Last month in Portland, Oregon, peaceful demonstrations against the election of Donald Trump turned into violence. The Portland Police Bureau has released the police reports that document the use of force. You can read them here.
Today I’d like to comment about some features I noticed in the beginning of the first report. (Suggestion – read the excerpt below and see what you think before you go to my comments. This is a great way to sharpen your own writing skills.)
On today’s date and listed time I was tasked to Delta squad with Sgt Mooney and Ofc Mawdsley who were also tasked with Delta squad on listed date and time. During this time Sgt Mooney explained there was probable cause to arrest one of the main aggressors who was telling the crowd where to go by way of a mega phone. This included blocking traffic on the Burnside bridge which is public right of way and both lanes of traffic causing the traffic to become clogged. This was a dangerous time because at this time of year it becomes dark early it also made me extra alert because I was watching the male with the mega phone directing this group of about 100 or more kids to sit in traffic and place themselves into direct danger. It was dark enough that even the street lights were on.
We followed and assisted the crowd with it’s movements into downtown Portland. The march eventually lead to SW 5th/SW Salmon St where Sgt Mooney said if the opportunity presents its self then myself and Ofc Mawdsley would affect the arrest of the main aggressor. The main aggressor made his way South on SW 5th in front of the crowd and we were given the go ahead to make the arrest on him. As we walked up to him to arrest him he was immediately grabbed onto by a female later identified as STEVENS.
STEVENS grabbed the male we were trying to arrest as if she was hugging him but when we ordered her back and to let go of the male she refused and visibly tightened her grasp onto him….
My comments: Much of this report is excellent. It’s thorough, and the sentence structure is excellent. I was especially impressed by the absence of jargon. For example, the officer simply used “I” instead of outdated expressions like “this officer.”
But…the report is much longer than it needed to be. You’re an officer, not a novelist. Get to the facts – quickly. Get done!
Here’s a suggested rewrite. Notice that this version is a fraction of the length of the original – 277 words reduced to 61.
Sgt. Mooney, Ofc Mawdsley, and I were dispatched to arrest a protestor who was obstructing traffic on the Burnside Bridge.
At SW 5th/SW Salmon Street we approached the aggressor. As we walked up to make the arrest, a woman (later identified as Stevens) grabbed the aggressor as if she was hugging him. Instead of letting him go, she held him tighter.
- Don’t waste time on the date and location if you’ve already recorded them elsewhere on the form.
- This officer deserves credit for writing in active voice through much of the report. But passive voice crept in to one sentence: “…we were given the go ahead to make the arrest on him.” Who authorized you to make the arrest? That might be critical if there’s an investigation later on (which is exactly what happened in this situation).
- Officers should be ruthless about avoiding time-wasting words. Notice this wording: “visibly tightened her grasp onto him.” If you saw her tighten her grip, of course it was visible! Better wording would be simply “she tightened her grasp onto him.”
- Like many writers, this officer has difficulty with the word it. (You can read some tips about using it/it’s/its correctly at this link.) Take a look at this sentence:
We followed and assisted the crowd with it’s movements into downtown Portland. INCORRECT
It’s means it is. Use its here instead:
We followed and assisted the crowd with its movements into downtown Portland. CORRECT
Here’s a useful trick: Substitute his (which also doesn’t have an apostrophe).
his movements (no apostrophe) √
its movements (no apostrophe) √
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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