The Cookie Caper

Busy police officers should write their reports as efficiently as possible. Include every piece of information that’s needed – but don’t repeat yourself, and don’t use extra words.

Today I’m going to discuss a long report about some stolen cookies. In 2013, an employee at an Indiana Walmart was arrested for stealing some Oreo cookies while on the job.

You can read the report here. When you do, you’ll see that it’s professional, thorough, and objective. The officer is an excellent writer! It’s not easy to write a sentence as complicated as this one – without a single error:

Mr. Moreno advised that upon back-tracking the video footage from the location in which the wrapper was located, he was able to observe Ms. Wieners select the package of cookies, open it, and proceed to consume multiple cookies during her work shift without her paying for said items.

But the report could be written much more efficiently. The sentence I just quoted is 48 words long! There’s no need to make a report that complicated. My rewrite of that sentence is less than a third as long – 15 words:

CCTV footage showed her eating a package of Oreo cookies that she hadn’t paid for.

Here’s a longer excerpt, followed again by my rewrite:

Mr. Moreno advised that on 02-12-13 it came to his attention that an employee may have been involved in an internal theft incident(s). Moren stated that an opened/empty food wrapper (Oreo cookies) was located within the store and that a subsequent investigation, coupled with CCTV video footage, indicated that employee Jane Smith (DOB 01-01-99) was responsible. Mr. Moreno advised that upon back-tracking the video footage from the location in which the wrapper was located, he was able to observe Ms. Wieners select the package of cookies, open it, and proceed to consume multiple cookies during her work shift without her paying for said items. Mr. Moren advised that he proceeded with an internal investigation prior to my arrival, which included interviewing Ms. Winters during her normal work shift tonight. Mr. Moreno advised that during  his interview with Ms. Winters she not only admitted to the theft of the aforementioned cookies but also to numerous thefts occurring on weekly basis during her approximate seven month tenure at the Portage Wal-Mart store.  (169 words)

Here’s my version:

Mr. Moreno told me that on 2-12-13 he learned that an employee (Jane Smith, DOB 01-01-99) was stealing from the store. CCTV footage showed her eating a package of Oreo cookies that she hadn’t paid for. When he talked to her, she admitted to taking the cookies and stealing other items.  (51 words)

My version is 51 words; the original is 169 words – three times as long – and both versions have exactly the same information.

For example, the original (lengthy) report says that the theft came to Mr. Moreno’s attention – but doesn’t say how he learned about it. Did he notice missing items? Did a customer see Jane steal the cookies? Or did another employee notice something suspicious going on? That would be useful information – but it doesn’t appear in the report.

There’s no reason to say “the aforementioned cookies.” What other cookies could there be?

And why keep saying “Mr. Moreno advised”? He was the only one person who investigated the crime and talked to the officer.

There’s one more thing: Professionals should strive to get every detail right. If you check the Walmart website, you’ll see that the company does not use a hyphen in its name. The officer should have checked that fact instead of incorrectly writing Wal-Mart throughout the report.

two Oreo cookies

Photo courtesy of Evan-Amos

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