Police Report Writing
Writing A Good Police Report
As a sergeant, I now go through and read officer's police reports on a regular basis. In doing this, I've realized that there a lot of officers that are either making their police report writing more difficult then they need to be, forgetting important elements, adding more then needed, or just not making the police report flow. I've learned and understand now that every officer's police report will always be different in the way they are presented, and that's fine; however, I'm going to try to explain and illustrate how my first training officer taught me, and how I personally think its one of the better ways to write reports. And its quite simply making it simple for the reader to follow along. The reason is, you never want your reader to get lost, or wonder what's going on while they're reading. You want to make it as simple as possible for them by painting the picture.
So the first rule of thumb in police report writing is sticking to basics and keeping it simple. When I begin a police report, I will literally just sit down and start typing what happened in chronological order. The first line is almost always the same (just different dates of course), "Sir, on Wednesday, March.3rd, 2008...while working with Ofc . T. Johnson as D#232, we received a call from 911 dispatcher (name) to 123 Anywhere St. for a Man with a Gun." This opening line literally answers several questions that I've seen a lot of officers include later in a police report, vaguely in a police report, or not even at all. As a result, the police officer could be questioned in court as to who they were working with, who gave them the call, the time of the call, and/or what the call was about. But most importantly, the reader totally understands what's going on at this point, and can even picture what you are doing as well, making the story "flow."
The next sentence, same paragraph, could be "Dispatcher (name) indicated that the subject was an ex-boyfriend of the caller, and described him as a M/W (male white), 5'8", 185 lbs, wearing a blue t-shirt with blue jeans. He was also driving an older model Ford Expedition blue in color, and was standing outside of his vehicle in front of the residence." This information is exactly as you received it, so it should go exactly here. Its important to remember that the reader knows nothing about this call and should therefore be "walked through" everything as it happened in a way that you are literally painting a picture to the reader, so they can picture what is going one. The reader has heard the information exactly as you have. Let's move on...
Next paragraph in the police report could be, "We arrived at approximately 1728 hrs. As we approached, I observed an older model blue Ford Expedition parked in the driveway of 123 Anywhere Street. There was a M/W sitting in the driver's seat and I could see that there was a F/W standing in the front yard." With this line, there is again no confusion with your reader in this police report. The reader can literally picture you pulling up in your police car, and can "see" what you saw exactly as it happened. Some of the mistakes I see at this point in a police report with some officers is, they will start this second paragraph with something like "Officer (Me) spoke with complainant who stated Mr. Suspect pointed a gun at her and said he would kill her." The problem with this line is that you've skipped the "arriving" part (i.e. what you saw as you approached) which leaves the reader guessing, or learning later, what you saw when you approached. Sure, it might not be important in some cases, but it really paints a simple picture of what actually happened. And for this particular case, it shows why you did what you did later in the story. Another point in this line is, you're referring to yourself as third person, which I personally feel confuses readers and doesn't sound natural. Its better to say "I spoke to the complainant," or "Mrs. (name) told me that..." When you lay it out in simple language like this, its very simple for the reader to understand. In fact, I tell officers this a lot: Type your report how you would explain to someone in person what happened. When you're telling your friend or co-worker what happened, you don't say "Yeah, we got this call, and reporting officer (you) spoke to complainant.." You would say "We received a call for a man with a gun, and when we got there, there was a guy standing in the front yard with a gun!" It might not be word-for-word like this, but the point is, type your story how you would say it, and people will understand it much easier. Moving on again...
So the next line could be, "My partner and I approached the truck. I was on the driver's side and my partner stood on the passenger side. I asked the driver to slowly step out of the driver's door. As he was stepping out, I noticed..." Again, your reader is still with you. They can picture exactly what has happened, as you saw it and experienced it. To continue..."I noticed a black revolver handgun laying on the driver's side floor board. I ordered the man to put his hands behind his back (for my safety), and handcuffed him. I asked Mr. (whoever) if he had aCCW permit, and he stated "Nope." My partner then placed Mr. (whoever) in the back of our cruiser." Again, the reader is still with you, and can picture what has happened to this point perfectly. There is no confusion.
Continuing, "I checked the weapon and found it to be loaded with six live rounds, which I unloaded for safety. Upon looking over the weapon, I found it to be a Smith & Wesson, model...which I checked throughLEIN ." "I secured the weapon and rounds in the trunk of our cruiser, while my partner began talking with the complainant (who was the woman we initially saw standing in the front yard)."
I could go on, but I think you get the point. We've hit all the important parts in this police report (to this point) in chronological order, in a simple step-by-step explanation. There are no "skips" or "jumps" in the story, meaning, the reader doesn't have to wonder "How or when did they get in the house?" or "Where did this guy come from?" If your reader has to get to the fourth paragraph to know what you're talking about in the second paragraph, then you need to take a closer look.
Another thing to consider is you may have to testify 5 years down the road from when you actually typed your police report (simply because the bad guy was finally caught on the warrant). As a result, you may forget little details yourself and wonder "Where did I first see this guy?" or "Where was the lady standing when I first arrived?"
Anyway, I hope these tips help you with your police report writing.
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