Category Archives: police reports

Writing tips, English usage and grammar review, and news stories for officers and other criminal justice professionals who deal with police reports.

What Information Do You Need?

Police reports aren’t just about writing: they often require critical thinking skills. 

Today I’m going to challenge you to think about what information you would need to write a report about a sexual assault.

Here’s the basic information that came from a recent Tulsa, Oklahoma press release (https://ktul.com/news/local/sapulpa-man-raped-unconsciousvictim-according-to-police-report).

If you were the investigating officer, what information would you need to include in your report? Make your own list first, and then look at my suggestions below. (Note that these are suggestions; your list may be different.)

A man is charged with raping an unconscious victim, and the crimes were captured by a hidden camera, according to a police affidavit filed in Creek County court.
Kevin Clark, 47, of Sapulpa, was arrested this week after a woman came forward, claiming to be raped in Kiefer.
The woman had been staying in a travel trailer provided by Clark and one day discovered a hidden camera with a memory card, containing recordings of Clark sexually assaulting her while she was unconscious, according to the affidavit.
Police followed up and found additional images on Clark’s phone of Clark assaulting the victim while she was unconscious, according to the affidavit.
Police say Clark denied knowing about the hidden camera and claimed the sexual encounters were consensual, and that the victim had a fetish of using drugs and losing consciousness before intercourse.
Police also believe Clark had been selling and supplying multiple people with narcotics.
Clark was booked into jail on charges that include rape and sexual battery.

Here are some issues I thought about:

  • Because this is a Type 2 report, it needs to include two types of information: what the victim and suspect said – and what the police investigation showed (the recordings on Clark’s camera).
  • There’s no need for the investigating officers to record that they were in full uniform or to state where they were parked. That information doesn’t affect their investigation.

And here are some questions that might shape the report:

  • Where did police find Clark? How did they track him down? Did any citizens provide helpful information? What are their names?
  • What happened when police arrived? How did Clark react? Did police find anything that needs to be included in the report (such as drugs or a weapon)?
  • Who made the arrest? A statement like “Clark was apprehended and placed under arrest” isn’t good enough. What’s the officer’s name?
  • Who read Clark his Miranda rights and drove him to jail? Writing that “Clark was read his Miranda rights” and “He was booked into Creek County jail” aren’t good enough. What’s the officer’s name?
  • Who provided information about Clark’s involvement with narcotics? Was there an additional investigation?
  • What did the victim tell police? How do they know about her drug history? Was she one of Clark’s customers?
  • What help did the victim receive, and who provided it? A statement like “Mary Doe was given a victims rights booklet and referred to the Women’s Resource Center” isn’t good enough. What’s the officer’s name?

Be aware that agency policies may vary, and they need to be followed carefully.

I have one more comment: the statement that the victim “had a fetish of using drugs and losing consciousness before intercourse” is troubling. I’m wondering if better wording would be that she had “a habit of using drugs.” How should that information be handled in the report? Could it affect the case if it goes to court?

A definition of rape

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 Criminal Justice Report Writing by Jean Reynolds is available from Amazon.com for the low price of $17.95. For a free preview, click on the link or the picture below.

Updated, with a new chapter on Writing Efficiently

“It will definitely help you with your writing skills.” – Joseph E. Badger, California Association of Accident Reconstructionists Newsletter

Criminal Justice Report Writing is also available as an e-book in a variety of formats for $9.99: Click here.

 

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The Michael Fesser Case

West Linn Police Department Chief Jami Resch – in an “effort to be transparent” – has released a 2017 police report concerning a Portland citizen named Michael Fesser. The report should have been turned over to Fesser’s attorney, Paul Buchanan, when he subpoenaed all of Fesser’s records. But neither Buchanan nor Fesser ever saw the report.

The report was written by a Portland police gang enforcement officer. He stated that Lieutenant Stradley from the West Linn Police Department told him he should be watchful because Fesser had “a history of violence.”

The report stated that there was a warrant for Fesser’s arrest in a large theft case. Fesser had already been arrested for threatening to assault his former boss at A&B Towing, Eric Benson. Fesser also made threats against Benson’s employees and was planning to damage his business.

West Linn Police Report

Fast forward to 2020: Lieutenant Stradley is now retired. The West Linn Police Department has admitted that nothing in the report was true. Michael Fesser never made any threats. There was no warrant and no indictment. The “large theft case” was made up. There was only one previous arrest, and it had been dropped in 1997.

The police department has paid Michael Fesser $600,000 to settle a racial discrimination and unlawful arrest suit. During the civil court case, Lieutenant Stradley testified that they had no knowledge of any threats Fesser had made. A&B Towing had already paid Fesser $415,000 to settle a separate racial discrimination and retaliation suit.

The problems began when Fesser went to his boss at A&B Towing to report that he thought he was the victim of racial discrimination. His boss was afraid of a lawsuit, and he asked Police Chief Terry Timeus for help. (Chief Timeus is now retired.)

The story is an effective reminder of the importance of police reports. They need to be accurate, and officers need to carefully follow the procedures for dealing with them. 

https://www.oregonlive.com/crime/2020/02/portland-police-report-released-in-michael-fesser-case-this-week-never-made-it-to-fessers-lawyer-in-response-to-multiple-subpoenas.html

A chalkboard that asks if I'm doing this right.

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Sign up for our FREE Police Writer e-Newsletter and receive a free copy of “10 Days to Better Police Reports,” ready to download! Your privacy is protected: We NEVER share emails with third parties.

 
 
 
____________________________________________________________

 Criminal Justice Report Writing by Jean Reynolds is available from Amazon.com for the low price of $17.95. For a free preview, click on the link or the picture below.

Updated, with a new chapter on Writing Efficiently

“It will definitely help you with your writing skills.” – Joseph E. Badger, California Association of Accident Reconstructionists Newsletter

Criminal Justice Report Writing is also available as an e-book in a variety of formats for $9.99: Click here.

 

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Zavier Simpson

On January 26, college basketball player Zavier Simpson was involved in a car collision. The incident is a useful refresher about issues than can show up when you’re establishing probable cause.

Simpson, who plays for the Michigan Wolverines of the Big Ten Conference, was in a car that collided with a street sign and a utility pole. Because there was no liquor odor on his breath and no proof that Simpson was driving, police did not have probable cause for a breathalyzer test. Police saw Simpson stumbling as he walked around the car, but they didn’t see him leaving it. Simpson told them he wasn’t the driver, and the driver’s seatbelt was set for a smaller person.

Later Chrislan Manuel, the athletic director’s wife and owner of the car, told police that Simpson was the driver. She said her husband often allowed athletes to borrow the car. Simpson admitted he’d been driving the car.

Simpson was suspended for missing the team curfew and missed the January 28 game against Nebraska, ending a 135-consecutive games-played streak.

Click the link for more details: https://www.mlive.com/news/ann-arbor/2020/02/heres-why-police-didnt-breath-test-zavier-simpson-after-crash.html

Zavier Simpson

                     Zavier Simpson

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A Valentine’s Day Prank

In 2009, a Texas woman named Jennifer Orr had a very unpleasant Valentine’s Day. She discovered that a former co-worker had placed a Craigslist ad in her name. It included pictures, her phone number, and an offer to have wonderful sex on Valentine’s Day. When the ad ran, she was bombarded with text messages and phone calls. The man who placed the phony ad was arrested on harassment charges.

You can read the story and the incident report at this link: http://www.thesmokinggun.com/documents/crime/whale-valentines-day-prank

The report is worth reading. Sentences are crisp, objective, and professional. There’s no police jargon. I couldn’t find a single passive-voice sentence.

Most important, the report thoroughly covers the details of this Valentine’s Day story. Well done! Here’s a sample:

Orr suspected only one person of placing the ad, and that is Sean Michael Kirkland W/M 04/24/87. Orr and Kirkland used to work together at Sears located in the Golden Triangle Mall and met around June of 2007. According to Orr, Kirkland made several attempts to date her while she worked at that store, and also periodically sends her text messages asking her to go out with him. Orr contacted Kirkland and asked him if he placed the ad, and according to her he admitted that he did.

It’s a pleasure to see such excellent writing.

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Your Critical Thinking Skills

The other day, I ran into a good friend and asked how her nine-year-old daughter –
Mary” – was doing. My friend grinned and told me about an incident that morning. “Mary” had breathlessly started talking about a new friend, and the coming weekend, and a spelling test…words were tumbling out, with no apparent destination or purpose.

Mary was covering up her nervousness with a blizzard of words.

My friend quickly caught on: “Mary” was going to ask permission to do something unusual, and she was afraid Mom was going to say no. There was a happy ending: Mary will be having a sleepover with her new friend.

What does this have to do with police officers? A lot. I often see reports that are swollen with unnecessary words and information. When I talk to the writer, I get a sheepish smile. The officer admits that they were nervous about writing the report and hoped a blizzard of words would cover up any problems.

Here’s an important principle for you: More doesn’t always mean better. In police writing, more words often add up to wasted time for you and everyone who reads your reports. Another problem is that more words often lead to more mistakes.

Compare the examples below:

Stay out of the blizzard!

Snow plow clearing the road during a blizzard

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Off the Leash

Here’s a summary of a recent police report (not an actual police report). Some words and expressions aren’t appropriate for a police report. One word in particular could cause legal problems for the agency. Which word is it – and why?

Officer Kenneth Wu was on patrol in the 400 block of S 11th St. when he observed a citizen walking a brown pit bull dog off a leash. Contact was made with the citizen and he was advised of the City leash law.

The problem is advised, which means counseled or suggested. A pit bull off a leash is a risky situation: they have a reputation for aggression. The officer should have told the owner to put the dog on a leash.

Suppose the owner continued to walk his dog without a leash – and the dog attacked a child. The owner could argue in court that he wasn’t required to use a leash: it was just a suggestion from the police officer.

Advised is not an appropriate term for most law enforcement situations. Use said or told.

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More about the Rachel Henry Case

In my previous post, I discussed the court narrative about the Rachel Henry case. It’s a sad story about a Phoenix woman who killed her three children, all under the age of three. You can read the narrative on page 3 at this link: https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/6667965-Rachel-Henry-Form-IV-Redacted.html

The court narrative is excellent: professional, objective, and thorough. I do have a few suggestions, however:

Dispatch advised an unidentified female was calling to report three children under the age of three years old were found inside the residence.  [Advised means “counseled.” Use said.]

The father of the children, , and the mother, Rachel Henry were both on scene and transported to Phoenix Police Headquarters for further interview. The homeowner and  aunt, , were also transported.   [State who drove them. Passive voice is inappropriate for criminal justice writing because it often omits the most important fact – the doer.]

Rachel told  she would put the children down for a nap while she was gone.  [“She” is confusing when there are two women. The woman who put the children down for a nap is different from the woman who was gone.
Better: “Rachel said she would put the children down for a nap while  was gone.” OR “Rachel told , “I will put the children down for a nap while you’re gone.”]

Rachel Henry

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The Rachel Henry Case

On January 20, an amphetamine user named Rachel Henry killed her three young children. You can read the story here: https://www.azcentral.com/story/news/local/phoenix-breaking/2020/01/28/rachel-henry-mom-accused-killing-3-kids-indicted-murder-charges/4602682002/

 You can read the Addendum narrative on page 3 of the documents below:

https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/6667965-Rachel-Henry-Form-IV-Redacted.html
The report is thorough and objective, but it could be more efficient.

Straightforward sentences save time (a precious commodity for officers) and make a report more readable. Here’s a portion of the original narrative – 112 words:

On January 20th, 2020 at 1920 hours, officers with the Phoenix Police Department responded to a call of an unknown trouble at 2520 East Vineyard Road. Dispatch advised an unidentified female was calling to report three children under the age of three years old were found inside the residence. Officers and fire personnel responded within several minutes and determined all three children a three year old male, a one year old female, a seven month old female were deceased. The father of the children, , and the mother, Rachel Henry were both on scene and transported to Phoenix Police Headquarters for further interview. The homeowner and  aunt, , were also transported.

This revised version is 84 words – more efficient and easier to read:

On January 20th, 2020 at 1920 hours, officers with the Phoenix Police Department responded to 2520 East Vineyard Road. Dispatch said an unidentified female called to report three dead children under the age of three. Officers and fire personnel confirmed all three children were dead: a male three years old, a female one year old, and a female seven months old. Police drove the father, , and the mother, Rachel Henry, to Phoenix Police Headquarters. They also drove the homeowner and X’s aunt, . 

Some comments:

  • Omit “a call of unknown trouble” – the next sentence explains what the “trouble” was
  • Omit “were both on scene.” If you arrested them, obviously that’s where they were.
  • Dispatch told (not advised) you about the dead children. Advised means “gave advice” – it’s the wrong word here. 

In my next post, I’ll have more examples from the narrative.

Rachel Henry

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A Broad Perspective on Police Reports

Last week a regular visitor to this blog made a comment that’s worth reading.

Nanette J. Berg posted this:

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.

Well said! Police reports aren’t just about commas and pronouns. They’re about money, and your reputation, and the reputation of your agency.

Two reminders:

  1. Write efficiently. Short, crisp sentences save everyone’s time – and help you avoid mistakes.
  2. Always reread what you’ve written before you submit your report.

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A Writing Skills Checkup

Here’s a short quiz about some common writing mistakes. Scroll down for the answers.  (But do try the quiz yourself first!) Warning: some sentences have two mistakes; others have none.

1. Langford said nothing at first, then she slowly told me about the fight.

2. Carlson admitted he was quick to loose his temper.

3. The Smith’s refused to answer my questions about the screaming there neighbors heard.

4. Wiley pointed to back yard and said, “In the shed.”

5. Barton said that the purse was her’s, and she wasn’t going to give it to Farrell.

6. The department is preparing for its first accreditation visit.

Here are the answers:

X  1. Langford said nothing at first. Then she slowly told me about the fight.  (Use a period and a capital letter. You can’t join two sentences with then.)

X  2. Carlson admitted he was quick to lose his temper.  (Loose means “not tight,” and it rhymes with moose. The word needed here is lose.)

X  3.The Smiths refused to answer my questions about the screaming their neighbors heard.  (The Smiths don’t own anything in this sentence. Omit the apostrophe: Smiths is correct. And be careful not to confuse there/they’re/their. This sentence requires their.)

✓ 4. Wiley pointed to back yard and said, “In the shed.”  CORRECT (In the US, periods and commas always go inside quotation marks.)

X 5. Barton said that the purse was hers, and she wasn’t going to give it to Farrell.  (Don’t use an apostrophe with his, hers, ours, yours, and theirs.)

✓ 6. The department is preparing for its first accreditation visit.  CORRECT (There’s no apostrophe in its. Here’s how to tell: try plugging his into the sentence.  “The department is preparing for his first accreditation visit.” It’s – with an apostrophe – means it is: “I think it’s time to leave.”)

How did you do? And – more important – did you catch any errors that tend to slip into your reports?

the word "quiz"

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