An Inaccurate Police Report

A recent news story is a useful reminder about why police reports are so important.

The Philadelphia Police Department is dealing with an embarrassing situation: body cam footage contradicts some of the facts in the police report about a deadly Kensington shooting.

You can read the details here:

Patch for Philadelphia Police Department

Image courtesy of Dickelbers – CC License

Sign up for our FREE Police Writer e-Newsletter AND receive “10 Days to Better Police Reports”


The book that’s the KEY to better reports!$17.95 from
Also available for e-readers for $9.99: Click here.

“It will definitely help you with your writing skills.” – Joseph E. Badger, California Association of Accident Reconstructionists Newsletter


Your Friday Quiz

This short quiz will help you prepare for writing challenges as you advance in your career.

Professional writing should avoid unnecessary words. Read the sentences below. Each one could be written more efficiently. Write your own version of each one, and then compare them to the answers below.

1.  Hazardous substances must be secured, i.e. bleach, ammonia, paint thinner, toilet cleaners, pesticides, etc.
2.  Your commitment to advance planning will help ensure that our Open House event is a success.
3.  To preregister for the webinar, fill in the form below.


1.  Be sure to lock up hazardous substances like bleach, ammonia, paint thinner, toilet cleaners, and pesticides. [Use simple language – “lock up” rather than “secure.” Don’t use i.e. It’s a Latin abbreviation for “that is.” Stick to English! Avoid etc. because it makes you look like you’re in too much of a hurry to come up with a complete list.]
Your commitment to planning will help ensure that our Open House event is a success. [Delete advance. Planning is always done in advance.]
3.  To register for the webinar, fill in the form below. [You don’t need pre. Registrations always happen before an event.]

How did you do?

Learning Quiz

Misplaced Modifiers in Police Reports

The term “dangling modifier” may sound like English teachers’ jargon to you, but it points to a real-world writing problem you should avoid in your reports.

If you’re hoping for promotions later in your career, this grammar issue is even more important. Luckily it’s not difficult to learn!

“Dangling” means hanging, and a “modifier” is a descriptionSo a “dangling modifier” is a description in the wrong place.

A dangling modifier is usually easy to spot because it sounds ridiculous! Take a look at these examples:

Spattered around the room, Jones photographed the blood.  DANGLING MODIFIER

I spotted broken glass searching for evidence.  DANGLING MODIFIER

I saw a bloody knife walking through the bedroom.  DANGLING MODIFIER

Here are the corrected sentences:

Jones photographed the blood that was spattered around the room. CORRECT

While searching for evidence, I spotted broken glass . CORRECT

Walking through the bedroom, I saw a bloody knife. CORRECT

Sometimes, though, a dangling modifier is harder to spot. This sentence may look correct on first reading – but it isn’t:

Questioning inmate Kelly, he said his sister had bought the watch for him.  DANGLING MODIFIER

There are two problems with the sentence. First, Kelly didn’t do the questioning. Second, the sentence doesn’t specify who did. The omission might create a problem in a disciplinary hearing or court case, when it’s important to identify all the parties involved.

Here’s the corrected sentence:

When I questioned inmate Kelly, he said his sister had bought the watch for him. CORRECT

Here’s some easy advice: Be careful when you start a sentence with an -ing word. Often it will contain a dangling modifier. If you do start a sentence with an -ing word, make sure it clearly indicates who did what.

A button with the words "Fix It"


Your Friday Quiz

In January 2022, former Arizona Corrections Director was arrested after a 3½-hour standoff with police at his home in Tempe.

Today’s quiz is based on police reporting about that standoff. Below is a list of sentences from the report. (Note that this is NOT the complete report.)

One sentence needs to be rewritten to meet the requirements for an effective report. Which one is it? The answer is below.

News from North Korea

My friend Branch Walton sent me this snippet from a recent PBS news report. Read it carefully (it’s short). Can you find a detail that’s confusing?

Here it is: the shots happened “while chasing a Chinese fishing boat.” Who was doing the chasing? Was it South Korea – or North Korea? You have to read further in the story to find out that the North Korean patrol vessel was doing the chasing.

A grammarian would say that the “chasing” phrase is a misplaced modifier. I say that writing long sentences is a bad idea. That’s how even good writers get themselves tied in knots.

Here’s my version:

South Korea’s military says it fired warning shots at a North Korean vessel. South Korea was watching the vessel chase a Chinese fishing boat. Shots were fired when the vessel crossed the disputed western sea boundary between South and North Korea.

Here’s a simple rule that I’ve found very useful: keep your sentences short!

knotted rope

Photo courtesy of Shelby Steward (Flickr)

Your Friday Quiz

This short quiz challenges you to think what kind of information is useful for a police report.

Instructions: Two versions of the same incident appear below. Read both of them, and then choose A, B, or C for the question that follows.

#1 I was in full uniform when I parked my service vehicle at Jake’s Roadside Bar, entered the building, and proceeded to question the bartender about the fight.

#2  I questioned the bartender about the fight.

Which statement do you agree with – A, B, or C?

A. #1 has more useful information than #2.
B. #2 has all the useful information that’s needed.
C.  #1 and #2 are equally useful.


B is correct. #2 is a better choice for a police report. (Remind yourself often that police reports need to be efficient.)
You were on duty and driving your service vehicle when you were dispatched to the bar, so obviously you were in uniform. Your parking space has no bearing on the incident, so you shouldn’t mention it.

How did you do?

The word quiz spelled out in Scrabble pieces

Driving While Impaired

In September 2021, a man named Alvin Godwin drove his truck off a boulevard in Pensacola, killing a pedestrian on the sidewalk. Godwin was a retired police lieutenant. Officers at the scene believed that this was a DUI case even though the breathalyzer came out clean.

How do you document contradictory evidence like this? The answer is that you record the facts. You don’t try to explain the contradiction. Remember that you’re making a report – you’re not the judge or jury.

Here are the facts as you might write them in your report. (Note that this is not a complete report! It’s an example of how you document what you noticed and did.)

I questioned Godwin about what happened. While he was talking, I saw that he had droopy eyelids, he couldn’t stand up straight, and his speech was slow.

When I asked him to stand on one leg, he told me couldn’t do it.

I administered a breathalyzer test. The results were 0 grams of alcohol per 210 liters of breath.

I searched his pockets and found four white pills and two pill fragments.

Your agency will have a policy about how to document actions done by other criminal justice professionals – taking blood and urine samples, and testing the white pills.  The policy might be to mention them in your report, or to have those experts submit their own reports.

Your Friday Quiz

This short quiz will help you write better reports! Answers are below.

Instructions: Below are two sentences from a police about a theft in a convenience store. Rewrite the statements to make them more efficient. [Note that this is NOT a complete police report.]

1.  Manager Joe Cawdor advised that upon back-tracking the video footage from the shift in which the alleged theft occurred, according to a customer who was a witness, he was able to observe cashier Kathy Slate select the package of cookies, open it, and proceed to consume multiple cookies during her work shift without her paying for said items.

2.  Manager Joe Cawdor advised that during his interview with Slate she not only admitted to the theft of the aforementioned cookies but also to numerous thefts occurring on weekly basis during her approximate seven month tenure at the store.


  1. CCTV footage showed Slate eating a package of Oreo cookies that she hadn’t paid for.
  2. When Manager Joe Cawdor talked to Slate, she admitted to taking the cookies and stealing other items.

How did you do?

Trends in Report Writing

The April 2020 issue of Police Law Enforcement Solutions  has a useful article about police reports (pp. 12-13). The magazine is largely an advertisement for police equipment. Still, the article by Chief Richard Stanley is worth reading:  “Why Police Departments Need Smart Reporting Tools” by Richard Stanley.

Here are the points that interested me:

  • Handwritten reports have two problems. They take your eyes off your surroundings. And passersby may think you’re asleep because you’re looking down while you’re writing.
  • Writing by hand may require an uncomfortable position that can lead to back and neck issues
  • Because writing by hand is time-consuming, officers may be tempted to omit some details
  • Talking is easier than writing for most people
  • Not all officers have learned touch typing

There are useful takeaways even if you’re not considering speech recognition software. Officers and administrators should always be looking for ways to save time without sacrificing accuracy and completeness.

Here are my suggestions. (If you’re a regular visitor to this blog, you’re probably  familiar with these already!)

  • Type each piece of information once. If you’ve already entered the address, date, and other facts, don’t repeat them in the first sentence of your narrative.
  • Use lists to save time.
  • Use your critical thinking skills and experience to determine what information is needed.
    If you’re talking to a homeowner about a stolen bicycle, you probably don’t need to note where you parked your patrol car. But if you think you saw a robbery in progress, it might make a great deal of difference where your car was parked.
  • Don’t repeat your questions unless they have a bearing on the case:

I asked Jones when he last saw the bicycle. He told me he saw it in the garage Tuesday afternoon at about 5:15, when he came home from work. I asked if the garage was locked. He said it wasn’t.  WORDY
Jones said he last saw the bicycle in the garage Tuesday afternoon at about 5:15, when he came home from work. The garage wasn’t locked.  BETTER

  • Practice eliminating unnecessary words: respective, whereupon, for the purpose of  (use for), different (rarely necessary) – and so on. Here are some examples:

The neighbors went back to their respective houses.  WORDY
The neighbors went home.  CONCISE

I heard screeching tires and a loud impact, whereupon I turned onto Callaway Street to investigate.  WORDY
I heard screeching tires and a loud impact. I turned onto Callaway Street.  CONCISE

I asked three different people to tell me what they saw.  WORDY
I asked three people to tell me what they saw.  CONCISE

Learning Quiz

Your Friday Quiz

This short quiz will help you sharpen your writing skills. Answers are posted below.

PART ONE  One of these sentences should NOT appear in a modern police report. Which one is it – and what’s wrong with it?

1.  At the above date these officers responded to the above location in regards to an assault.

2.  I heard a sneeze behind me.

PART TWO  Correct the English usage mistake in the sentence below.

The women had a bruise on her right cheek, and there was fresh blood on the sleeve of her sweater.


1.  At the above date and time these officers responded to the above location in regards to an assault.  INCORRECT  [You already recorded the date,  time, and location in spaces on your computer screen. Don’t waste time mentioning that information again.]

2.  I heard a sneeze behind me.  CORRECT  [Don’t be afraid to use “I” in a police report. You would use “I” and “me” if you were testifying in court, wouldn’t you? They’re perfectly respectable words.]


Note the spelling: there’s only one woman. (Women is plural – more than one.)

The woman had a bruise on her right cheek, and there was fresh blood on the sleeve of her sweater.  CORRECT

How did you do?

Confetti Quiz