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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Criminal Justice Report Writing by Jean Reynolds (paperback, $17.95, Maple Leaf Press) is a practical, low-cost book that will help you write better reports.
Go to www.Amazon.com for a free preview.
You can purchase your copy at this link: http://amzn.com/1470164450. Also available as an e-book in a variety of formats for $11.99: Click here.
Here’s another excellent article from Amaury Murgado: “Ignorance or Noncompliance.” Click here: http://issuu.com/amur/docs/poli_6_ignorance_or_noncompliance
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:
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?)
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.
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.
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.
Recommended reading: “Two Words that Should Never Appear in Your Police Report.” You can read the article at www.PoliceOne.com.
My thanks to Bruce A. Sokolove, Law Enforcement Consultant at Field Training Associates, for sending me this link!
Every officer knows that police reports have to be complete. That sounds like an obvious principle – but defining complete can be a judgment call.
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. (Rosenhaus has since filed for divorce. The couple had been married for 13 months.)
Here’s the police report. Notice anything?
OFFICERS RESPONDED TO THE ABOVE LISTED ADDRESS IN REFERENCE TOA VERBAL ALTERCATION BETWEEN MR. ROSENHAUS AND MRS. THOMSON (WHO ARE MARRIED, UPON ARRIVAL OFFICERS MET WITH BOTH PARTIES. MRS. THOMSON ADVISED THIS OFFICER THAT SHE WOULD BE LEAVING FOR THE NIGHT IN ORDER TO AVOID FURTHER ARGUMENTS. BOTH MR. ROSENHAUS AND MRS. THOMPSON APPEARED CALM AND WERE COOPERATAIVE. NEITHER PARTY MADE CLAIMS OF BATTERY NOR DID THEY HAVE VISIBLE SIGNS OF INJURIES. IT IS UNKNOWN WHAT THE ARGUMENT WAS ABOUT. MRS. THOMSON TOOK SOME PERSONAL ITEMS WITH HER AND LEFT THE PROPERTY.
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.