Tag Archives: report writing

Police Jargon II

Police jargon wastes time and can make you sound outdated and unprofessional.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

Substitute “about.”

2.  Mirandized

This is police jargon. Substitute “I read him his rights from my Miranda card.”

3.  Modify

Substitute “change.”

4.  Numerous

Substitute “many.”

5.  Policeman

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.”

8.  Residence

Too vague for a report. Be specific: Was it a double-wide mobile home, a house, an apartment, or a condo?

9.  Respective

This old-fashioned word is often an unnecessary waste of time.

10.  Take cognizance of

Substitute “recognize.”

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 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

Criminal Justice Report Writing

“It will definitely help you with your writing skills.” – Joseph E. Badger, California Association of Accident Reconstructionists Newsletter

Criminal Justice Report Writing is also available as an e-book in a variety of formats for $9.99: Click here.

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Identifying Passive Voice

Passive voice often causes problems in criminal justice reports. (Here’s a typical passive voice sentence: The vehicle was searched.) It’s easy to see how passive voice can cause problems, especially in an investigation or court hearing: The sentence doesn’t tell who performed the search.

In general, you should avoid using passive voice in your reports. Be careful, however, not to be fooled into “correcting” sentences that were right in the first place. Make sure a sentence is really passive before you change it.

Here are two examples of what I’m talking about:

The suspects were questioned.  PASSIVE VOICE

While we were questioning the subjects, Officer Brown arrived at the scene.  ACTIVE VOICE

“We were questioning” is active voice (OK to use) because you know that we were doing it.

Now let’s look at a series of sentences. Can you see which are passive and which are active? Scroll down for the answers.

Jones was seen running away from the convenience store.

Jones was carrying a six-pack of beer and a bottle of white wine.

Three sobriety tests were administered.

Patterson was looking in his wallet for his driver’s license.

Both witnesses were questioned.

Finch was having difficulty answering the questions.

Here are the sentences again, with the passive sentences labeled:

Jones was seen running away from the convenience store.  PASSIVE  (Who saw him?)

Jones was carrying a six-pack of beer and a bottle of white wine.  √

Three sobriety tests were administered.  PASSIVE  (Who administered them?)

Patterson was looking in his wallet for his driver’s license.  √

Both witnesses were questioned.  PASSIVE  (Who questioned them?)

Finch was having difficulty answering the questions.  √

Reminder: Passive voice is acceptable only when you don’t know who performed an action. Otherwise, use active voice.

The two passive voice sentences below are acceptable because the officer writing the report doesn’t know who broke into the store and who took the money and liquor:

The store was broken into at around midnight.  [PASSIVE – OK]

Fifty dollars and five bottles of liquor were taken.  [PASSIVE – OK]

passive voice test

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Look at the Beginning of a Sentence

Warnings of possible sentence problems often show up at the beginning of a sentence. Here are four tips you’ll use again and again:

1.  Anything that begins with a person, place, or thing is probably a real sentence and should end with a period.

Donna had questions about my report.  SENTENCE

If it doesn’t begin with a person, place, or thing, it’s probably an extra idea and should a) end with a comma and b) be attached to a real sentence.

Because Donna had questions about my report,  EXTRA IDEA

Because Donna had questions about my report, I decided to revise it.  SENTENCE

(Click here to learn about Comma Rule 1.)

2.  Remember that it is a thing. Here’s a handy rule of thumb: If it starts with it, it’s a sentence.

I pushed on the door, it wouldn’t open.  INCORRECT

I pushed on the door. It wouldn’t open. CORRECT

3.  The beginning of the sentence usually tells you who or what the sentence is about. That information will make you more likely to get the rest of the sentence right.

Use of illegal substances (has/have) increased in this county.

Focus on the word use, and you’ll know immediately that the verb should be has. [Use…has]

Use of illegal substances has increased in this county. CORRECT

(Click here to read about Subject-Verb Agreement Rule 4.)

4.  Be especially careful about starting sentences with -ing words. Of course it’s correct to start a sentence with a word ending in -ing: But you risk writing a sentence fragment or a dangling modifier.

Buttoning his jacket as he ran to his car.  FRAGMENT

He was buttoning his jacket as he ran to his car. CORRECT

Buttoning his jacket, his cell phone fell out of the pocket.  DANGLING MODIFIER

While he was buttoning his jacket, his cell phone fell out of the pocket. CORRECT

Here’s a suggestion that will pay off again and again: Look at the beginning of a sentence and think about possible problems. Try it!

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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. 

Criminal Justice Report Writing 

“It will definitely help you with your writing skills.” – Joseph E. Badger, California Association of Accident Reconstructionists Newsletter

Criminal Justice Report Writing is also available as an e-book in a variety of formats for $9.99: Click here.

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The Run-On Sentence Problem

A run-on sentence is a serious writing problem that every officer wants to avoid. So…how do you know you’ve written a run-on, and how can you fix one that finds its way into a report you’ve written?

First, a definition. A run-on is a sentence that needs a period. Here’s an example:

I knocked on the door Sam Clinton opened it.  RUN-ON

It’s still a mistake if you try to fix it with a comma:

I knocked on the door, Sam Clinton opened it.  RUN-ON

You can always fix a run-on sentence with a period. Here’s the corrected sentence:

I knocked on the door. Sam Clinton opened it. CORRECT

*  *  *  *  * 

Don’t be fooled into thinking that every long sentence is a run-on. That’s not true. For example, although the sentence you’re reading right now is too long, in my opinion, there’s no place where it needs a period, so in grammatical terms it’s not a run-on.

How can you avoid writing a run-on sentence? I think you can answer that question yourself: Use a period when you come to the end of a sentence. Don’t take a breath and keep going!

Charlene talked quietly to Mrs. Wilson I took Mr. Wilson into the dining room.  INCORRECT

Charlene talked quietly to Mrs. Wilson. I took Mr. Wilson into the dining room. CORRECT

Here’s another don’t-be-fooled tip: Don’t put a comma at the end of a sentence. Use a comma at the end of an extra idea. Use a period at the end of a sentence.

While Charlene talked quietly to Mrs. Wilson, EXTRA IDEA

While Charlene talked quietly to Mrs. Wilson,  I took Mr. Wilson into the dining room. CORRECT

(Comma Rule 1 can be a huge help with this issue. Click here to learn more.)

Everything you say or write is either an extra idea (with a comma) or a sentence (with a period). Practice hearing the difference, and you’ll see a huge improvement in your sentences. That’s a guarantee!

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More Police Jargon to Avoid in Reports

Here are more examples of outdated police jargon and confusing expressions you should avoid in your reports. (Click here to see the previous list.)

abovementioned

This old-fashioned, time-wasting word needs to be stored permanently in the attic. Use “this” or, better yet, repeat the name or information.

The abovementioned suspect is now in custody. WRONG

Langford is now in custody. CORRECT

advise

Advise refers to giving advice. If you use it that way, advise is a fine word. But don’t use it as a synonym for “tell.”

I advised her to seek medical attention for the cut on her arm. CORRECT

I advised her that I would be returning the next day.  WRONG

I told her that I would be returning the next day. CORRECT

affect

Affect is a useful verb meaning “to change.” [Much less commonly it’s also a noun that means emotion.] So why should you avoid affect? Two reasons.

First is the risk of confusing affect and effect. Why take a chance? If you mean change, that’s the word you should write.

I couldn’t affect his decision, so I stopped arguing.  RISKY

I couldn’t change his decision, so I stopped arguing. SAFER

A more serious problem with affect is that it’s vague. It’s better to choose a word that indicates whether the change was for the better or the worse.

The new schedule affected morale.  VAGUE

The new schedule improved morale. BETTER

Rainy days always affect my mood.  VAGUE

Rainy days always make me feel gloomy. BETTER

being that

Never use this clumsy expression. Use because instead.

[Incidentally, being is a perfectly good word that can, however, gum up a sentence. Use it with care.]

I smelled alcohol on his breath

A defense attorney can get you on this one. Alcohol is odorless and tasteless. Say that you smelled “alcoholic beverage” on his breath.

residence

Vague. Use home, condominium, apartment, mobile home.

blue in color

Professional writers avoid wasting time with empty words. “In color” doesn’t add anything, so don’t use it.

The suspect was wearing a shirt that was blue in color.  EMPTY WORDS

The suspect was wearing a blue shirt.  BETTER

the month of September

Same problem. When is September not a month?

They were married in the month of September.  EMPTY WORDS

They were married in September. BETTER

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Police Jargon to Avoid in Reports

Today we’re going to begin focusing on police jargon and confusing expressions you should avoid in report writing. There are three advantages to avoiding these words. First, you’ll sound more up-to-date and professional. Second, your reports will be more specific. Most important, you’ll be more efficient.

Think about it! Saving a few seconds when you type a word doesn’t sound important. But over a year you may type thousands and thousands of words. Those seconds add up! And you’re also making life easier for everyone who reads your reports.

Here’s today’s list:

Ascertained

This clumsy word has two strikes against it. First, it’s archaic. Second, it doesn’t explain how you acquired the information. Better choices are “saw” or “heard.”

Affirmative

“Yes” works better.

At the present time

Use “now” instead – (better yet!) or just leave it out. There’s no difference between “He’s now awaiting trial” and “He’s awaiting trial.”

Baker Acted (as in “I Baker Acted him.”)

This is police jargon and out of place in a professional report. Substitute “I started Baker Act proceedings” or “I took her into custody under the provisions of the Baker Act.”

Contacted

This is too vague for a professional report. In fact it could cause problems in court later on, if you forget exactly how you got in touch with the person. Be specific: I phoned her, I visited him, I emailed her, I taped a note on his office door.

Endeavor

Substitute “try.”

Expedite

Substitute “hurry” or “speed up.”

If and when

Substitute “if,” which covers both words.

In close proximity to

Substitute “near.”

In order to

Substitute “to.”

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Sophisticated Sentences

Every officer wants to write intelligent reports. That’s certainly a worthy goal. Unfortunately, there’s a hidden problem: When you try to write sophisticated sentences, clarity gets lost and errors creep in.

Here are two suggestions for writing sophisticated sentences that enhance your reports:

1.  Use a semicolon. This is easy to do! Find two simple sentences in a row that you want to put together. Change the first period to a semicolon. Change the capital letter to lower case unless it’s a word that needs to be capitalized.

Officer Baptiste saw smoke coming from the engine of the car. She called 911.  CORRECT

Officer Baptiste saw smoke coming from the engine of the car; she called 911.  CORRECT (semicolon)

I searched the basement. Sergeant Rios questioned Mrs. Pallatine.  CORRECT

I searched the basement; Sergeant Rios questioned Mrs. Pallatine.  CORRECT (semicolon)

2.  Try writing a Comma Rule 3 sentence when you use a proper noun (a capitalized name of a person, place, or thing). Hint: Be sure to use TWO commas.

We’ll be working extra shifts when Halloween, a favorite day for pranks, rolls around on October 31.  CORRECT

My Uncle John, who was a police officer back in the 1960s, says law enforcement has changed dramatically since then.  CORRECT

Polk City, a small town in Central Florida, is continuing to grow.  CORRECT

 

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Avoiding Run-on Sentences

Be careful not to use run-on sentences in your reports. Omitting the period at the end of a sentence–or mistakenly thinking a comma will do the job–is a serious error.

Here’s a quick run-on sentence activity for you to try: Can you tell which examples are run-on sentences?

1.  After I called for a backup, Officer Bailey radioed me.

2.  The ambulance arrived, it was too late to save her.

3.  Chain of custody is an important criminal justice concept that you should know.

ANSWERS

1.  After I called for a backup, Officer Bailey radioed me.  CORRECT

2.  The ambulance arrived. It was too late to save her.  RUN-ON (Here’s a handy rule: If it starts with “it,” it’s a sentence.)

3.  Chain of custody is an important criminal justice concept that you should know.  CORRECT

 

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Who Is She?

I’ve often said that it’s the simple words that get officers into trouble when they write reports. Today we’re going to look at she and her. Easy words, right?

Wrong. There’s a problem called indefinite pronoun reference that often creates confusion.

Here’s a typical mistake. Can you figure out what’s wrong?

Martha said she had not been in touch with her daughter in quite a while because her telephone wasn’t working. INCORRECT

Whose telephone wasn’t working? When there are two women in a sentence, she becomes a confusing (or indefinite) word.

Be specific about identities when you’re using pronouns (he, she, him, her, they). Here’s a more clear version of the same sentence:

Martha said she had not been in touch with her daughter in quite a while because her daughter’s telephone wasn’t working. CORRECT

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Tips for Type 4 Reports

A few days ago someone confessed to me that she continued to find Type 4 reports confusing. What, she wanted to know, makes a Type 4 report different? And how does that difference affect the way the report is written?

Good questions!

Type 4 reports are different because you, the officer, initiate the action. You saw or heard something suspicious and decided to intervene.

Your report has two important differences from most Type 1, 2, and 3 reports:

  • you weren’t dispatched to the scene
  • you have to establish probable cause

These differences will affect the way you start your report. First, you have to establish why you were at that location. Second, you have to give a detailed and convincing justification for getting involved.

Phrases like “acting suspiciously” or “something wasn’t right” don’t work here. You have to describe what was unusual about the suspect’s appearance or behavior, or what struck you as out of place about the scene. Examples might include:

  • you saw someone running down the street who kept looking behind himself
  • you heard a scream
  • you saw a light in an empty building
  • you noticed that a woman was struggling to pull away from the  man who was walking with her

(To learn more about Type 4 reports, click here.)

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