A Punch in the Face

On August 30, a police officer from the Lawton Police Department punched a suspect in the face. The incident is being investigated. You can read the story here: https://www.kswo.com/2019/09/03/lpd-releases-police-report-punching-incident/

And you can read the police report here: https://www.lawtonok.gov/sites/default/files/publications/2019-09/PoliceReport_8302019.pdf

It is worth reading! The sentences are clear and professional. The officer writes in normal English – no jargon. Everything is straightforward: no opinions, no unnecessary repetition.

Here’s an excerpt:

I turned my attention to Porter. I immediately observed that he was sweating profusely, and breathing heavily. Porter began to flex his upper body at me, growl, and yell at me. I was able to see veins in Porters’ neck bulging and spit flying from his mouth as he growled.

It’s a pleasure to read such an excellent report. I hope you’ll take a moment to read it yourself.

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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

“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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A Defense Attorney’s Point of View

Your primary goal as a law enforcement professional is to learn how to think, react, and behave like a police officer.

But it’s also useful to know how other professionals think – especially the ones who might be looking for holes in your police reports.

You can click here to read a short post by an attorney who reads police reports in order to help clients win cases.

He makes a useful point: If, say, an accident victim is unconscious, of course that person’s viewpoint will be missing from the police report. How can an officer conduct an interview with someone who can’t hear the questions?

But that means important information might be missing from your report. Consider talking to an EMT or witness at a crime scene and including their information in your report. If there’s a court hearing that additional information could make a huge difference.

It’s important to remember that something you miss during a busy shift can open the door to a court case.

Defense lawyer in court

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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.

 
 
 
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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

“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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A Problem in Salt Lake City

In October 2018, student athlete Lauren McCluskey was killed by a registered sex offender on the University of Utah campus in Salt Lake City. After McCluskey’s death, stories came out about the alleged mistreatment of students and police officers by the university’s police department. Police Chief Dale Brophy eventually left.

Recently the Salt Lake Tribune conducted an independent investigation into procedures for investigating sexual assault at the University of Utah. You can read about the investigation at this link:  https://www.sltrib.com/news/education/2019/11/03/how-university-utahs

Some of the problems could be seen in police reports, which showed there were delays in contacting victims and incomplete investigations.

Officers and students have testified about “blame the victim” interviews by officers and a culture in the police department that demeaned women.

The University has been searching for new public safety leadership.

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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.

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

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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Stress Management

Law enforcement careers are stressful. While you’re busy protecting the public, you need to think about guarding your own health.

Amaury Mercado has compiled some excellent suggestions based on his long experience as a police officer. Here’s a link to his article.

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A Halloween Police Call

Let’s look at a Halloween-related police report today.

On November 1, 2011, a couple was planning to put on their Halloween costumes to go out for the night. When the man saw the woman’s sexy French maid costume, he got angry. He assaulted her, she started screaming, and police were called. You can read the police report (it’s excellent) at this link.

I have a few edits and suggestions:

  • Don’t repeat the date, time, and location if you’ve already typed them into your laptop.
  • Be consistent. This report starts by saying that police were dispatched. But then it turns into a “we” report. I’d suggest using “We were dispatched” right at the beginning.
  • Avoid repetition. There’s no need to keep repeating 118 South Market Street, where the incident happened.
  • Avoid unnecessary words. There’s no difference between “screaming” and “screaming and yelling.”
  • Use I, not myself:
    MYSELF AND OFFICER LEE MAKOWSXI WALKED TO 118 SOUTH MARKET STREET.    AWKWARD
    OFFICER LEE MAKOWSXI AND I  WALKED TO 118 SOUTH MARKET STREET.     BETTER

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Comma Rule 1

Today’s your chance to master a comma rule that you’ll use again and again. (It’s easy!) Picture this situation:

A mayor emails the police chief to ask if she needs to follow up on a rumor about a recent scandal in local government. The police chief sends this response:

No investigation was done.

Would it make a difference if the note included a comma, like this?

No, investigation was done.

Answer: Of course it would. Although the words are exactly the same, the two sentences have completely different meanings. That comma (or lack of it) makes a big difference.

Let’s go a little deeper. How would you explain why the comma is used in the second example? Many people would say it signifies a pause between “no” and “investigation.”

Not helpful! In fact this is a “rule” you’d do well to erase from your memory, for a very good reason: People pause in different places. Serious writers need rules they can rely on 100% of the time. Guesswork is no help.

Here’s the real reason that comma is there: It signifies that “No” is an extra idea. You could also call it an introduction.

And here’s the rule: Use a comma when a sentence begins with an extra idea. (I call this Comma Rule 1. You can download a free handout that also explains two other important comma rules: Click here.)

Extra ideas are in green:

Jane, your office is on the list for repainting.

Yes, we’re planning to paint your office next week.

However, we can wait for the following week.

If you’re allergic to the smell of paint, you can use another office.

When we’re finished, I’ll text you.

This handy rule covers most of the commas you’ll use in your lifetime – honest!

The time you spend studying, thinking about, and practicing this rule will pay off more dividends than almost anything you can do for your writing. That would be time well spent, wouldn’t it?

a red comma

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Quiz: What Belongs in a Police Report?

Do you know what kinds of statements belong in a police report – and what kinds don’t? Try this report writing quiz, and then scroll down to check your answers.

Instructions: Put an X in front of each statement that doesn’t belong in a police report.

___ 1.  The house looked empty.

___2.  All the windows were dark.

___3.  Mrs. Brown was uncooperative.

___4.  Mrs. Brown left the room while I was talking to her.

___5.  Joseph Chang shook his fist at me.

___6.  Joseph Chang defied me.

___7.  I realized what was about to happen.

___8.  I grabbed his left wrist as his left hand moved toward the bat.

___9.  The clerk obviously had no intention of  asking Susan for her ID.

___10.  The clerk did not ask Susan for her ID when she handed him the money for the beer.

ANSWERS
Items in blue are correct. Items marked X are not observable facts and do not belong in a police report.

X 1.  The house looked empty. (An opinion, not an observable fact.)

2.  All the windows were dark.

X 3.  Mrs. Brown was uncooperative. (An opinion. Perhaps she didn’t answer your questions because she was afraid, or couldn’t hear you, or she was taking her time thinking about her answers.)

4.  Mrs. Brown left the room while I was talking to her.

5.  Joseph Chang shook his fist at me.

X 6.  Joseph Chang defied me. (An opinion. He might argue in court that he wanted to cooperate with you but couldn’t hear you or understand you.)

X 7.  I realized what was about to happen.  (An opinion. You can’t insert your thinking processes into a report.)

8.  I grabbed his left wrist as his left hand moved toward the bat.

X 9.  The clerk obviously had no intention of  asking Susan for her ID.  (An opinion. You can’t put your thoughts into a report.)

10.  The clerk did not ask Susan for her ID when she handed him the money for the beer.delete key

 

 

 

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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.

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

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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Getting Yourself Noticed

I’m a big Denzel Washington fan, and last week I watched The Bone Collector for the second time (it’s that good). If you’ve seen the movie, you’ll remember that Washington plays a forensics expert confined to bed by a serious injury. Angelina Jolie plays a New York patrol cop who comes across a dead body in an empty train yard. Her quick thinking impresses the forensics expert, who makes her part of his investigative team.

A psychological thriller like The Bone Collector obviously has little in common with actual police work – but there’s one detail in the movie that I’d like to focus on for a moment: Getting noticed.

The Angelina Jolie character is an exceptionally quick-thinking, courageous, and competent officer. But no one notices her special qualities until she successfully deals with an unusual challenge: Stopping a moving train that’s about to destroy valuable evidence.

Many smart, ambitious officers at the beginning of their careers are hungry for a chance to show what they can do. Unfortunately, many of them choose an ineffective way to call attention to themselves: Through pompous, overblown writing. Instead of house, they write residence. For Johnson, they write the abovementioned suspect. The everyday word saw becomes the ridiculous ascertained.

But jargon and wordiness don’t impress – just the opposite. They create confusion and waste time. But there is a way to use words to showcase yourself, and I have an example for you. In April, New Orleans Saints defensive end Will Smith was fatally shot in connection with a traffic collision. Here’s an excerpt from the police report:

Officer Williams observed a Ruger semiautomatic, SR45 model, .45 auto caliber, serial number 380-09942, with the magazine removed, on the hood of an orange Hummer at the location. Officer Williams, while wearing latex gloves, cleared and secured the firearm.  EFFECTIVE SENTENCES

Did you notice anything?

The report consistently uses a professional sentence pattern that you won’t find in most high-school assignments. It’s called an interrupter, and I would guess that the officer who wrote this report has attended college.

If you read the sentences aloud, you can hear your voice change. Try this one:

Officer Williams, while wearing latex gloves, cleared and secured the firearm.  EFFECTIVE SENTENCE

Notice that there’s no jargon or overblown language. It’s a short, simple sentence – but it sounds sophisticated. Now try contrasting it with this version of the same sentence:

Officer Williams was wearing latex gloves. He cleared and secured the firearm.

That’s a perfectly acceptable sentence – but it doesn’t have the same level of professionalism.

If you’re hoping to climb the career ladder in criminal justice, you need to learn how to write professional sentences that are efficient and clear. Gobbledygook won’t do the job for you. How can you learn how to write at that level?

One possibility is to sign up for college writing courses. Another is to read daily with an eye to sentence patterns and vocabulary choices. Another is to practice writing professional sentence patterns (which you can do, free, at this website: Part I and Part II.)

A few minutes a day doesn’t sound like much, but over time you’ll build new skills that will help your writing stand out. Why not start today? It makes a lot more sense than hoping for an opportunity to stop a moving train!

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The Ron Minegar Police Report

The Arizona Cardinals have suspended Ron Minegar, the team’s executive vice president and chief operating officer, for a minimum of six weeks without pay. Minegar pleaded guilty to DUI on August 10 and served two days in jail.

Click the link to read the police report.   It is objective, accurate, and professional. But it also points out the need for updated policies about efficient report writing in our electronic age.

Note this unnecessary sentence:

On 08/10/2019 at approximately 2328 hours, I was dispatched to East Pecos Road and South Arizona Avenue, in the city of Chandler to assist Officers Kerie #700 and David #793 with a traffic stop.

All of this information was probably entered into spaces on the officer’s laptop. There’s no need to repeat it. Now take a look at these two sentences:

I arrived on scene and made contact with Officer Kerzie #700. I asked him if he could explain to me what occurred prior to my arrival.  WORDY

Here’s a more efficient way to begin the report: When I arrived, Officer Kerzie #700 told me….  That’s 8 words instead of 60.

You should eliminate any unnecessary repetition. The following sentence is too long, and it’s written in passive voice. Who repeated the instructions multiple times?

It should be noted that Ronald had to be instructed multiple times not to move his head and follow the stimulus with his eyes only.

Here’s a more concise version in active voice:

I had to tell Ronald multiple times not to move his head and follow the stimulus with his eyes only.

And there’s one more important point: save advise for actual advice. Use tell and told for information:

He advised me he was dispatched to the area of East Pecos Road and South Gilbert Road for a possible DUI driver.

Dispatch advised him that the Gilbert Police Department received a call from a concerned citizen about a 2009 Chevrolet bearing Arizona registration driving erratically.

Better:

He told me he was dispatched to the area of East Pecos Road and South Gilbert Road for a possible DUI driver.

Dispatch told him that the Gilbert Police Department received a call from a concerned citizen about a 2009 Chevrolet bearing Arizona registration driving erratically.

Think about all the reports you write – and all the people who read them. Saving 100 words on each report really adds up over many shifts – saving time for you and for administrators and others who read what you’ve written.

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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.

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

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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What to Omit from a Police Report

There’s an intriguing topic! Officers often worry (and rightly so) about leaving something important out of a report. But it’s also true that some things don’t belong in a report. Here are some examples. (I’ve included revisions in blue when I thought they’d be helpful.)

OPINIONS
Because of Mrs. Brown’s age, I knew she might not have heard the noise outside.

THOUGHTS
I decided the suspect had probably exited through the bedroom window.

GENERALIZATIONS
Foster seemed confused.

HUNCHES
I had a hunch that Casey had put the money in the freezer.

PASSIVE VOICE (unless you’re describing an action by an unknown person)
Clark was questioned by me.

BETTER:
I questioned Clark.
A wallet and a diamond ring were taken. (Acceptable if you don’t know who took them)

JARGON
“Mirandized,” “Baker acted,” “this officer,” “I processed the area.”

BETTER:
I took him into custody and began Baker Act proceedings.  

I read him his rights from my Miranda card.  
I examined the front and back doors. I found pry marks by the outside door handle on the back door.  

REPETITION
I asked what time she got home from work. She said 5:20 p.m. I asked what happened. She said she noticed the open window and got worried. I asked if she was sure it had been closed when she left that morning. She said yes, she was sure it had been closed. 

BETTER:
I asked what happened. She said she got home from work at 5:20 p.m. She saw the open window and got worried. She was sure it had been closed when she left that morning.

A concise and objective report saves time and shows off your professionalism. Make it your goal to write an excellent report every time.

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