Category Archives: What’s New

Proposed Delaware Law Will Require Sexual Assault Reporting

 A bi-partisan group of women legislators is planning to introduce a Delaware law that will require Delaware universities to report sexual assaults to law enforcement agencies outside the college. They will also be required to publish annual statistics about campus sexual assaults. Rep. Kim Williams, D-Newport, House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst, D-Delaware City, and Sen. Karen Peterson, D-Stanton, plan to sponsor the legislation.

You can read more about the proposed law at this link.

Stop Rape Sign Painted, Open Hand Raised.

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London Police Fail to Investigate Reports of Rape

It’s 2015, and women have successfully been demanding better protection against sexual assault for many years. But much remains to be done, and not just in the US.

A recent story in London’s Daily Mirror claims that some officers with the Metropolitan Police have “appalling” attitudes towards victims of rape. The report also notes that the Sapphire rape unit is woefully underfunded. An internal investigation of police practices was scheduled to be published but has been shelved because of an upcoming election.

From the Daily Mirror article:

-One officer told the report’s author Dame Elish Angiolini that he was ­investigating the rape of 40 victims but “only believed one of them.”

-A source said: “This is a damning report that basically says police don’t believe rape victims. Dame Elish wanted to use that quote prominently but officers are lobbying to keep it out.”

-“The whole thing’s a mess.”

The uproar began with a case brought by two women who reported that they’d been  raped by cab driver John Worboys. Because police did not believe the story, he was able to rape additional women. In February, a high court ruled that police were legally required to investigate rape allegations.




Problems with Incomplete Police Data

The D.C. Office of the Attorney General is reviewing about 14,000 criminal and juvenile cases related to Metropolitan Police reports filed since January 2012. According to a March 29 story in the Washington Times, there’s a problem in the data management system used by the Metropolitan Police. Defense attorneys have complained that they’re receiving incomplete reports from the police department. Examples include missing suspect descriptions and witness accounts from police reports .

Attorney General Karl Racine declined to say how many cases have been dismissed. But the problem is big enough to require outside help. Defense attorney Habib Ilahi of the law firm of Schertler and Onorato is joining the office for 13 months to assist in the review.

Prosecutors are required by law to share with defendants any evidence that could be favorable to their case. Officials are worried that flaws in the police data system could have caused prosecutors to withhold evidence from defendants.

“It’s unlikely that we’re talking about problems in the thousands at all,” Racine said on Friday. “But in order to make sure that folks have the full benefit of their constitutional rights, we’re going to reach out to every criminal defendant who was adjudicated by prosecutors in the Office of the Attorney General.”

Another problem is that printouts from the data system are bulky and unmanageable, according to attorneys. Each box in a report is printed on a separate sheet of paper, creating problems when attorneys try to review them. Some reports are an inch and a half thick.



Is Your Report Complete?

Every officer knows that police reports have to be complete. That sounds like an obvious principle – but defining complete can be a judgment call.


Drew Rosenhaus

I just came across a police report that’s no longer newsworthy (the incident happened in January, and it wasn’t much of a story then). Why write about it? I think it’s an example of mistaken thinking about report writing. In a minute I’ll explain what I mean.

The report involves Drew Rosenhaus, an agent who represents NFL football players. In January he and his wife had a major fight, and she called the police. Nothing physical happened, and she ended up leaving for the night. You can read the story and police report here. (According to TMZ, Rosenhaus has since filed for divorce. The couple had been married for 13 months.)

Here’s the police report. Notice anything?


What struck me (besides the misspelling of cooperative) is that there’s no “I” in this report. It says “officers responded” and “this officer” (“Mrs. Thomson advised this officer”).

You can see professional thought processes at work in the report – for example, someone looked for signs of injuries but didn’t find any. Someone also asked what the argument was about. But who?

This is old-fashioned report writing – the mistaken belief that if you don’t say “I,” you’re objective and professional. Suppose this officer testified in court. Wouldn’t he (or she) use “I” on the witness stand?

Other outdated practices include “above listed address” (where else would the officers have gone?) and “advised…that she would be leaving for the night to avoid further arguments.” There was no advice: Mrs. Thomson told the officer that she was leaving.

Overall, the report is concise and professional. All that’s needed is some updating to make it an example of effective report writing.

Drew_Rosenhaus by Chris J. Nelson


Missing Police Reports in Dallas

There’s an ongoing debate about releasing police reports to the public. Some police departments feel that it’s important to protect citizens’ privacy by limiting the amount of information that’s published. But citizen groups and the media sometimes feel withholding police information means that they aren’t adequately informed about what’s happening in their communities.

A new records management and field reporting system launched by the Dallas Police Department is raising some questions about the right to privacy vs. the right to know. Installation of the new system was supposed to shut down the online records port for 30 days – but three months went by before the port was operational again. More seriously, citizens and reporters no longer had access to the narrative section of reports.

There’s a reason for that, according to Major Rob Sherman. Some officers were pasting the internal narrative into publicly accessible reports. That meant anyone could see protected information about victims of sexual assault or domestic violence.

“We continue to look for ways to get the public information online,” Major Sherwin says. “That’s the preference. But how do you filter the right information, complying with the law, while offering the public what they want?” So the debate continues: How to provide information to the public while protecting citizens’ privacy.

You can read more at this link:



The Elliott Rodger Report

Thanks to an excellent police report, we now know more about what prompted mass killer Elliot Rodger to go on a killing spree in La Isla Vista, California on May 23, 2014. Rodger killed six people and injured 14 others before committing suicide. (You can read more about Rodger at this link.

On July 21, 2013, Rodger attended a party where he said he was mocked and beaten. That incident convinced Rodger to carry out the mass murder he had been planning. Click here for an account of the party and a link to the police report. It is clear, objective,  and thorough.

It could, however, be written more efficiently. Notice the repetition in this paragraph:

I asked Rodger how much alcohol he had been drinking when the altercation began and he said, “I drank two beers.” I asked Rodger why he had been attacked and called a “Faggot” and he said, “I don’t know why.” I asked Rodger why he didn’t call law enforcement after he was assaulted and he said, “I didn’t know who to call.”

This version eliminates the repetition (“I asked Rodger,” “I asked Rodger,” “I asked Rodger,”):

When I questioned Rodger, he told me:

-“I drank two beers.”

-He didn’t know why he had been called a “Faggot.”

-He didn’t call law enforcement about the assault because “I didn’t know who to call.”

Passive voice crept into Rodger’s descriptions of the men who attacked him:

I asked Rodger if he could describe any of the subjects who attacked him and he informed me of the following:

The first suspect was described as an Asian male, approximately 18-22 years of age, 5’09”, average build, with black hair, wearing blue jeans, and dark blue sweatshirt.

The second suspect was described as an Hispanic male approximately 18-22 years of age, 6’-2”, skinny build, short black hair, and unknown clothing description.

Here’s the same information in active voice (he told me), making it clear that Rodgers provided the description:

I asked Rodger if he could describe any of the subjects who attacked him. He told me: 

-The first suspect was an Asian male, approximately 18-22 years of age, 5’09”, average build, with black hair, wearing blue jeans, and dark blue sweatshirt.

-The second suspect was  an Hispanic male approximately 18-22 years of age, 6’-2”, skinny build, short black hair, and unknown clothing description.

Overall, though, this is an excellent example of a professional police report.

Rodger_small 2


Bobbi Kristina Brown

Bobbi Kristina Brown is the daughter of Whitney Houston, who was found dead in a bathtub in 2012. Houston’s drowning was ruled “accidental,” with heart disease and cocaine use listed as contributing factors. Since then, daughter Bobbi has led a stormy life including a complicated relationship with Nick Gordon, a longtime family friend who’s had troubles of his own.

On January 31, Gordon found Bobbi face down in a bathtub. She is reported to be on life support and not expected to recover. The media have been busy digging into Gordon’s past, and a number of police reports have been released to the public.

I always recommend reading police reports written by other officers, so I’ve chosen one about a 2014 automobile crash involving Nick Gordon. Read and evaluate it (below), and then scroll down for my comments:

On 8/28/2014 at approximately 1138 hours I, Officer ROBINSON was dispatched to the area if 7439 Holcomb Bridge Rd reference an automobile crash involving an overturned vehicle. Upon my arrival, I confirmed there was an overturned vehicle with no one inside and made contact with the driver, NICHOLAS GORDON. During the entire exchange GORDON displayed thick delayed speech. His facial expressions were also delayed and his eyes were heavy droopy. He was unsteady on his feet and was not able to stay still. I advised him a number of times to have a seat in an effort to keep him from falling over but he was constantly trying to stand up. Even while being checked by EMS he was not able to stay still and focus on their questions. After advising GORDON he was under arrest for failure to maintain lane, DUI less safe and suspended license I read him implied consent for adults 21 and over. GORDON refused by saying he was not going to say anything until he talks to his attorney. Considering his refusal combined with the fact that he had just been in an accident I did not attempt fields.

My comments:

This is an unusually well-written report! It’s objective, thorough, and concise. I especially like the details about Gordon’s appearance. A less skilled writer might have said that Gordon “seemed intoxicated” – wording too general and vague for a police report. This officer provided convincing details: thick, delayed speech; delayed facial expressions; and heavy, droopy eyes. And there are detailed descriptions of Gordon’s behavior at the scene: unsteady on his feet, unable to stay still, unable to focus on the EMT’s questions.

There’s not a single passive-voice sentence (a persistent problem with police reports).

I would recommend only two changes:

  • Don’t say advise when you mean tell (“After advising GORDON he was under arrest for failure to maintain lane, DUI less safe and suspended license I read him implied consent for adults 21 and over.”) Save advise for actual advice.
  • The first sentence is probably unnecessary, although some agencies continue to insist that officers state the date, time, nature of call, etc. there. If you’re writing on a laptop, you’ve probably filled in that information already in spaces on the screen. Why repeat it? But longtime practices are slow to change!

Overall, though, this is an excellent report.

Bobbi Kristina Brown and her mother, Whitney Houston

Bobbi Kristina Brown and her mother, Whitney Houston


Don’t Let It Happen to You!

Embarrassing story: On a recent February night, two young men used their keys to enter the family-owned store where they live with their parents and younger brother. Two San Diego police officers thought they were breaking in and called for a backup. A scuffle ensued, and one brother was punched repeatedly. Both young men and their mother were arrested. (Charges were later dropped, and a file for unspecified damages has been claimed. Luis, the brother who was punched, has been in treatment for a brain tumor.)

OK, mistakes happen…but then things got worse. Surveillance video cameras in the store proved that the officers lied in their police report about the encounter. Police spokesman Lt. Kevin Mayer confirmed the department is conducting an internal affairs investigation over the incident. The incident made national news.

A word to the wise: Use your police reports to document your professionalism and integrity.

surveillance camera ok