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.

Provide ALL the Evidence

Criminal justice professional Gordon Graham has a free online service – a brief weekly videotaped tip for anyone who works in law enforcement. (You can subscribe, free, at www.Lexipol.com). Graham is a leader in the public safety field – those tips are well worth listening to.

In the weekly tip I’m thinking about, Graham made an important point about something you probably heard again and again in your training program: Reports have to be thorough.

That sounds like common sense, doesn’t it? No need to belabor the point. But Graham brought up a problem you may face a number of times in your career: What if there’s a piece of evidence that doesn’t support an arrest? Do you include it?

Graham gave the example of four witnesses who place a suspect in a black van – and one who says the van was blue. You arrest someone driving a black van. Do you omit that fifth witness who thought it was a blue van?

Graham urged officers to include that “blue van” statement even though it didn’t support the arrest. Fairness is vital to effective law enforcement. Your reports should include both the reasons for the arrest AND evidence that might free the suspect.

A thorough report shows that you are both honest and professional. That’s the kind of reputation you want, isn’t it?

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Your Friday Quiz

This short quiz will help you review some important writing rules. Answers appear below.

Choose the correct word:

1. I didn’t mean to (imply, infer) that she was a bad mother, but that’s what she thought I meant.

2.  We (drug, dragged) the downed tree limbs into a pile near the road.

3.  I asked Carson to show Officer Campbell and (I, me) the damage.

ANSWERS

1. I didn’t mean to (imply, infer) that she was a bad mother, but that’s what she thought I meant.

[Infer means “to figure out.” Imply means “to hint.”]

2.  We (drug, dragged) the downed tree limbs into a pile near the road.

[Drug is slang. Dragged is standard English.]

3.  I asked Carson to show Officer Campbell and (I, me) the damage.

[Shorten the sentence to find the answer: 

I asked Carson to show me the damage.  CORRECT

I asked Carson to show Officer Campbell and me the damage.  CORRECT]

Click here to download a free handout about pronoun rules (I, me, she, her, he, him, and so on].

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The Benefits of Brevity

Today I’m going to ask you to evaluate a police report.

First, some background: In 2014, Ed FitzGerald was the Democratic candidate for governor of Ohio, running against Republican John Kasich.

At 4:30 a.m. on October 13, 2014, someone spotted FitzGerald and a woman in a nearly vacant parking lot. Police were called to investigate, found nothing wrong, and left. The story raised questions about FitzGerald’s character (he was married to another woman).

FitzGerald said the Republican party was adopting sleazy tactics to discredit him in the upcoming election.

Our focus here is on the police report. Suppose you were the officer’s supervisor. Would you ask for changes?

Here’s the FitzGerald report:

What did you decide?

I call this an effective report. It’s brief, objective, and complete. (Of course it would be better to have spelled out “reports”!) There’s no jargon.

Police reports shouldn’t read like novels. There’s no need for long, fancy sentences. Get the facts down, and you’re done.

Take a look at the first sentence: it doesn’t include the date, time, or location, or the officer’s name and ID number. You would already have typed them into the appropriate spaces in your laptop. There’s no need to do it again.

Your narrative should start with the beginning of the story – and that’s exactly how this report was written.

(Follow-up: Governor Kasich was re-elected.)

Edward Fitzgerald

                               Edward Fitzgerald

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Your Friday Quiz

These short quizzes can help you sharpen your writing skills. Answers appear below.

1. Correct the error in this sentence: I’m careful with my keys because I don’t want to loose them.

2. Correct the error in this sentence: We didn’t have to unlock the door, it was already open.

3. Where should you type in the date, time, and location of a police call?

a)  In the appropriate spaces on your laptop screen

b)  In the first sentence of your narrative

c)  In both places

ANSWERS

1. I’m careful with my keys because I don’t want to lose them. CORRECT

[Be careful with lose (it rhymes with “shoes”) and loose (it rhymes with “moose”). The word you need in this sentence is lose.]

2. We didn’t have to unlock the door. It was already open.  CORRECT

[Don’t join sentences with a comma. You need a period. Remember this handy rule: “If it starts with it, it’s a sentence.”]

3. Where should you type in the date, time, and location of a police call?

a)  In the appropriate spaces on your laptop screen

b)  In the first sentence of your narrative

c)  In both places

[Police officers are busy men and women. You don’t have time to retype information you’ve already entered onto your laptop. Your narrative should begin with your first action. The traditional opening sentence – time, date, and so on – isn’t needed in a modern police report.]

How did you do?

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Another Reason Police Reports Are Important

Police reports record facts that can be useful in investigating and prosecuting crimes. But there’s another reason they’re important, and it’s not as obvious: Police reports help track emerging criminal trends.

Ashley Southall is a law enforcement reporter focused on crime and policing in New York City, a beat she started working in 2016. She is also a writer for the New York Times.

She has noticed a trend that many people would applaud: Domestic violence reports are down in New York City. But one criminal justice official is worried.

“Those stats are very scary,” said Melinda Katz, the district attorney in Queens, where domestic violence arrests have fallen nearly 40 percent. “The problem we think people are having is how to notify us.”

Stay-at-home and shelter-in-place orders may mean that domestic violence victims can’t get to a phone to notify the police. You can read the entire article at this link.

Please take a moment to reflect on the paperwork that consumes so much of your time! It’s an essential piece of a huge network of valuable information. You are important. What you do is important. Never lose sight of that!

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Your Friday Quiz

These Friday quizzes are a quick way to refresh your writing skills. Answers are posted below.

1. After studing last year’s crime statistics for our service area, our agency decided to change some of our procedures.

2. I saw a heavy frying pan under a chair in the living room, then I used my cell phone to photograph it.

3. Read the statements below. Which one is the best advice for a police writer?

a) Long sentences make a better impression than short ones.

b) Short sentences are timesavers.

c)  Police jargon testifies to your professionalism.

ANSWERS

1. After studying last year’s crime statistics for our service area, our agency decided to change some of our procedures.

[Be careful with the spelling of words like clarifying and testifying. You can hear the “y” at the end.]  

2. I saw a heavy frying pan under a chair in the living room. Then I used my cell phone to photograph it.

[Don’t use then + a comma to join two sentences. Use a period or a semicolon. Or you can use a comma and a FANBOYS word: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so.]

3. Read the statements below. Which one is the best advice for a police writer?

a) Long sentences make a better impression than short ones.

b) Short sentences are timesavers.  CORRECT

c)  Police jargon testifies to your professionalism.

[Police officers are busy men and women. You need to write efficiently – not only to save time for yourself, but to help others outside of law enforcement who may reader your reports. Skip the jargon. Keep sentences crisp and short.]

How did you do?

On the job training OJT

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The Scoop on Poop

Here’s a press release about a police report. After you’ve read it, scroll down to see how the report could be written more effectively.

The officer took a report by phone from a male caller regarding a littering complaint. He advised that since moving into his residence a month ago, he has had several instances of the neighbor’s dog defecating in his driveway.
He advised that he has not elected to report it until today. He advised the neighbor was out walking her dog and noticed after they were away from his residence that there was a pile of feces in the driveway. He advised he confronted her and asked her to keep her dogs out of his yard. He advised he wanted this incident to be on record for possible future use.

Did you spot the problems? One is the repeated use of advised instead of told. “Advise” should be saved for “counsel” or “give advice”:

He told me that he left work at 5:05.  CORRECT

I advised him to see a doctor.  CORRECT

Inefficiency is another problem. There’s a lot of repetition. “He advised….He advised….He advised….” You can  make a list of the facts – a great timesaver.

And the repeated use of “he” is confusing: Is “he” the caller…or the dog? And why “residence”? Always use the simplest word. In this case, it’s home.

Here’s a more professional rewrite. Notice that it includes a timesaving list:

The officer took a littering complaint by phone from a male caller. The caller said that since moving into his home a month ago, the neighbor’s dog had been defecating in his driveway. The caller finally decided to report it today.

The caller said:

    • he saw his neighbor was  walking her dog
    • there was a pile of feces in his driveway
    • he asked her to keep her dog out of his yard
    • he wanted this incident to be on record

The press release is 109 words long. The rewrite is 82 words long. Which is a better use of the writer’s time?

please clean up after your dog

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Your Friday Quiz

These Friday quizzes offer you a quick brush-up on your report writing skills. Answers are posted below.

1. Correct the error in this excerpt from a police report:

Hansen said someone must have seen her put the key under a flower pot. Although, she didn’t see anyone on the sidewalk when she unlocked the door.

2.  Which information could be listed in a police report, rather than written in sentences?

a) Returning a wandering Alzheimer’s patient to his home

b) Reporting the items stolen during a break-in

c) Checking a driver’s license and car registration during a traffic stop

d)  All of the above

3.  Which word choices are better for a police report? Choose one word from each pair:

initiate/begin                                                 next/subsequent     

the abovementioned suspect/Johnson     now/currently

ANSWERS

1. Here’s the corrected version:

Hansen said someone must have seen her put the key under a flower pot although she didn’t see anyone on the sidewalk when she unlocked the door.

Don’t put a comma after although. Although is a word that begins an extra idea. Make sure you attach it to a real sentence.

You could also rewrite the sentence like this: 

Hansen said she didn’t see anyone on the sidewalk when she unlocked the door. But someone must have seen her put the key under a flower pot.

2.  Which information could be listed in a police report, rather than written in sentences?

a) Returning a wandering Alzheimer’s patient to his home

b) Reporting the items stolen during a break-in  CORRECT

c) Checking a driver’s license and car registration during a traffic stop

d)  All of the above

Click here to learn more about timesaving lists in police reports.

3.  Which word choices are better for a police report? Choose one word from each pair:

initiate/begin                                                 next/subsequent     

the abovementioned suspect/Johnson     now/currently

Police reports need to be readable and efficient. Choose plain words whenever you can.

The word "Quiz"

 

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A Domestic Violence Report

Officers often tell me they’re worried about grammar. They don’t understand gerunds, clauses, and other grammar terminology. How can they be effective writers without that knowledge?

My answer is always that they already know grammar. They’ve been creating sentences all their lives!

What I most often see missing in reports is something they may not have thought about: critical thinking. They may need an experienced officer to show them what’s needed in a report – and what can be omitted.

Efficiency is all about critical thinking. You may be overloaded with information after making an arrest. You need to decide what’s necessary – and omit the rest.

Today I have an example from a domestic violence report:

Upon arriving at the Bethesda West Emergency Room, I met with Nurse Leisen who advised me of the following.

She overheard a male subject stating that he had pushed his wife causing her to fall breaking her hip after arguing with her. I met with a male subject identifying himself by his Florida driver’s license as Edward A. Aronson in room 115.

It’s not necessary say that you arrived at the emergency room and met with the nurse. If you record her statement, it’s obvious that you were there and talking to her. (And please don’t use advised. The nurse wasn’t giving you advice. She was telling you about a possible crime.)

Sometimes suspects (and victims too) give false ID’s. It can be important to show that you did the professional thing and verified their identification. But a hospital patient and her husband are unlikely to fall into that category.

To repeat: Use your critical thinking skills to decide what information is necessary.

Here’s a rewrite that’s more efficient:

I was dispatched to Bethesda West Hospital. Nurse Leisen told me she overheard a man saying he broke his wife’s hip during an argument.

I met with Edward A. Aronson in room 115.

The original version is 62 words. The revision is 33 words – and has all the information needed. Which version is a better use of a busy officer’s time?

An angry man with clenched fist about to commit domestic violence

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