Report writing for Law Enforcement and Corrections
You submit your report to the supervisor. He reads it and says, “This is terrible.” When you ask what is wrong, he stutters, he stammers, he looks at the report and perhaps picks out some phrase or word he doesn’t like. You think, “That’s it?” He hands it back to you and tells you to fix it. You scratch your head and begin the rewrite, not sure what he wants. What’s wrong with it? You don’t know and he doesn’t know exactly how to articulate why he thinks it’s so bad. He only knows he doesn’t like it.
Well, it is probably ugly.
You know what I mean. You know it when you see it, but it is hard to define. Look around you, look at the people you see everyday, look at the people on TV in magazines and the movies. We all pretty much agree on who is pretty, good looking and who is not. Well what makes it so, we all agree, but we cannot describe it. We can point to examples. If you have the talent, you can draw it. Most people do not know what it is, but most of us fail to really think about it.
Well, here it is. It is organization. When you look at a person, your brain sizes up the organization of the face. Is it balanced? Are the eyes even? Are the ears the right size for the head? Are the features balanced? This is the same thing the new technological application is doing. It is looking for organization and balance.
Back to our reports. What is it that the supervisor is subconsciously picking up on in your report? It is the organization. If it is not organized, it is ugly and the supervisor sees it. Many times they don’t exactly know what it is they are seeing, like looking at the ugly person, the supervisor sees ugly, you know, ugly. How do we fix it? Answer, get organized.
Most reports police officers write are written in first person. They are telling the story of what happened to them. Unfortunately, this is a backwards report. Most of them start, “I responded to a crime, I talked to the victim and they said….” and it goes on with the writer telling us what happened to them, the writer. They are telling us what happened to them. This can make for a confusing story as it is told from back to front, or middle to back and then back to front. Rarely do we tell the story from the true beginning to end, unless we were there when it started.
How often does that happen? Right... rarely!
Here is my solution to the problem. Tell the story in the order that it occurred. Gather all of your information from the victim, the witnesses, sometimes the suspect, your observations, and the evidence. Put the information back in the order it actually occurred. Time order is easier to write and easier to read. Some people have criticized this method because you did not see the incident happen. My answer, it is not a statement, it is a description of what happened and it is supported by the testimony of the people and the evidence. To clarify this at the outset, make this statement:
“On date and time, I Officer Name, responded to location reference to crime. My investigation revealed the following information.”