Tag Archives: police report

An Incident Report about Devin Patrick Kelley

Criminal justice investigators are seeking answers to a troubling question: How is it that no one noticed that Devin Patrick Kelley was a potential killer? Kelley allegedly killed 26 people at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs on November 5 – the worst church killing in American history.

This sad story ultimately points to a seemingly unimportant police report dated June 13, 2012.  Kelley – an airman in the US Air Force – had a troubled past that included death threats and illegal possession of firearms. A TV station has obtained an incident report describing Kelley’s escape from a mental health facility: click on this link to read it. 

The report is worth reading, for several reasons. It’s professional and objective, and it drives home the point that even a routine report can become national news at any time.

Imagine that one of your reports was featured on a TV news show years after you had written it. What message would it convey about you and your agency? That’s a question worth asking. It can happen to any officer – and any report – at any time.

US Air Force logo

 

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The Matthew Kennedy Police Report

It’s rare for me to read a truly efficient police report. Because so many officers say they dislike paperwork, you’d expect them to try to write as concisely as possible. Let’s get it done! But the opposite is true. Most reports are swollen with unnecessary words that don’t do any work and waste time for both the writer and anyone who reads them.

Here’s what’s really strange: many of those reports – despite their excessive length – omit some of the details needed for a thorough, objective, and totally professional report.

Today we’re going to look at a recent example of an effective police report that could – however – have been better. On August 20, neighbors reported a noisy party at the Kennedy compound in Hyannis Port. Matthew Kennedy and his daughter Caroline (son and granddaughter of Robert F. Kennedy) were arrested for disturbing the peace and violating a noise ordinance. The Boston Globe published the police report, which you can read here.

Here are my comments:

  1. Many sentences begin with phrases that don’t add any useful information:

At this time

Once there

Upon walking up

Upon my arrival

Here’s an example:

Upon my arrival on Irving Ave., I shut down my cruiser approximately 200-300 feet before Iyanough Ave. I could clearly hear loud music and loud music coming from the corner house. I also observed several people walking up the road carrying coolers. I also observed Hyannisport Security off at the intersection.

If you were 200-300 feet away and you shut down your cruiser, it’s obvious that you had arrived. (Incidentally, the detail about 200-300 feet away is useful because you’re dealing with a noise complaint. If you could hear the music that far away, the noise complaint was justified. As I said, in many ways this is an excellent report.)

“At this time” is just as unnecessary. What other time would it have been? In many years of reading reports, I’ve noticed that officers always do a good job of recording events in the order they happened. (Would you put the arrest before the investigation? I’ve never seen a report do that.) You don’t need “at this time,” “whereupon,” and similar expressions. Just record – in order – what happened.

2. Sometimes the report takes a roundabout route to recording a simple fact. Here’s an example:

I asked the above-referenced unidentified male for identification.

How about: “I asked Kennedy for identification”? And see what you think of this sentence:

I observed Kennedy to have noticeably blood shot and glassy eyes and he was sweating profusely during our conversation.

“Saw” is a perfectly respectable word. And why “noticeably”? How could you have known that his eyes were bloodshot if the redness hadn’t been noticeable? And there’s no need to write “during our conversation.” The report just pointed out that the officer was questioning him.

Here’s a more efficient (and perfectly professional) sentence:

I saw that Kennedy’s eyes were bloodshot, and he was sweating profusely.  EFFICIENT

In tomorrow’s post I’ll discuss some details that were omitted from this report. Meanwhile, you might want to read the report yourself and see what you think.

Matthew Kennedy

 Matthew Kennedy

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Sexual Assault Investigation at MSU

Michigan State University Police have released a detailed report on their sexual assault investigation. After interviews with more than 100 witnesses, Josh King, Donnie Corley, and Demetric Vance were charged with sexual assault. The heavily redacted report – 226 pages long – can be read at this link: http://detne.ws/2vpmemC.

The report is thorough, professional, and free of jargon – an excellent example of police writing. One feature, though, deserves comment: One of the police officers always uses “I,” while another officer consistently uses the old-fashioned (and time-wasting!) “this officer.” This inconsistency should be resolved so that all officers are writing their reports the same way.

I then followed up and sent her an email with my contact information and resources. ✓

This officer informed [redacted] about suspect Donnie Corley being moved to a new room. X

A reminder: There’s nothing wrong with the words I and me! In fact those are the very words that an officer would use to testify in court.

MSU's Spartan Stadium

                Spartan Stadium

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An Excellent Police Report

I often hear from readers – especially officers new to law enforcement – who are desperate to improve their report writing skills. Sometimes it seems that they’re looking for a magical fix to their writing problems.

Alas, there’s no magic! If you want to become a better writer, you need to work at it – daily. In this blog I often share actual reports so that readers can sharpen their skills.

Today I’m happy to tell you about an excellent report from Captain Lance Schutjer of the St. Ansgar Police Department in Iowa. If you’re working on your writing skills, this report is worth reading. It’s thorough, objective, and written in normal English. There’s no police jargon.

The report comes from the Globe Gazette and concerns a September 2015 incident alleging a violent attack between five high schoolers and a fellow student. The report is posted at this link: http://globegazette.com/news/local/police-report-details-st-ansgar-school-allegations/article_550933ed-ae5a-55f5-ab89-bf99fdd0c0c7.html

It’s a great learning opportunity! Be sure to read it.

A+ grade ok

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