Making Your Police Reports Flow
Producing a police report is very different from what you might have learned in your English classes about writing an essay or creating a short story. You can’t just start at the beginning and recount what happened. For one thing, you probably didn’t arrive until the middle of the story. For another, you may hear conflicting or piecemeal accounts from witnesses and suspects.
And sometimes there’s an additional complication: You might become part of the story–apprehending a suspect, uncovering evidence, interrupting a crime in progress. How do you organize all this information?
The answer is to train yourself to think in headings and patterns: Witnesses, suspects, weapons, injuries, evidence, disposition. Each group of facts will become a separate paragraph. Now you have some basic building blocks to work with.
You’ll almost always put information from Witnesses near the beginning of your report. They’re the ones who fill you in on what’s been happening and get the story started.
But what if you’re hearing a jumble of information as excited witnesses jump from one thing to another? Putting this assortment of details together can feel like you’re assembling a jigsaw puzzle.
The solution is to write a separate paragraph for each witness, beginning with something like this: “John Doe told me….” “Mary Doe said….”
You can do the same if you question a suspect at the scene: “Robert Smith told me….”
After you’ve questioned the witnesses, you will probably have other duties, such as seizing a weapon, calling for an ambulance, or looking for latent fingerprints. This information should also be presented in separate paragraphs: One for weapons, one for injuries, one for evidence, and so on.
Often you’ll have an additional paragraph for disposition at the end where you describe what happened to the suspect and evidence. You might mention actions like making an arrest, reading from your Miranda card, transporting a suspect to jail, and tagging and logging a weapon or bloody shirt for the evidence room.
While you’re writing down the facts, avoid getting sidetracked into trying to explain why the witnesses contradicted each other or how you know a suspect was lying. And don’t try to interpret what someone was thinking or offer a theory about what happened before your arrival. Simply record the facts.
What if you become part of the developing story by administering CPR, stopping a fight, or interrupting a robbery? Your actions will become a new paragraph.
Before you submit your report, use the spellchecker. Reread your report to make your sentences are clear, accurate, and professional. Take another look at your notes to make sure you haven’t omitted anything.
Following these guidelines can simplify report writing and help you produce reports that showcase your knowledge and experience as a professional officer.
Jean Reynolds, Ph.D. is Professor Emeritus at Polk State College, where she taught report writing and communication skills in the criminal justice program. She is the author of seven books, including “Police Talk” (Pearson), cowritten with the late Mary Mariani. You can take a free online report writing course at her website http://www.YourPoliceWrite.com. Go to http://amzn.com/0578082942 for information about her book “The Criminal Justice Guide to Report Writing for Officers.”
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