A Happy Ending for a Preschooler

I used to work with an academy instructor who had a great system for teaching report writing. I learned a lot from her!

One thing she often said to nervous students has really stayed with me: Do each part of the report separately.

Very often police calls are stressful. You might have to talk to several people to figure out what happened.

My colleague always warned academy students not to try to tell the story all at once, in one big ball. Have a separate paragraph for each person you talked to.

Here’s a true story we used when we taught together. A toddler was enrolled in a preschool program. His classroom was on the second floor of a school building.

A young man walking a dog near the school looked up and saw the boy hanging from a window. The man talked to a para-professional, who told the principal, who called 911. By the time the officer arrived, the child was standing up. He had fallen onto a pile of dirt from a chicken coop on the school grounds.

Whew.

The only part you witnessed firsthand was seeing the child on the pile of dirt. How do you write all of this in a report?

Here’s an excerpt from the narrative of the actual report:

Event #07779 in summary, responded to a call of a child who had fallen from a second story window at the Oscar Mayer School located at 2250 N. Clifton. R/O was met by the principal X who related that she had been alerted by X (Para-professional) at the school that a student was hanging from a second story window located in Classroom #213. X had been outside with a group of students and had been alerted by a young male walking his dog by the school that the victim was hanging out of the window.

Here’s an alternative that I think is better. Notice that in my version, I omitted the school address. It would already be recorded on your laptop. (I’ve also invented the names in the report.)

Notice too that I kept my sentences short. The first sentence in the actual report (above) has 63 words. There’s no reason to cram that much information into one sentence!

On December 8 I responded to a call about a child who had fallen from a second story window at the Oscar Mayer School. I saw the child, Herbert Callon, with a paraprofessional, Mary Jones.

I checked Herbert for injuries and saw that he wasn’t seriously hurt. I called for an ambulance to take him to Lurie’s Children Hospital for further examination.

I spoke to the principal, Catherine Flaherty. She told me that a young man named Frank Maserty was walking his dog past the school. He heard a child’s voice and looked up. He saw a little boy hanging out of a second-floor window.

Frank saw Mary Jones with a group of children on the school playground. He ran over to Mary and pointed to the little boy. They both saw the little boy fall onto a pile of dirt from a chicken coop on the school grounds.

Mary checked the little boy, Herbert Callon, and then took him to the principal’s office. The principal called 911.

Back to my teaching colleague. She used to remind academy students that a police report is just a story. Take it in small parts, use your thinking skills, and you’ll do fine.

On the job training OJT

 

Share

Your Friday Quiz

This short quiz will help you sharpen your writing skills. Answers are posted below.

PART 1  Correct the errors in the sentences below.

  1. Muriel Albertson told me that the Johnson’s usually return from church at about 11:45 AM.
  2. We tried not to breath because the smells were so strong.
  3. I wasn’t sure it was Frank Janick because the voice sounded differently from what I remembered.

PART 2

Imagine that you’ve met with Officer Josephson to talk about his inappropriate language with women. Now you’re going to document the meeting and include a sentence like the ones below. Read the sentences below, and then choose a, b, or c.

  1. I advised Josephson that he needed to use respectful language when talking to women.
  2. I told Josephson that he needed to use respectful language when talking to women.

   a) #1 is the better choice for criminal justice writing.
   b) #2 is the better choice for criminal justice writing.
   c)  Both sentences are appropriate for criminal justice writing.

ANSWERS

PART 1

  1. Muriel Albertson told me that the Johnsons usually return from church at about 11:45 AM.  [The Johnsons don’t own anything in this sentence. Omit the apostrophe.]
  2. We tried not to breathe because the smells were so strong. [Use breathe, not breath.]
  3. I wasn’t sure it was Frank Janick because the voice sounded different from what I remembered.  [Sounded different is correct. Omit the -ly.]

PART 2

  1. I advised Josephson that he needed to use respectful language when talking to women.
  2. I told Josephson that he needed to use respectful language when talking to women.

The correct answer is b. #2 is a better sentence because told is stronger than advised.

Advise is too weak for this situation. It means “to counsel” or “suggest.” You want a written record that you told Josephson what he needed to do. 

Learning Quiz

Share

Who or Whom?

Which word is correct in this sentence: who or whom?

He said he would find whoever/whomever was responsible for the attack.

The trick I use is to substitute he and him. He = who. Him = whom. (If this sounds crazy to you, please hang in with me for a moment. It will get easier – I promise!)

He said he would find he was responsible for the attack.

He said he would find him was responsible for the attack.

I know, I know. It sounds like a crazy system! But it works like a charm. You knew he (who) was the correct choice. That means whoever is correct too.

He said he would find whoever was responsible for the attack.  CORRECT

But I promised you an easier way, and here it is. Whom and whomever are disappearing from our language. I say good riddance! They don’t add anything helpful to a sentence. It’s a pesky distinction that’s not worth the time and effort. 

Just use who and whoever, and you’ll be fine. That’s a guarantee.

an owl saying "whom"

Share

Your Friday Quiz

This short quiz will help keep your writing skills sharp! Answers appear below.

Fix the errors in the sentences below:

1. She and her neighbor had a verbal agreement about keeping the hedge trimmed.

2. Samuels said he heard alot of noise outside at about 2 AM.

3. Johnson said “she saw the door was open when she came home.”

Here are three sentences. Which one is an example of good police writing?

1. Herewith is a summary of what Johnson told me.

2. In response to my question about what had ensued, Johnson provided me with the following information.

3. Johnson told me that the front door was open when she came home, and she immediately called 911.

ANSWERS

1. She and her neighbor had a verbal a spoken agreement about keeping the hedge trimmed.

[Verbal means “using words,” so it can refer to both writing and speech. Call it a spoken agreement or an oral agreement.]

2. Samuels said he heard a lot of noise outside at about 2 AM.

[A lot is two words.]

3. I asked Clarkson “when she usually returned home from work.”

[Use quotation marks only for someone’s exact words. Here are better versions of this sentence:

Johnson said she saw the door was open when she came home.

Johnson told me, “The front door was open when I came home.”]

Here are three sentences. Which one is an example of good police writing?

1. Herewith is a summary of what Johnson told me.

2. In response to my question about what had ensued, Johnson provided me with the following information.

3. Johnson told me that the front door was open when she came home, and she immediately called 911.

[The first two sentences are time wasters. Just write what Johnson told you. In most cases you don’t have to write down your own question.]

How did you do?

A cup of coffee with a message "Unlock your confidence"

Share

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?

Share

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].

Share

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

Share

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?

Share

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!

Share