The New Police Report Manual
WHAT’S THE PROBLEM?
A Field Training Officer (FTO), Rutledge (Author), is on patrol with a patrol officer. He has to type his first police report and is not doing a good job. His officer was disappointed at what he had read in his report; he’s going to show the rookie how it’s done. The officer’s report was not only 50% longer, but full of jargon. The rookie cop stated, “Why do we write like that?” “Because that’s the way we’ve always done it,” replied the officer. After years of being a cop and writing real police reports, Rutledge became a prosecutor. After numerous trails, Rutledge was still boggled at the way police reports were written. So he decided to ask other people in the field of criminal justice and the explanation was the same, “that’s the way we’ve always done it, and no one has bothered to ask why.” The problem is the style is all wrong and everyone is trained to write this way. Rutledge states, “Police reports should be written in the way that you would normally communicate information.” Police reports need to be correct, unclouded and believable otherwise law enforcement personnel will undoubtedly lose the case. During a trial police reports are designed to help the officer out not the criminal; consequently, the court has trouble understanding the reports due to the style, too much jargon, excess big words, and awe and not enough communicating what you know. Rutledge states, “Work smarter not harder.”
THE BEST APPROACH
Rutledge breaks police reporting down. There’s an artificial way to write and a natural way. By writing what comes natural to you, you are less likely to make mistakes, use words incorrectly or worse yet, having trouble understanding your own report come trial day. Rutledge uses the analogy, police have a reason for pulling behind a car (new way) and not in front of a car (old way) when stopping a vehicle. It’s just more safe, and the officer is less likely to get injured. So when you are writing a police report, you could write the safe, natural way or the old artificial way; writing what comes naturally to you will keep you from being killed in court by the prosecuting attorney. Is it your goal in your police reports to awe the court or to communicate and be direct to the point with no jargon? It’s not just police that are guilty for writing in a manner that people have a hard time understanding; lawyers are also notorious at artificial writing. What could have been said in a couple of sentences turns into an entire page of jargon or undigested words. Rutledge states, “The best approach depends on your objective.”
“I” WON’T BITE
We all were required at one point and time to take an English writing class. We’ve learned from English teachers to never write in first person, I, me, mine and/or my. It just wasn’t allowed. Sound familiar, we do things the way we’ve always done them or how we’ve been taught. For example, when you start your police report, the first thing is to say who you are and your rank, so they know who the report belongs to. In your report it’s ok to say I and/or me when referring to yourself. It wouldn’t be natural for you to refer to yourself as a reporting/assigned officer when you are communicating to someone face to face. It’s important for you to paint a picture, for the court of what you experience by saying I felt, I saw, I heard, I smelled. Rutledge states, “Your credibility is going to be enhanced if you write readable, straightforward account of the things you did and saw and heard and if you want to do the best possible job of communicating clearly don’t be afraid to say “I,” “me,” “my,” and “mine.”
When referring to a suspect, victim, and/or witness as a label can be a problem; in-fact, do we really know who’s who? Rutledge states, “Only use a label when you don’t know a name.” In a police report, for example, officers tend to name...