You might be surprised that I’m writing a blog post about confidence today. Police officers tend to be concerned about grammar, spelling, punctuation, and similar writing issues. That’s where confidence comes from, right? Wouldn’t it make more sense for me to write a post about verb endings, pronoun cases, and apostrophes?
Of course I often cover those issues in this blog. But long experience has shown me there’s another reason why some police reports are poorly written: officers don’t always use their critical thinking skills to the fullest. That’s my topic today.
Imagine that you’re dispatched to an automobile accident near a McDonald’s. You interview the drivers and a witness. You learn that the driver of a Toyota Corolla turned left out of the parking lot. The driver of a Honda Accord was approaching and didn’t see the Corolla. There was a collision. No one was injured.
Now read and evaluate this excerpt. What’s your opinion?
I arrived on scene, driving a service vehicle and in full uniform. I parked my car facing south on Broad Street in front of Smiley’s Cafe. At that point I exited my car and walked towards the red Toyota Corolla with the intention of interviewing the driver before attending to the blue 2011 Honda Accord. When I saw the extent of the damage to the Corolla, I thought the driver might be injured, but that turned out to be a mistake. Apparently the seat belts and airbag prevented injuries.
If I were the supervisor, I would encourage the writer to review the principles that make for a good police report: short sentences, ordinary words, and essential facts.
Your training and experience will help you decide what information matters. That’s what police reports are all about. What will the insurance company want to know? If there’s a court hearing, what facts will be relevant?
In many reports, there’s usually no need to record that you drove a service vehicle and were wearing a full uniform. You probably won’t need to explain that you arrived, parked your car, exited your car, and walked to the scene. Nor would you record what you were thinking or planning to do.
Record the date, time, and address in the appropriate spaces on your laptop. You won’t need to repeat them. You’ll probably need to note whether you were dispatched or saw the accident yourself while you were on patrol.
Here are examples of sentences that record useful information:
I talked to Walter Connack. He was driving a 2017 red Toyota Corolla. He said he made a left turn out of the McDonald’s parking lot on Broad Street.
I talked to Susan Schmidt. She was driving a blue 2011 Honda Accord. She said she was heading north on Broad Street. She didn’t see Connack’s Corolla leave the parking lot.
I didn’t see any injuries. Connack and Schmidt told me they weren’t hurt and didn’t need medical attention. There were no other passengers.
I talked to a witness, Mary Sullivan. She said she saw Connack slowly leave the parking lot and start turning left. Schmidt’s car was going very fast.
Note that these are sample sentences, not a complete report. There will be other sentences about possible issues such as skid marks, vehicle damage, DUI concerns, driver’s licenses, vehicle registrations, and so on. Remember too that procedures and policies about police reports vary from agency to agency.
But one principle remains constant: the need to use your critical thinking skills to determine what information matters – and to record it concisely and accurately.