grey comforter, and X could not tell if Sharper was clothed or not.

Overall, though, this is an excellent report!

Darren Sharper

picture by RyguyMN at the English language Wikipedia

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Credibility

Let’s say you recently took a supervisory job for a law enforcement agency several states away. You’re just getting to know the officers you’ll be supervising.

You go into your office, sit down, and start reading recent police reports. You come across these sentences:

Bruising was observed on the alleged victim’s right cheek. Scratches were observed on her throat. Spots of blood were seen on the front of her blouse.

You pick up another report and read these sentences:

I saw a broken plate, three pieces of fried chicken, and a baked potato on the floor near the kitchen table. I noticed a kitchen chair was lying on its side.

You glance at the names and see that the reports were written by different officers. What impressions would you form?

Years ago, supervisors would have trusted the first officer (“bruising was observed…”) and mistrusted the second (“I saw a broken plate…”). The word “I” immediately raised the possibility that an officer was biased and unprofessional. To ensure objectivity and accuracy, officers had to write in passive voice (“was observed,” “were seen”).

Do you still fall into the passive-voice habit? Many police writers do.

Here’s the truth – and it’s either good news or bad news, depending on how up-to-date your training has been.

Objectivity and accuracy are character traits, not verbal tricks. Because police officers are human beings, it’s possible that bias will find its way into a report, or an officer might omit necessary information. Fatigue, time pressure, and human frailty can lead to errors.

You can’t guarantee honesty and professionalism by writing in passive voice and avoiding “I.” Sorry!

Let’s go back to those two officers. Are they telling the truth? Are they unbiased observers? Do they have a passion for thoroughness and accuracy? 

To find the answers to those questions, you’ll have to get to know them. You can’t just dismiss Officer #2 as unprofessional because he used “I” – and you can’t accept everything Officer #1 says as absolute truth because she used passive voice.

Here’s one conclusion you can safely draw, however: Officer #1, who writes almost every sentence in passive voice, may benefit from a refresher course in report writing.

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Incident Report

The state Judicial Branch in Connecticut is investigating Judge Thelma Santos for an incident involving a parking space. The problem was documented in an incident report that’s an excellent example of both report writing and professionalism.

On January 23, Officer James Prignano mistakenly parked his patrol car in a spot reserved for judges. Judge Santos told him to move the car, and Prigano agreed. Before moving the car, he retrieved his service weapon from a locker. The judge told him to move the car immediately, and she said she might use the weapon on him.

Prignano recorded everything that happened in a thorough incident report that’s posted at this link. It’s clear, complete, and written in plain English. (It’s refreshing to read a report that correctly uses “stated” instead of the jargonish “advised” that infests so many reports.)

The report also raises an interesting question about objectivity that I’ll discuss in a moment.

First, though, I want to note that there’s one usage problem with the report: Too many ideas are crammed into one long sentence.

I was retrieving my duty weapon from the lock box and she stated “you don’t have time for goodbyes, come move the vehicle now,” at which point one of the State Marshalls who was standing in the lobby stated to Santos that I was getting my weapon from the lock box, and Santos replied to him “I might use it on him,” while Santos appeared to be very upset she appeared to say that comment in jest.

At the very least there needs to be a period after “I might use it on him.” “While Santos appeared….” is the beginning of a new sentence.

It’s a good idea to avoid stringing ideas together with and. I’d also suggest avoiding expressions like “at which point.” Just start a new sentence. Short sentences are more readable – a bonus when an officer is in a hurry – and help prevent the usage mistakes that are common in long, complicated sentences.

Here’s a suggested fix for the problem sentence:

I was retrieving my duty weapon fro the lock box when she stated, “You don’t have time for goodbyes. Come move the vehicle now.” One of the State Marshals who was standing in the lobby told Santos that I was getting my weapon from the lock box. Santos replied, “I might use it on him.” While Santos appeared to be very upset, she appeared to say that comment in jest.

The report raises an interesting question: Should the officer have stated his reactions to Judge Santos’s comments? Police reports are supposed to be objective, and some criminal justice experts might challenge these two statements:

…while Santos appeared to be very upset she appeared to say that comment in jest.

Santos appeared to calm down…

Determining when someone is joking can be a huge problem. Sometimes there are legal ramifications. In this case, an apparent joke triggered an investigation, and Judge Santos has temporarily been reassigned.

It’s certainly useful to know that the officer interpreted the statement as a joke – but technically, at least, that information does not belong in a report. Words like “seem” and “appeared” are risky when you’re trying to write an objective report.

Here’s an example (right from the same report) of a more effective way for an officer to include his or her thinking process in a report: State what you’re thinking aloud, and then you can document it:

I stated to Ingraham that I felt Santos’s behavior was inappropriate but did not feel threatened by her comments.

Incidentally, did you notice Santos’s behavior? The extra “s” at the end is optional – and elegant. This is an officer with excellent writing skills.

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Do Police Reports Matter?

Yes, they do! Two recent news stories testify to their importance.

On January 14 an Arizona police officer shot an accused car thief named Manuel Longoria, who later died. The circumstances are confusing. A supervisor at the scene had ordered her deputies to use “less lethal” bean bag rounds at the scene. Police thought Longoria was armed, but no weapon was ever found. The video cam in the deputy’s car is inconclusive. A bystander’s cell phone video seems to show that Longoria was putting his hands up just before a deputy fired two rounds.

Here’s where the police report becomes important: According to sources who have read it, there’s no documentation about exactly what Longoria was doing right before the shooting. Did his actions make the deputies think he was reaching for a weapon? The report is inconclusive.

Both the Pinal County Sheriff’s Department and the FBI are investigating the shooting.

You can read more about the case at http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/ariz-reports-don-suspect-killed-hands-article-1.1611742#ixzz2tbCnM1Y9.

A second story about a problematic police report comes out of New York City. Last May a Guatemalan immigrant named Deisy Garcia filed a police report in Spanish warning that her husband was going to kill her. The NYPD failed to translate her report. There was another domestic violence report in November – again in Spanish, and again not translated. The NYPD did not investigate, and no arrest was made.

In January the husband, Miguel Mejia-Ramos, killed both Garcia and her two daughters. (The reason? He didn’t have car seats for them.) You can read more about this sad story at this link: http://nyp.st/1gKGQWR

It’s important to note that both stories are incomplete, and further developments may bring dramatic changes in our understanding of what happened to Manuel Longoria and Deisy Garcia. The point is not to judge the agencies or officers that handled this cases.

Here’s what we know for certain: Any police report can come to national attention. You can never predict when a report you’ve written may find its way into the public spotlight. Yes, police reports matter.

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Exculpatory Evidence

Criminal justice professional Gordon Graham has a free online service – a brief weekly videotaped tip for anyone who works in law enforcement. (You can subscribe, free, at www.Lexipol.com).

Last week’s tip concerned exculpatory evidence. Graham made an important point about something you probably heard again and again in your training program: Reports have to be thorough.

That sounds like common sense, doesn’t it? No need to belabor the point. But Graham brought up a problem you may have faced a number of times in your career: What if there’s a piece of evidence that doesn’t support an arrest? Do you include it?

He gave the example of four witnesses who place a suspect in a black van – and one who says the van was blue. You arrest someone driving a black van. Do you omit that fifth witness?

Graham urged officers to include that “blue van” statement even though it didn’t support the arrest. Fairness is vital to effective law enforcement, and your reports should include both the reasons for the arrest AND evidence that might free the suspect.

It’s a terrific point! report

 

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