Police jargon wastes time and can make you sound outdated and unprofessional. Here are some words and expressions to avoid. (See also Police Jargon to Avoid in Police Reports.)
1. In reference to
This is police jargon. Substitute “I read him his rights from my Miranda card.”
Substitute “law-enforcement officer” or “police officer.”
6. Prison guard
“Correctional officer” is the proper term for an officer in a jail or prison.
7. “I processed the area”
This vague sentence should be replaced with a specific description of what you did and what you found: “I recovered two cards of fingerprints on the door frame.”
Too vague for a report. Be specific: Was it a double-wide mobile home, a house, an apartment, or a condo?
This old-fashioned word is often an unnecessary waste of time.
10. Take cognizance of
The Internet provides many resources for officers who write criminal justice reports. The websites listed here will prove useful throughout your career, so it’s a good idea to bookmark and use them often. All are free!
1. The Uniform Crime Reporting Handbook from the FBI.
You’re probably familiar with this handbook already. You can download it free as a .pdf at www.fbi.gov/ucr/ucr.htm (scroll down to find the Handbook link). Here’s how the FBI describes the UCR:
The UCR Handbook outlines the classification and scoring guidelines that law enforcement agencies use to report crimes to the UCR Program. In addition, it contains offense and arrest reporting forms and an explanation of how to complete them. The Handbook also provides definitions of all UCR offenses.
Even if you’re not filling out statistics reports, the UCR is invaluable: It clarifies criminal justice terminology, provides scenarios to discuss, and explains how professionals classify various crimes.
Besides offering definitions, this website compares what various dictionaries say about a particular word or phrase, and it sometimes offers usage note. I go to this website often when I’m unsure how to spell or use a particular word or expression.
Jargon and gobbledygook waste time, create confusion, and make a bad impression on your readers. This government-sponsored website provides many easy-to-use resources to help you write more clearly and efficiently.
Good-bye, Post-It notes! This free, privacy-protected website sorts and stores any information you want to save. You can access the information from any computer with Internet access. You can clean out your desk and set up a quick, reliable system to find important information.
This isn’t really a writers’ website, but it’s been such a lifesaver for me that I wanted to include it. You can securely store passwords here, free of charge, and access them from any computer with Internet access. This is a great website if you have accounts with many websites, and it’s especially useful if you travel often: you don’t have to worry about carrying (and possibly losing) a list of passwords.
Another update to the story below: State police Col. Richard McKeon – the official who ordered the state trooper to alter the arrest report – is retiring. Gov. Charlie D. Baker has ordered the force to review its procedures for handling how it logs arrests. You can read more here.
Update to the story below: State Trooper Ryan Sceviour is suing top commanders of the State Police, charging that they punished him and forced him to falsify records. You can read more at this link.
Is deleting information from a police report ever permissible? That question has been raised in connection with the arrest of a judge’s daughter in Worcester, Massachusetts, on October 13. (You can read an article about the arrest below.)
A police report on the arrest of a local judge’s daughter was altered as part of “appropriate revisions” that can be made by State Police supervisors.
Alli Bibaud is the daughter of Court Judge Tim Bibaud. When she was arrested on charges that included heroin possession. she told state troopers, “Do you know how many people I had to [sexual act deleted] to get that?”
A spokesperson for Massachusetts State Police issued a statement about the police report. He explained, “The removal of the inflammatory and unnecessary quotation did not change the substance of the trooper’s narrative, did not remove any elements of probable cause from the report, and, most importantly, had no impact on the charges against the defendant.”
He also noted that both versions of the report – cut and uncut – were submitted to the court.
Questions often arise about a citizen’s right to privacy vs. the public’s right to information about an arrest. Do you know your agency’s policies about including and excluding information from police reports?
State Police: Arrest report of judge’s daughter revised