The state Judicial Branch in Connecticut is investigating Judge Thelma Santos for an incident involving a parking space. The problem was documented in an incident report that’s an excellent example of both report writing and professionalism.
On January 23, Officer James Prignano mistakenly parked his patrol car in a spot reserved for judges. Judge Santos told him to move the car, and Prigano agreed. Before moving the car, he retrieved his service weapon from a locker. The judge told him to move the car immediately, and she said she might use the weapon on him.
Prignano recorded everything that happened in a thorough incident report that’s posted at this link. It’s clear, complete, and written in plain English. (It’s refreshing to read a report that correctly uses “stated” instead of the jargonish “advised” that infests so many reports.)
The report also raises an interesting question about objectivity that I’ll discuss in a moment.
First, though, I want to note that there’s one usage problem with the report: Too many ideas are crammed into one long sentence.
I was retrieving my duty weapon from the lock box and she stated “you don’t have time for goodbyes, come move the vehicle now,” at which point one of the State Marshalls who was standing in the lobby stated to Santos that I was getting my weapon from the lock box, and Santos replied to him “I might use it on him,” while Santos appeared to be very upset she appeared to say that comment in jest.
At the very least there needs to be a period after “I might use it on him.” “While Santos appeared….” is the beginning of a new sentence.
It’s a good idea to avoid stringing ideas together with and. I’d also suggest avoiding expressions like “at which point.” Just start a new sentence. Short sentences are more readable – a bonus when an officer is in a hurry – and help prevent the usage mistakes that are common in long, complicated sentences.
Here’s a suggested fix for the problem sentence:
I was retrieving my duty weapon fro the lock box when she stated, “You don’t have time for goodbyes. Come move the vehicle now.” One of the State Marshals who was standing in the lobby told Santos that I was getting my weapon from the lock box. Santos replied, “I might use it on him.” While Santos appeared to be very upset, she appeared to say that comment in jest.
The report raises an interesting question: Should the officer have stated his reactions to Judge Santos’s comments? Police reports are supposed to be objective, and some criminal justice experts might challenge these two statements:
…while Santos appeared to be very upset she appeared to say that comment in jest.
Santos appeared to calm down…
Determining when someone is joking can be a huge problem. Sometimes there are legal ramifications. In this case, an apparent joke triggered an investigation, and Judge Santos has temporarily been reassigned.
It’s certainly useful to know that the officer interpreted the statement as a joke – but technically, at least, that information does not belong in a report. Words like “seem” and “appeared” are risky when you’re trying to write an objective report.
Here’s an example (right from the same report) of a more effective way for an officer to include his or her thinking process in a report: State what you’re thinking aloud, and then you can document it:
I stated to Ingraham that I felt Santos’s behavior was inappropriate but did not feel threatened by her comments.
Incidentally, did you notice Santos’s behavior? The extra “s” at the end is optional – and elegant. This is an officer with excellent writing skills.