Subjective or Objective?

Here are two words that every officer should know: subjective (related to an opinion) and objective (factual).

Simply stated, there’s no place for opinions in a criminal-justice report. If you’re new to report writing, this may take some getting used to.

Of course you want to state that the man in the red plaid jacket was behaving suspiciously or seemed inebriated. It’s tempting to write that the kitchen window was probably the point of entry in the break-in. You’ll want to say that the inmate was disrespectful when you confronted him about disrupting the count.

Don’t do it.

Subjective (based on opinion) reports label you as unprofessional. Even worse, they can get you into trouble in court.

A skillful attorney can use vague descriptions (“The suspect was nervous”) to cast doubt on your judgment, trip you up on the witness stand, or convince a judge that you did not have probable cause for getting involved in the first place.

Objective (factual) reports make you look professional, and they’re especially useful in court. After a long time has passed, you may not remember details about what you saw.

If they’re plainly stated in your report, you’ll have no problem testifying. And many officers say that good reports can help keep a case from landing in court. An attorney who sees that you’ve convincingly stated the facts may decide not to challenge what you did.

Start thinking about ways you can describe rather than label a person who is nervous, inebriated, sarcastic, belligerent, aggressive, disrespectful, frightened, or disoriented. For example, instead of writing “Jones was disrespectful,” you could write this:

Jones told me, “If you knew what you were doing, the count would be finished by now.” OBJECTIVE

Practice thinking of objective ways to describe everyday things you see and hear. The extra effort now will pay off throughout your criminal justice career.


8 thoughts on “Subjective or Objective?

      1. Nanette J Berg

        Good explanation! I have seen a lot of poor law enforcement documentation recently, and it makes officers look incompetent in the eyes of the public quickly. I wish they would spend more time training on objective writing in officer training, as it prevents some cases from taking up court time….and saves dollars for taxpayers.

        1. Jean Post author

          Hi, Nanette – thanks for the feedback. And I really appreciate your putting police reports into such a large context. I hope many officers will read your comment.

      2. Demetrius Wayne Watson

        I have come to realize, Officers are not being educated on how to deal with individuals that’s sarcastic, aggressive, disrespectful, frightened, disoriented, belligerent, this is one of mine’s derogatory, and rude. I’ve only meet one officer that was objective in dealing with an individual such as this, I was making an attempt, to aggravate, this officer, into cause me some bodily harm. No, it doent make sense. This is the kind of scenarios, that’s needed to make, officers more aware of how to be objective in confrontation such as this.

        1. Jean Post author

          Hi, Demetrius – you’ve made a terrific point. I need to provide more examples like this one. As you said, officers need training and reminders about not taking this behavior personally. Thanks!


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