by Ian D Scofield
As I mentioned earlier in the week, report writing is something that I have had a lot of time working on. I also believe that it is somewhere everyone can improve on, me included. There are a lot of different tips and tricks you can implement to write better reports. Let’s take a look at some more ways to do so.
Your report should be detailed because it will be a big factor in whether or not the person you are arresting will be prosecuted. It can also make a difference later on when the person is arrested again. Or if it isn’t an arrest, the more detail possible the more likely interactions down the road will be handled the proper way.
A detailed report also allows you to refresh your memory before going to court or speaking with your management. In the worst case scenario, it can also help you defend against a use of force complaint too.
Let’s go back to essay writing for a minute and remember the most important questions to answer:
All of these questions that you had to answer in school are just as important in report writing.
It is true that we all write each our own reports differently but there are always things you can learn from approved reports in your department. You can get the gist of what higher up is looking for. Try going to your reporting software (or records department) and pulling one of as many different types of reports as possible. Read each one through and see what makes them work.
When requesting the reports ask the clerk to get you the best reports they know of. If you are using software, try to look for high profile cases. The more you read, the better you can shape your reports.
Take Important Notes
I will admit that I am one of those people who sometimes focus completely on the incident and takes very little notes. This is just about the worst thing you can do in big cases. You get so focused on preventing something or moving to the next call that your notepad remains blank. While I may be guilty of this, it happens far less than it used to. This is partially due to a conscious effort to take better notes.
Without notes you are left wondering the exact names of people involved, colors of vehicles, or any other detail. Remember, even as people trained to observe our memory is only so good.
My guess is that most people who read this don’t like writing as much as I do so you might groan at this, but go take a writing class. There are many different classes you can take in writing and they specialize in different things from fiction to poetry. No matter what kind of class you take, you will benefit from practice putting words on paper.
That being said, there are classes you can take specifically for report writing. Without even scrolling down on Google a search for “Police report writing classes” turned up two classes and a FLETC videocast.
When you are writing try to use names when possible. Don’t use terms like “the officer” or “the subject”. These make the report less clear and take away from the reader’s ability to flow through your writing.
Police departments and academies used to teach you not to use names because it took away the personal aspect of the report and made it more accurate. This is not true and almost everyone is moving away from this practice because it actually makes the report vaguer.
Your reports are being used to prosecute people for something they have done or to document something that has happened, not something that you suspect has happened. Do your best to have only facts in your report, this helps to make it as accurate as possible.
Now, there are times when you might need to put in something that you suspect or a connection that you have made and if it is needed, that is okay. Just make sure that you note such instances. For example, in a case report for the company I used to work for I have seen reports that note “from my professional experience I believe the substance to be cocaine.” That sentence can’t be used to prosecute that person for the suspected cocaine but it can be used to document what the individual had on them.
Try to avoid using passive voice. This is something I have problems with often times but I am trying to work on it. You want your sentences to read as active sentences. For example, “I discovered drug paraphernalia underneath the bed” as opposed to “drug paraphernalia was under the bed”. I have seen this compared to writing as you would speak in court, not as if you were a machine.
You have been further equipped to take on report writing and I hope these tips and tricks can make a difference in how you handle each incident report. If you utilize at least one of them I will be happy (as a writer). Good luck and stay safe out there!
About the author:
Ian graduated Seattle University with a Bachelor's in Criminal Justice with a Specialization in Administration of Justice. He has held positions as an Auxiliary Public Safety Officer, a Security Patrol Supervisor, and as an in-house security officer for a major medical center. Through all of this he has picked up a wealth of experience, training, and education that he is happy to pass on to others. Ian can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Did you just get a job as a law enforcement officer or are you trying to get one?
Law enforcement is a very rewarding career, one that can enhance your life and benefit you greatly. Preparing for a job in law enforcement shares some similarities to other careers. At the same time it has unique challenges to overcome.
Let’s take a moment to examine how you can prepare for a job as a law enforcement officer.