Busy officers agree that they need to be efficient when they’re writing a report. But how do you know what’s necessary and what can be omitted? Looking at an actual police report (in this case, a stabbing after a Thanksgiving dinner) can help you learn some useful guidelines.
This story (from the Smoking Gun website) began when Taz Miller took a plate of leftovers home from a Thanksgiving dinner hosted by his grandmother. Christopher Teer (Miller’s mother’s live-in boyfriend) found the plate in the refrigerator and ate the turkey. Miller got angry and stabbed Teer.
If you read the report yourself, you might notice that it reads more like a novel than a brisk, get-to-the-point police report. Here are some suggestions for making it more efficient and professional:
1. The sentence “I was requested to respond” is unnecessary, since the officer already had stated how he was dispatched to the scene.
2. It’s not necessary to keep repeating, “Ms. Fuller stated.” You can save time by putting all her information into one paragraph that begins “Ms. Fuller told me the following.”
3. Introductory sentences can often be minimized. For example, it’s not necessary to write, “I first spoke with Mr. Teer.” Just go ahead and write what he told you. If you’re careful about chronology in your report, it will be obvious that he was the first person you interviewed in the hospital. Similarly in a later paragraph, it’s not necessary to introduce your list of Teer’s injuries by writing, “I observed several wounds and abrasions on Mr. Teer.” Just write your list: “I observed on his upper arm….”
4. This report often confuses “advise” (to give advice) with “tell.” Save “advise” for situations when you actually counsel someone (“I advised her to see a doctor about the cut”). If you’re promoted to a position that requires professional writing for a non-police audience, misusing “advise” this way may confuse readers and damage your credibility.
5. Bullet style is a great timesaver. Here’s how bullets could have been used in one section of this report:
Ms. Fuller told me the following:
- Taz brought home a plate of food from his grandmother’s Thanksgiving dinner
- Christopher ate the turkey
- Taz and Christopher argued
- Christopher apologized
- She saw Taz take a large knife from a kitchen drawer
- Taz went to Fuller’s bedroom and stabbed Christopher
- She tried to stop Taz by grabbing his upper arm
6. Repeating numbers—“two (2) puncture wounds”—is an outdated practice that doesn’t add anything useful to the report.
An important reminder: Report-writing practices vary from agency to agency. It may take time before some supervisors recognize the usefulness of modern writing practices—bullet style, for example. Always adhere to the principles of your agency, and resolve to update them, if appropriate, when you attain a leadership position and can institute more efficient practices.