Writing good police reports often eludes officers, who frequently invest little more than a token effort into a chore that they already find monotonous. In reality, though, good reports share a strong narrative flow, clear, concise language and careful attention to detail, among other qualities. The unique pressures of law enforcement careers provide the best incentive for mastering these skills--because failure to do so may cost the officer his job, or life.
Strong Narrative Flow
Walking readers through every step of an incident is critical to avoiding confusion. Good reports stay in sequence, beginning with the time, date, location and nature of the complaint. The narrative should lay out each event as it happened, the officer's response and the outcome. Missing details or jumbled time sequences can jeopardize the credibility of a report and the officer who wrote it.
Avoiding police jargon--such as references to "this officer," for example--will trim excess verbiage that disrupts a report's narrative flow and confuses readers, Lt. Fran Hart says on PoliceOne.com. She further advises to write in the first person whenever possible and clearly identify suspects, victims and witnesses. Continually referring to "Subject #1" or "above date and time," in Hart's view, leaves the reader guessing about what happened.
Attention to Detail
Well-written reports show attention to detail, because information is the lifeblood of police work, Barry M. Baker observes in an excerpt from his book "Becoming A Police Officer." This point becomes important when victims delay reporting traumatic crimes such as sexual assault. Failing to pin down when the crime occurred could help the suspect build an alibi, causing problems for any prosecution.
Getting to the point is another hallmark for all good reports, says Hart, who recalls seeing sentences that run down a whole page. Good reports give readers' eyes a break by avoiding endless sentences and paragraphs, Hart advises, as well as abbreviations and writing done solely in capital letters. Sticking with shorter sentences and spelling out common abbreviations only serves to boost credibility, Hart says.
Taking time to elicit crucial details from victims makes a good report even more valuable, Baker says. Many officers write "No Further Description" based on the first superficial answers that a victim gives, according to Baker--instead of posing further questions that provide a more detailed picture. For example, suspects' ages rank among the most consistent omissions, lessening the report's value to other officers.
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