We’ve been watching the sad coverage of the shootings at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Details are beginning to emerge about alleged shooter Dylann Roof’s previous brushes with the law.
On February 28, Roof was arrested at the Columbiana Mall in Columbia, South Carolina, and charged with drug possession. The report has been published at this link, and it’s worth reading for two reasons. First, it’s a reminder that even a routine police report can become national news later on. At the time, Roof seemed to be just another juvenile involved with an illegal substance.
Second, the report can serve as a learning tool. Evaluating reports written by other officers can help you sharpen your writing skills. What do you admire about the report? What could be done differently?
Here are some points I noticed when I read this report:
- It’s a thorough, well-written report that’s largely free of jargon. The officer calls himself “I” and uses everyday words in clear, straightforward sentences. It’s a pleasure to come across “stated” in a report rather than the annoying “advised” (which should be saved for actual advice):
I then asked Mr. Dylann what the orange strips were and he stated they were Listerine strips. CLEAR, SIMPLE WRITING
- I’m pleased that the officer used active voice instead of lapsing into passive voice, as many officers do at the end of a report:
I then placed Mr. Dylann under arrest for possession of Schedule III. ACTIVE VOICE
I had all evidence tagged into the property room. ACTIVE VOICE
- Some parts of the report are wordy and inefficient. Here’s a sample:
Mall Security then pointed out the subject at which time I made consentual contact with him. Upon making contact with the subject I confirmed that his name was Dylann S. Roof, DOB XX/XX/XXXX. Upon talking with Mr. Dylann I asked him why he was asking the employees of the business those questions. WORDY
This version is better because it eliminates unnecessary words:
Mall Security then pointed out Mr. Dylann, who agreed to talk to me. I confirmed that his name was Dylann S. Roof, DOB XX/XX/XXXX. I asked him why he was asking the employees of the business those questions. BETTER
- In a few places the report became subjective. Here’s an example:
Mr Dylann then began speaking very nervously. OPINION
“Nervous” is an opinion that defense attorney could attack in court. It would be better to list the nervous behaviors that the officer saw: trembling, looking from side to side, moistening his lips repeatedly, whispering, speaking hesitantly.
- Overall, though, this report is a good example of a professional report.
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Criminal Justice Report Writing by Jean Reynolds
“It will definitely help you with your writing skills.” – Joseph E. Badger, California Association of Accident Reconstructionists Newsletter