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The Importance and Craft of Report Writing

Michael Server

Report Writing

“Saw drunk, arrested same”. For those of us who are “seasoned” enough to remember the J. D. “Buck” Savage parodies, none is more poignant to report writing than Officer Savage reading his “it’s all there” DWI report in criminal court (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VJbuyC9KaJg). That’s right; those four words represented his entire police report.

Painful Memories

As a former Field Training Officer (FTO), I remember grinding my teeth as I read through rookie officers initial attempts at acceptable report writing. I was consistently amazed at the volume of spelling mistakes, syntax errors, omitted information, disorganization, and unessential verbiage. Unfortunately, this training concern continues to be a major subject for law enforcement supervisors, criminal prosecutors and judges alike.

Communicate-Not Confuse

The primary function of writing a police report is to clearly and effectively “communicate” in chronological order, who, what, when, where, why, and how. It is not meant to astonish the reader with big words and/or redundant babble. For example, how could the following sentence been written more clearly? “It should be noted, according to this officer’s constitutional right to deny a person their freedom, I physically placed Mr. John James Smith III into official detention”. What the officer is really saying is “I arrested Smith”. Many new officers start their careers thinking they need to amaze and impress their coworkers with complex sentences and unnecessary detail. Exactly the opposite is true. The officer’s report should be kept reasonably straightforward so that the majority (not the minority) of the people, who read the report, will have the same comparative understanding of what the officer is communicating to them. AKA-keep the report simple, but comprehensive.

“It Should be Noted That”

At some points in our careers, most of us are guilty of using the phrase, “It should be noted”. This expression should be excluded from every officer’s written vocabulary. As an officer writes or dictates his/her report, he/she suddenly remembers that he/she neglected to include an important element of information in sequential order. Rather than going back and inserting this information where it chronologically belongs, the officer introduces it (“it should be noted that”) at a point that glaringly displays the officer’s disregard to the linear and interrelated parts of his/her report. Visibly, he/she is projecting “I neglected to put this crucial information in the exact order that it occurred, so I am going to introduce it here and highlight my organizational lapse in this permanent court document instead”.

This Officer?

And what about constantly referring to oneself as “This Officer”? Don’t we really mean “I”? Report writing is not an out of body communication experience. Report writing should be written in the first person, which helps to clearly identify who the speaker is and what action he/she was plainly involved in. Certainly, we would not refer to ourselves as “this person” in a typical conversation. Police report writing should depict exactly that tenet and use a spoken, albeit professional tone. Any FTO’s and first line supervisors grinning and nodding their heads yet?


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    clobster

    over 3 years ago

    1552 Comments

    If anyone here would like to see a pretty good report as an example from classes that I took, please send me a message and I'll provide you with a copy of a recent one (names, locations' dates, etc and letter head will be changed and will only be sent to confirmed LEO's on this site) that my Chief told me was "one of the best reports I've seen in years." I took a report writing class for my degree taught by a former prosecutor who taught a very good class. I can recommend a book as well.

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    sandrine_Robinson1

    over 4 years ago

    10 Comments

    this is very interesting i hope i get the chance to used it soon enough.am starting the academy very soon

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    Patrolman25

    over 4 years ago

    178 Comments

    This is some excellent information. It was very helpful. Thank you.

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    AKangel

    over 4 years ago

    4978 Comments

    Great information, Thank you. I will use this to further aid my Loss Prevention Team in their report writing skills as well as my own. It will make things much easier to write reports this way on a daily basis. As the hiring freeze lifts hopefully I can take these skills to academy.
    I have tested twice and passed the tests and report writing however I tore my hamstring on the wall the first go and it proved to not be healed the 2nd go. The wall is Gone so the physical agility is much different than when I tested. I will continue to use this freeze to my advantage in getting physically fit to pass the new physical agility.

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    buck63

    almost 5 years ago

    324 Comments

    I remember my very first felony offense report I had to do. It was a aggravated assault case and my Lt. made me re do it 6 times until it was perfect.

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    ML4825

    almost 5 years ago

    10 Comments

    The basics are the most important! As an instructor of future LE officers, I try to emphasize that proper English and the ability to articulate events in chronological order are the difference between officer’s success and/or humiliation when testifying. It is critical that new officers understand this as they will be establishing their reputation to the courts, attorneys, and public. Poor report writing will also damage the reputation of the agency they work for.
    Keep up the good work and thank you for sharing your opinions of the ART OF BASIC REPORT WRITING.

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    Anonymous

    almost 5 years ago

    Thank you very much. I start the Academy on the 26 TH of this month, and you just gave me a big edge!

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    DebraS

    almost 5 years ago

    8 Comments

    Great article, this is so helpful.

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    GAIL

    almost 5 years ago

    30 Comments

    THIS IS REALLY GOOD , AND SO TRUE.

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    Cetansapa

    almost 5 years ago

    332 Comments

    Thanks for the refresher.

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    pocodan

    almost 5 years ago

    80 Comments

    An excellent article! Now all we have left to do is, send this article to the educators to impart the importance of English as a subject. It would be nice to see reports written without spelling errors, run-on sentences and paragraphs, and had some continuity, etc.
    I was taught that when you write a report it should cover the W5--"when" did it happen, "where" did it happen, "who" was there, "what" happened and what" transpired, and "why."

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    Whoknew

    almost 5 years ago

    106 Comments

    I think my best example was an officer writing about a child neglect case who wrote, "The smell in there would pert near make your eyes water." I had to tactfully suggest more direct and grammatically correct language to describe the odor without leaving anything open for interpretation or ridicule from the stand.

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    trooperman911

    almost 5 years ago

    2544 Comments

    Mr. Server, this article on Report Writing is very interesting, very educational and shares the importance of writing a report that is written for the reader, and that includes all of the facts and not one that embellishes them. A report definitely shouldn't be one like our old favorite, "Buck Savage"! I loved all the Buck Savage series, especially the one of him testifying in court. Thanks for sharing and God bless. MRP.

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    abrown

    almost 5 years ago

    4 Comments

    Back in the 60's I worked for a small dept that was changing all it's old reports onto micro fiche. Most arrest reports were of the sighted drunk arrested same. The best was "saw old George drunk at the Hula Hut. He were drunk and I arrested him" (1942 arrest report)

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    wliben

    almost 5 years ago

    12 Comments

    Interesting.

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