Report writing can seem overwhelming. There’s so much information to process! And when you’re just learning how to write reports, it seems like each one is different.
The good news is that – when you have some experience – there are only four basic types of police reports. The even better news is that each one adds something to the previous type – sort of like going up a flight of stairs. So you’re not starting over with each new type of report – you’re building.
It’s easy to understand and use the four types of reports when you understand how each type builds on the previous one, gradually becoming more complex. (You can download a free chart that explains the four types of reports and the special characteristics of each one.)
In Type #1, the officer is a primarily recorder. (Incident reports fall into this category.) Someone calls to report a crime, and you write down what happened. Examples might be a theft, assault, or sexual attack.
Type #2 is more complex. Now the officer is also an investigator. After a break-in, for example, you might look for the point of entry, take fingerprints, and question neighbors about what they saw or heard.
In this type of report, you have to record what you did and what you found. You also have to demonstrate that you followed procedures effectively. The key factors here are that you didn’t solve the crime and didn’t make an arrest.
In Type #3, the officer becomes a participant. You might intervene in a domestic dispute, settle a fight in a bar, chase a person suspected of robbing a convenience store. Now you have to report not only what others did, but what you did. Often you’ll make an arrest; other possibilities are calling for a backup or medical assistance. You might also ask protective services to get involved.
The complication here is the back story—what happened before you arrived—that has to be coordinated with your story. Another challenge is demonstrating that you followed procedures and guidelines.
Finally, in Type #4, the officer sets the story in motion. There’s no back story. You see a crime in progress and intervene. For example, you might see an erratic driver and make a traffic stop. Since you set the investigation in motion, you have to be particularly careful to establish probable cause for getting involved.
These four types of reports all share some common characteristics, but they also have special requirements. Understanding these four types and challenges will build your confidence and help you write more effective reports.
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