Taking notes that are accurate and complete is an important step when you’re preparing a report. Here are a few tips:
1. Be prepared.
Of course you have writing paper (and perhaps a laptop). But what if you jump out of your patrol car to deal with an emergency? It’s embarrassing to be caught without writing materials. Go to the Dollar Store and buy a few tiny notebooks. Keep one in a pocket just in case you need it.
2. Think about categories.
Train yourself to think in five categories: yourself, victims, witnesses, suspects, evidence, and disposition. You won’t necessarily organize your report in these categories. But thinking about them will ensure that you don’t overlook anything important.
3. Think about the type of report you’ll be rewriting.
There are four basic types of reports that you’ll write over and over.) Click here to learn more about them.) If you’ve thoroughly familiarized yourself with the types of reports and their special requirements, you’re more likely to cover every angle. For example, a Type 4 report (officer sets the case in motion) may have to deal with probable cause issues in some detail.
3. Control the interview.
Talking to witnesses, suspects, and victims can present challenges: Stress levels are likely to be high, and you may be listening to a jumble of relevant and irrelevant information.
One useful practice is to deal with emotions first. Reassure the person you’re talking to (“You’re safe” or “We’ve got the situation under control”). Then explain that you need the person’s help in order to follow up. If you’re calm and professional, the person who’s talking is more likely to cooperate and answer your questions. Don’t hesitate to break in, gently, if a witness goes off on a tangent.
4. Record the information promptly and thoroughly.
Don’t rely on your memory to add details lately. It’s embarrassing to be caught with an inaccurate or incomplete report. Discipline yourself to write a complete set of notes as soon as possible.
Sign up for our FREE Police Writer e-Newsletter and receive a free copy of “10 Days to Better Police Reports,” ready to download! Your privacy is protected: We NEVER share emails with third parties.
Criminal Justice Report Writing by Jean Reynolds is available from Amazon.com for the low price of $17.95. For a free preview, click on the link or the picture below.
Updated, with a new chapter on Writing Efficiently
“It will definitely help you with your writing skills.” – Joseph E. Badger, California Association of Accident Reconstructionists Newsletter