A Domestic Violence Call

I often hear from officers who have questions about domestic violence calls. There are two issues that come up again and again:

“Part of the story happened before I got there, and then there was more after I arrived.”

“Often there are two versions of what happened.”

How do you handle these complications? One answer is to read a few domestic reports to get some ideas about how to organize them. Today I have a well-written police report about a domestic violence call for you to read.

A 77-year-old woman became angry because her 76-year-old husband was surfing a dating site. She slapped him, he pushed her to the ground, and she called 911.

There’s a lot to like about this report. It’s thorough, objective, and professional. The officer used first names (Edward, Sylvia). It’s written in plain English and employs active voice. Well done!

I’d  recommend a few changes. There’s a wordy section explaining how the officer identified the assailant: “I met with a male suspect identifying himself as….” The report goes on to explain that the suspect showed his driver’s license. That lengthy explanation would be helpful in a situation when someone might be trying to conceal his identity (a robbery, for example). It’s not necessary here.

There’s a slip-up when Mr. Aronson is referred to as “she”: “She freely admitted to pushing his wife…” (Even professional writers occasionally make minor errors like that one.)

“Advised” should be replaced with “told”: “Nurse Leisen who advised me….” Officers who get promotions that involve writing for the general public find they have to break that “advised” habit: civilians don’t understand it.

A few minor changes would give the report greater clarity. Of course the officer knows exactly what happened. But that small measure of extra clarity would be helpful to outsiders (reporters, attorneys). And the officer himself might need to go back over it in six months or so if there’s a court hearing.

Here’s what the officer wrote (I’ve changed “she” to “he”):

I spoke to Edward. He freely admitted to pushing his wife down on the ground after arguing with her. He did admit to being slapped by his wife. Sylvia stated that after 33 years of marriage I can not believe it.

“He did admit to being slapped by his wife” is puzzling. “Admit” implies wrongdoing – and Edward was the victim at that point, not the wrongdoer.

Here’s how the information could be rewritten for more clarity:

I spoke to Edward. He freely admitted to pushing his wife down on the ground after arguing with her. He said his wife, Sylvia, slapped him.

I spoke to Sylvia. She said, “After 33 years of marriage I cannot believe it.”

(Notice that the period goes inside the quotation marks!)

I hope you’ll take a few minutes to read the report yourself. Notice that the officer recorded what happened, step-by-step. There’s a new paragraph every time the story shifted. That simple advice can be a huge help in documenting domestic incidents – and other police calls.

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