The Do's And Don'ts Of Incident Reporting

December 26, 2017

The Do's And Don'ts Of Incident Reporting

by Ian D Scofield

Incident report writing is an important part of policing.  Your reports allow the prosecutor to properly handle cases after law enforcement is done with your portion of a case.  The better of a report that you write, the better their case will be.  Today we are going to discuss some do's and don'ts of incident reporting.

Remember that these are just general do's and don'ts and some of them won't apply to you.  Keeping an open mind will help you to catch do's and don'ts that you might not even realize are relevant to you though.

Do Tell The Truth

This one is obvious and I don't want to come off as accusing people of lying or fudging the truth.  Including only the truth in an incident report is just the number one part of writing your report.  Failure to tell the truth could result in consequences for both you and your department.  It can also result in problems with prosecution.

Don't Include Opinions

In most cases your opinion should not be included in a report.  Your report is all about facts and what happened.  Opinion doesn't have a place there and can lead to confusing readings of your report.

Do Include All Of The Relevant Information

One of my duties at my last job and my current job is reviewing case reports for proper writing.  Nothing can be more frustrating than when an individual doesn't include all of the relevant information.  Making sure that details such as license plate numbers, descriptions, post incident debriefing, is critical.

Also including any photographic evidence that you take with the report will help to keep your report snappy.

Don't Submit Without Reviewing

Most mistakes and accidental omissions in reports can be caught if you spend the time to review your report once or twice before submitting.  It is in the human nature to just want to get the details out and get done with a report.  Part of this comes from the fact that most of us don't like report writing.

It can help to read your report out loud to yourself once.  This helps your mind to better catch errors that your eyes might just pass over otherwise.

Do Request Supplemental As Needed

Again, report writing isn't a favorite part of the job for many people.  That means in many cases people will shy away from wanting to write reports.  If you write a report that involves other officers who have relevant information, ask those other officers to submit supplemental reports to help clarify details.

Don't Put Your Reports Off

The sooner after an incident that you start on your report, the more you will remember and the more accurate your report will be.  On a busy night, you might not have the chance to get your report down but in that case, at least take a chance to jot down notes about what you want to write.

Do Review Witness Statements With The Witness

Solid case reports often involve a witness statement.  Witnesses don't necessarily know the intricacies of what needs to be said.  AFTER the witness has written their statement, walkthrough it with them without guiding them.  Just make sure that they have written all of the relevant information down.

It is important that you not be leading the witness, but instead working with them.

Don't Use The Third Person

Your reports are about what you did, what you witnessed, and the likes, not about someone else.  Why would you use the third person for something that you were there for?  While some older styles of report writing asked for this but it will have a negative affect on your report.  Words like I and me and my should be used.

Do Spell Out Abbreviations The First Time

The first time that you use any abbreviation in a report you should spell it out.  For example, if you were going to use NYPD, the first time that you wrote it, you should write New York Police Department (NYPD).  This will help non-police personnel that might need your report to get all the information they need from it.

Don't Use Complicated Terms

There are plenty of police specific terms and jargon that you could use in a report but don't.  Other people, including the defense attorneys in your case are going to be reading your report.  The clearer that your report it is, the more defensible it is and the more likely a conviction is.

While some departments are testing moving away from having their officers write reports, the majority of police departments still have officers writing reports.  The more accurate your report is and the more time you spend on the report, the better it will be.  Just don't spend so much time on the report that you are distracted from your shift.

Stay safe out there.



About The Author:

Ian is a staff writer at APTI and hospital security officer at a major medical center who has a Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice with a Specialization in Administration of Justice.  He has held multiple positions in the security industry from patrol supervisor to auxiliary public safety officer.  At APTI he brings his writing skills to help further the careers of others and provide quality content.  Feel free to visit his freelancing site or his creative writing site.

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