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.

Your Friday Quiz

Here are three sentences from police reports. Two of them are good, professional sentences. But one sentence is missing an important piece of information. Can you spot the sentence that has a problem?

  1. Sitnikov was patted down, and a small plastic bag containing white powder was found in his left back pocket.
  2. Carson told me he didn’t hear anything unusual Tuesday evening.
  3. When I walked up to the counter, I recognized the woman standing in line in front of me.

The problem sentence is #1. Who patted Sitnikov down and found the plastic bag? The sentence doesn’t say. That omission could be a problem if there’s a court hearing later on.

Here’s a better version of the sentence:

  1. I patted Sitnikov down, and in his left back pocket I found a small plastic bag containing white powder .  BETTER

the word "quiz"

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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 Jacob Nix Police Report

Last October, a major league pitcher got drunk and illegally entered a house through a doggie door. Jacob Nix from the San Diego Padres and a friend, Thomas Cosgrove, told police they thought they were entering Nix’s house.

The homeowner called police and kicked Nix in the face before help arrived. Police charged both Nix and Cosgrove with criminal trespassing.

You can read the entire story here and the probable cause statement here.

It’s a good professional report, but it could be better. I’m going to examine two sentences today:

The defendant was confronted by V1 who engaged in a physical altercation with him by kicking the defendant one time in the face. During this time, the co-defendant T. Cosgrove reached into the doggie door in an attempt to pull the defendant out.

Some comments:

  • There’s no need to use the terms V1 and co-defendant. The report is easier to read if you just use their names. (Remember, many busy people – attorneys, judges, reports, and so on – may be reading your police reports.)
  • A physical altercation is a fight. Use clear, plain words.
  • “During this time” is unnecessary. Make your reports as brief as possible.

Here’s my version:

The homeowner kicked Nix in the face. T. Cosgrove reached into the doggie door and tried to pull Nix out.

The original version is 43 words; mine is 21. Which do you think is a better use of a police officer’s valuable time?

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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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A Botched Police Report

Today’s post is about a mistake in a police report that led to serious consequences. It’s a good reminder to take some time to review each report before you submit it.

In Louisville, Kentucky, a driver named Joseph Luckett was driving drunk and crashed into another car, killing the driver. But the police report mistakenly stated that the other driver was drunk. Nobody caught the mistake, and a judge lowered Luckett’s bond from $100,000 to $5,000.

Luckett had a previous criminal history. But his attorney pointed out that Luckett wasn’t at fault, according to the police report, and the judge agreed. Luckett posted bond and was released.

Police spokesman Sgt. Lamont Washington later said the arresting officer made a “clerical mistake in the narrative of his citation.” You can read the entire story here.

Anyone can make a mistake! Always check your reports over before you submit them. An officer who’s tired after a long shift can easily get a fact wrong.

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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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Your Friday Quiz

Writing skills are essential when you’re writing police reports. As you climb the career ladder in law enforcement, writing skills become even more important.

Here’s a short quiz that will help you avoid some common mistakes. Answers and explanations are posted below.

1.  That miniscule tear on her jacket turned out to be an important clue.

2.  The blizzard wrecked havoc on our travel plans for the conference in Texas.

3.  I warned the boys not to step foot on Mr. Baker’s perfectly maintained lawn.

4.  While I was interviewing Flannery, I saw a women watching us through an upstairs window.

Bonus question: Rewrite this sentence in modern criminal justice style:

The abovementioned suspect is now in custody.

ANSWERS:

That minuscule tear on her jacket turned out to be an important clue.  [Look for the word minus, and you’ll always spell minuscule correctly!]

The blizzard wreaked havoc on our travel plans for the conference in Texas.

I warned the boys not to set foot on Mr. Baker’s perfectly maintained lawn.

While I was interviewing Flannery, I saw a woman watching us through an upstairs window.  [Be careful not to confuse woman and women.]

Bonus question: This suspect is now in custody.

The word "Quiz"

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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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Revise a Paragraph

Today we’re going to streamline a paragraph police report from 2014.

New England Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones said he made a “pretty stupid mistake” that caused him to be admitted to Norwood Hospital in  Massachusetts on January 10. He arrived at the police station shirtless, disoriented, and asking for help. An officer went to Jones’ house to pick up clothing for him and noticed a smell of “burnt marijuana.” No charges were filed.

Marijuana use is banned by the NFL. A first violation results in the player being referred to the league’s substance abuse program, but no fine or suspension.

You can read the story and police report here. The report is thorough and professional but overlong. Busy police officers might benefit from reading it and thinking about ways to make it shorter.

I found two problems with the first paragraph.

Approximately 07:40 Hrs. — Officer Foscaldo arrives at officer parking area to START his day shift. He and Reserve Officer Headd, who was completing his mid-night shift, engaged in conversation.

This paragraph doesn’t contain any useful information. Another problem is that it’s written in present tense (“Officer Foscaldo arrives”). 

The second paragraph has many filler words and phrases. What words can be crossed out without losing any useful information? I found 14 of them. That’s a lot of wasted writing time in just one paragraph. Which words would you cross out?

It was at that time Foscaldo observed a shirtless black man wearing blue sweatpants. This individual had a muscular build, over 6 feet tall and long arms. in a very hurried fashion this individual scurried through the lot where cruisers were parked, and then made a direct line to the rear, Police Only, entry point to the station. Without warning or provocation the individual abruptly got down on his knees and placed his hands behind his head.  [77 words]

Here’s my version, with unnecessary words in green

It was at that time Foscaldo observed a shirtless black man wearing blue sweatpants. This individual had a muscular build, over 6 feet tall and long arms. in a very hurried fashion this individual scurried through the lot where cruisers were parked, and then made a direct line to the rear, Police Only, entry point to the station. Without warning or provocation the individual abruptly got down on his knees and placed his hands behind his head.

I also changed observed to saw and this individual to he:

Foscaldo observed saw a shirtless black man wearing blue sweatpants. This individual The man had a muscular build, over 6 feet tall and long arms. This individual He scurried through the lot where cruisers were parked, and then made a direct line to the rear, Police Only, entry point to the station. The individual He abruptly got down on his knees and placed his hands behind his head.  [61 words]

Here’s the final version – 16 words shorter:

Foscaldo saw a shirtless black man wearing blue sweatpants. The man had a muscular build, over 6 feet tall and long arms. He scurried through the lot where cruisers were parked, and then made a direct line to the rear, Police Only, entry point to the station.  He abruptly got down on his knees and placed his hands behind his head.Chandler_Jones 2

 

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What Information Is Needed?

Here’s a summary I saw recently on an online police bulletin board. I have two questions for you:

  1. Can you spot a vague word that needs to be more specific?
  2. What other information would you need if you were writing a police report?

11:58 p.m. – Caller reported a woman had kicked in his front door, damaging the frame. The woman fled as police arrived but was contacted a short time later. She admitted to being angry and kicking the door in. She was also intoxicated and only 18 years of age. The woman was charged with Intentional Damage to Property and Minor consuming/possession of alcohol.

The word that concerned me was contacted. It could mean knocked on her door, made a phone call, or sent a telegram or an email.

Here is a list of other information you might need to include in your report:

  • Name and address of the caller
  • Name and address of the suspect
  • How you identified her
  • How she got away – on foot? in a car?
  • How you know she was intoxicated
  • Whether she was searched and what was found
  • How police contacted her 
  • What she said to police
  • Medical attention she needed
  • What the caller said about the incident
  • The name of the officer who arrested her, read her rights, and took her to jail

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A Comma Problem

A 2015 murder case is a good example of why so many officers feel confused about commas. I’m going to discuss a sentence from a newspaper article about the case. But the same problem often shows up in police reports, and you may also have to grapple with it if you’re working on a college degree.

Shannon Lamb, a Delta State University professor, allegedly killed his girlfriend, Amy Prentiss, and another professor, Ethan Schmidt. As police closed in on him, Lamb took his own life.

The Associated Press published a photo of a hand-written note provided by police in Gautier, Mississippi. (You can read the entire story at this link.)

When I read the caption under the photo, I was bothered by this wording: 

 …accused of killing Prentiss, his girlfriend and a colleague, fellow Delta State professor Ethan Schmidt.

How many people – one, two, or three? A girlfriend named Prentiss who’s a colleague, or a girlfriend named Prentiss and another person who’s a colleague, or Prentiss, a girlfriend, and a colleague?

But if you add another comma, it’s still confusing:

Penn State University professor Shannon Lamb is accused of killing Prentiss, his girlfriend, and a colleague, fellow Delta State professor Ethan Schmidt.

This sentence illustrates why it’s so important to teach writers to think rather than simply have them diagram sentences and complete workbook exercises.

The comma before and is often called an Oxford comma. Some authorities claim you have to use it. Others claim you should never use it. They’re all wrong, for reasons I’ll explain in a moment.

Here’s what I would have done: Add the word both. The revised sentence would read, “Lamb is accused of killing both Prentiss, his girlfriend, and a colleague, fellow Delta State professor Ethan Schmidt.” Problem solved!

There are two takeaways for you.

1.  Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you can solve any sentence problem with a punctuation mark. Sometimes you’ll need to cross out a sentence and rewrite it. Often I find that I need to break one long sentence into two shorter ones – there’s no other way to make my point clear.

2.  There is no absolute rule about the Oxford comma. Book publishers require it; newspapers forbid it. When I’m writing for myself (this blog, for example), I prefer to use it.

Note that I said “prefer.” When the Oxford comma doesn’t work in a sentence, I don’t use it. Hooray for common sense!

keyboard with an Oxford comma key

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The Pop Tart Incident

On December 15, a Florida man named Brian Sutherland threw a pop-tart at his wife during an argument. He also struck her in the arm. You can read more here: http://www.thesmokinggun.com/buster/domestic-battery/pop-tart-battery-case-764210

Here’s the police report. It’s detailed, thorough, and professional. I see a few sentences that  could be revised, however. What do you see as you read it?

Here are my comments:

1.  Defendant is misspelled . If there’s a common word you have trouble spelling (most of us do!), write it on an index card and carry it with you. Study it in spare moments – or pull out the card every time you write a report.

2.  Omit unnecessary details. Your common sense will tell you whether you need to write down any questions you asked. In this incident, the only information that matters is what the husband and wife told you. Omit your questions.

3.  Omit unnecessary words. All arguments are verbal, for example. You don’t need verbal. Here are two more examples of sentences that could have been written more efficiently:

The victim stated she and the defendant were involved in a verbal argument.
My version: The victim said she and her husband were arguing.

 She stated the defendant became upset and intentionally threw a pop-tart at her head.
My version: She said he became angry and threw a pop-tart at her head. (It’s impossible to throw something unintentionally! And you don’t need to keep repeating “the defendant.” There are only two people in this incident – the husband and wife.)

On the whole, however, this is an effective police report.

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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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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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