How to Write an Effective Law Enforcement Report

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Law enforcement officers must protect and serve the community, provide citizen assistance, apprehend suspects and prevent crime whenever possible. They must also file incident reports for all calls, arrests, traffic stops and other similar events. Many police departments use standardized forms and some even provide electronic forms on laptop computers or handheld devices. But situations can arise that prevent an officer from using a standard form while the incident is still fresh in his mind, and electronics often fail. For these reasons, police academy training includes a class on report writing. This class details the information required in a standard police report.

1 Record all basic information about the incident

Record all basic information about the incident, including the date and location of the call, the name and badge number of the responding officer(s) and the name of the responding department. Also specify the incident code, the code used by the jurisdictional department to identify the type of call (burglary, suspicious person, etc.). Note the time at which the call was initiated, the time at which the officer responded to the scene and the time that the incident was cleared. Identify the person who initiated the call--either the person who called the police or the officer who self-identified the incident in progress.

2 Detail all known information about the perpetrator

Detail all known information about the perpetrator, if there is one. Include the suspect’s height, weight, identifying marks, hair color, eye color, race, clothing and name, if known. If a vehicle is involved, record all identifying features of the vehicle. For traffic stops, include the name, contact information and license number of the driver as well as vehicle identification information such as make, model, year and color. Indicate whether an arrest was made and, if so, note how the suspect was transported and to which facility. State the name of the officer who provided the Miranda warning as well as the names of all officers who witnessed the warning.

3 Provide information on the victim

Provide information on the victim, if there is one. Include the victim’s name and contact information, including address and phone number. Detail identifying information such as height, weight, race and hair and eye color. If the victim is a minor, is mentally disabled or is incapacitated, note the name and contact information of a person who can identify or speak for the victim, preferably a parent or other legal guardian. Indicate any injuries sustained by the victim, using a diagram if possible.

4 Note any medical assistance

Note any medical assistance provided at the scene, either to victims, suspects or bystanders. Indicate whether any parties were transported for medical care, the name of the transport company and the hospital or medical facility to which the patient was transported. Note all apparent or visible incidences of alcohol or substance use. Indicate any tests given to those suspected of being under the influence and their results.

5 Note the presence

Note the presence of any and all weapons and all evidence recovered at the scene by the reporting officer. Include make or types of weapons as well as any and all identifying marks or serial numbers. Identify all collected evidence by description and a unique number, which will preferably be written in permanent ink on the collection bag or other container.

6 Provide contact

List all witnesses and provide contact information. Summarize the precise witness statement. Do not assume or embellish as this may cause doubt in a trial.

7 Complete a narrative of the incident

Complete a narrative of the incident. Include how the call was initiated, how you approached the scene, what you saw, heard, smelled or otherwise witnessed. Do not embellish or assume. State only fact whenever possible, e.g., "The suspect was walking erratically, was slurring his words and smelled of alcohol" is preferable to "The suspect appeared to be intoxicated." Include all actions completed by victims, witnesses, suspects or officers at the scene. Indicate how the call was closed, including arrest information and/or turnover of the scene to another jurisdiction or department.

Maggie Worth has more than 18 years of marketing and business management experience. She has conducted training classes in resume, fiction and web writing and has written textbooks, resumes, professional and technical documents, ad copy, video scripts and articles for lifestyle magazines. She is director of marketing communications strategy and special projects for a university.