Category Archives: What’s New

A Police Report about Dylann Roof

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

Go to www.Amazon.com for a free preview.

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The Eric Garner Police Report

Once again, a police report is front-page news. An investigation by the New York Times newspaper shows that the initial five-page police report about Garner’s death last year did not mention that an officer had placed his hands around Garner’s neck. You can read the Times story about the investigation by clicking here.

Garner died in Staten Island, a borough of New York City, on July 14, 2014, after an NYPD police officer placed him in a chokehold during a confrontation about selling untaxed cigarettes. A cellphone video taken by a friend, Ramsey Orto, shows that the chokehold lasted for 15 seconds, and Garner is heard saying, “I can’t breathe” multiple times. (NYPD policy prohibits use of the chokehold restraint.) You can view the cellphone video by clicking here.

In December 2014, a grand jury voted not to charge NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo with Garner’s death. Departmental and federal investigations are ongoing, however.

Taisha Allen, a witness who testified before the grand jury, said she was misquoted in the original police report. She said that she saw a chokehold, but the report quotes her only as saying that “two officers each took Mr. Garner by the arms and put him on the ground.”

Medical examiners who performed the autopsy said they were not told about the chokehold, and they found no noticeable marks around Garner’s neck. But internal examination found two signs of choking: strap muscle hemorrhages in Garner’s neck and petechial hemorrhages in his eyes. No drugs or alcohol were found in his system.

 

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Officer Cedric Greer

It’s both a disheartening story and a courageous one. On April 26, an Albuquerque Police Department officer named Cedric Greer was accused of using excessive force in an encounter with a homeless man. 

A cadet who was riding with Greer and his partner came forward with the story. Both officers are now on paid leave, the FBI is investigating, and Greer has been charged with misdemeanor aggravated battery.  You can read what happened here – and this link will also take you to the report.

The report is well written and professional. It would benefit from a few changes, however:

  • “making contact” – This could be more specific. Did the officer talk to the suspect? Telephone him? You could also ask whether this information is this even necessary. If the suspect told you who he was, it’s obvious you’d made contact with him.
  • “also appeared to be highly intoxicated” – Police reports need to be objective. This is an opinion that would probably be challenged in court. List the signs of intoxication that you saw (unsteady, slurred speech, bloodshot eyes, odor of an alcoholic beverage)
  • “was escorted downstairs and told to sit” – This is a passive voice sentence that omits essential information: Who escorted the man and told him to sit? This information could be important if there’s a legal challenge. 
  • “responded in obvious pain” – Another opinion. What signs of pain did you see? List them. Objectivity is essential in a police report.
  • “[The suspect] was then moved to a standing position and placed against a police unit” – This is another passive voice sentence that omits essential information: Who moved him? 
  • “Officers Greer and Rauch were courteous to X during the time their cameras were running” – Another opinion: Examples of courteous behaviors should be listed in the report.

Overall, however, this is an unusually effective report.

Albuquerque PD 8.26.13 PM

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A Hit-and-Run Accident

Jon “Bones” Jones is widely regarded as the best mixed martial arts fighter in the world and one of the greatest fighters of all time. On April 26, he was involved in a three-car accident that involved a pregnant woman whose injuries included a broken arm. Police say Jon Jones fled the scene, and they confirmed that they found marijuana inside his car.

Witnesses said they saw an African-American man leave his car, return to grab a handful of cash, run away again and hop a fence. An off-duty police officer recognized the man as Jon Jones. A felony arrest warrant was issued, and Jones surrendered to authorities. He is now out on bail. You can read recent developments here.

MMAmania has obtained the police report, which you can read here. It is worth reading: objective, thorough, and jargon-free. (What a pleasure to read a report that consistently uses “stated” instead of the jargonish “advised”!)

But the report would be more efficient if some of the information was listed instead of written out in repetitious sentences. Here’s a paragraph that could have been written in bullet style: 

The driver of vehicle 3 got out and left running. Witnesses stated the driver of vehicle 3 exited after hitting the Honda and was identified as a black male, wearing a white button up shirt with dark pants, and ran onto a hill just east of the accident. Witnesses stated he slouched over and ran back to the vehicle grabbing a large handful of cash. Witnesses stated he shoved the cash into his pants and ran north jumping the fence in Terracita.

Here’s the same information in bullet style:

Witnesses and drivers from both vehicles stated that the driver of vehicle 3:

   -was a black male wearing a white button-up shirt and dark pants

   -left his car after hitting the Honda

   -ran onto a hill just east of the accident

   -slouched over and ran back to his car

   -grabbed a large handful of cash and shoved it into his pants

   -ran north and jumped a fence in Terracita

Overall, however, this is an excellent report. (You can watch a short video about using  bullet style in police reports here).

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Who (or Whom) Is Carrying a Gun?

My friend Joseph E. Badger recently raised an interesting question about a persistent usage issue: Is it who or whom? (Joe is an internationally known accident deconstructionist and a topnotch writer who has had over 100 articles published in Law and Order magazine, Accident Reconstruction Journal, Accident Investigation Quarterly, and others.)

The sentence is about a video you’ve probably seen recently: Police officer Michael Rapiejko used his cruiser to run over suspect Mario Valencia in Marana, Arizona. According to police chief Terry Rozema, that decision probably saved the suspect’s life.  (You can see the video below.)

Here’s the sentence that Joe asked about:

In this video there is a pedestrian who I believe is carrying a gun (or at least I hope so).  

Joe’s question: Should it be “who I believe” or “whom I believe”?

My answer: The correct choice is who.

If you read the sentence aloud, you’ll notice that “I believe” is sort of an aside. (Some English teachers would call it an “interrupter.”) So we could add a couple of commas, like this:

In this video there is a pedestrian who, I believe, is carrying a gun (or at least I hope so). CORRECT

Now it’s much easier to choose the correct word. A trick I use is to plug in he and him. If he sounds right, use who. If him sounds right, use whom.

So: he is carrying a gun…who is carrying a gun.

One more comment: “Whom” is disappearing from the English language. If you’re one of the people who still use it, you run the risk of sounding artificial or affected. (Hmmmm – I used it just yesterday!)

In a few years, whom will probably be gone for good, and we’ll all be able to stop worrying about whether to use who or whom. I’m one person who thinks that’s good news.

My thanks to Joe for providing a provocative issue for this post!

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A Painful Police Report

By now we’ve all seen the video: On April 4, Officer Michael Slager from the North Charleston Police Department fatally shot Walter Scott. A cell phone video suggests there were no legitimate grounds for the shooting, and Slager has been charged with murder.

A police report filed by another officer who reported to the scene has been released to the public: https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/1787580-document.html

Sergeant Gann, who wrote this report, did not, of course, know that the shooting would soon become a national story. His report is professional and objective. (There is a question, however, about whether anyone attempted to use CPR on shooting victim Walter Scott.)

The report is worth reading as a reminder about the importance of law enforcement integrity. (One more thing: I can’t resist sighing over the repeated misuse of advise, a word that should be saved for advice. The correct word is tell.) There are a few typos – not surprising when officers are under time pressure. Overall it’s a professional report.

Here’s Sergeant Gann’s report: 

ON 4/4/15 AT APPROXIMATELY 0930 HOURS I, SGT. GANN WAS CONDUCTING A TRAFFIC STOP IN THE AREA OF DORCHESTER ROAD AND SCARSDALE AVENUE. I HEAR OFFICER SLAGER, 223 CALL OUT ON A TRAFFIC STOP IN THE AREA OF REMOUNT ROAD AND CRAIG STREET. A FEW MINUTES LATER, OFFICER SLAGER ADVISED HE WAS IN A FOOT PURSUIT WITH THE DRIVER WHO WAS RUNNING DOWN CRAIG STREET TOWARD THE SINGING PINES SUBDIVISION. I HEARD OFFICER SLAGER ADVISED THE DISPATCHER THE DIRECTION OF TRAVEL AND A DESCRIPTION OF A BLACK MALE WEARING A BLUE HAT AND BLUE JEANS. I DISCONTINUED MY TRAFFIC STOP AND PROCEEDED TO OFFICER SLAGER’S LOCATION. WHILE IN ROUTE TO THE INCIDENT LOCATION, OFFICER SLAGER ADVISED THAT HE DEPLOYED HIS TASER AND REQUEST FOR BACK UP UNITS AND SECONDS LATER “SHOTS FIRED AND THE SUBJECT IS DOWN, HE TOOK MY TASER.” OFFICER HABERSHAM CHECKED OUT ON SCENE AND EMS WAS REQUESTED. OFFICER BAINES ADVISED HE WAS OUT WITH THE OFFICER SLAGER’S VEHICLE AND HAD THE PASSENGER DETAINED. I ARRIVED ON SCENE AND OBSERVED HABERSHAM WITH FIRST AID AND CPR TO THE DRIVER. WE CONTINUED TO PERFORM FIRST AID AND AND CPR UNTIL EMS ARRIVED ON SCENE. WHEN EMS AND FIRST RESPONDERS ARRIVED, EMS TOOK OVER PROVIDING CARE TO THE DRIVER, WHO WAS PRONOUNCED DECEASED A SHORT TIME LATER. DEPARTMENTAL NOTIFICATIONS WERE MADE AS WELL AS NOTIFICATIONS TO THE CHARLESTON COUNTY CORONER’S OFFICE. THE DUTY CHIEF EAND DETECTIVES ARRIVED AND TOOK COMMAND OF THE INCIDENT LOCATION. A PERIMETER WAS ESTABLISHED AROUND BOTH THE DRIVERS’ VEHICLE AND INCIDENT LOCATION. SLED WAS NOTIFIED AND RESPONDED THE INCIDENT LOCATION TO ASSUME CONTROL OF THE INVESTIGATION.

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A Harassment Complaint

 Jenelle Evans, star of Teen Mom 2, has been accused of second-degree harassment. Last month a former friend told police that she had broken off her friendship with Evans – but phone calls and texts kept coming. On March 17, Evans allegedly sent an insulting Facebook message to this woman and made an indirect threat.

Jenelle Evans responded by filing a report of her own, according to her lawyer. There has been no arrest. You can read the story at this link.

As I’ve often said on this blog, reading actual police reports with a critical eye is an excellent way to develop your own writing skills. Here is the police report about Jenelle Evans:

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My reaction: This reads like a traditional police report. It’s thorough, coherent, and objective – and excessively wordy. 

Here’s how I would rewrite it more concisely:

On 03-17-2015 at approximately 2220 hours, I was dispatched to the this address for a harassment complaint. I talked to the victim, who stated that she broke off her friendship with the subject, but the subject continued to call and send texts. The victim has blocked the subject’s phone number and blocked it again when the subject used a different number. She has tried to cut all ties with the subject since early January. On 03-17-2015, the subject sent the victim a long message on Facebook calling her a XXXX and a XXXX. The subject did not directly threaten the victim in any way but did indirectly threaten the victim’s way of income through her business [state what the threat was]. The victim wants the subject to stop contacting her because she no longer wishes to have any type of relationship with her. No other information is available.

If you’re curious about the reasons for the changes, here are some comments from me. (What do you think? What changes would you make, and why?)

Harassment edited

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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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