On February 18, former Miss Alabama Zoe Bethel jumped from a third-floor balcony and died. She was 27 years old. You can read the full story at this link.
You can read the police report at this link: https://henryclubs.com/miss-alabama-zoe-sozo-runs-full-speed-to-railing-of-bethel-third-floor-balcony/
Today I’m going to be talking about brevity. Police officers are busy people; so are the people who read police reports – police chiefs, district attorneys, reporters, and many others.
I’m going to ask you to read the original report and then compare a briefer version. You’ll notice that the original report is detailed, accurate, and objective. It’s also wordy. “Stated” is repeated five times, even though just one person was talking.
Here’s the original report:
Upon arrival, units observed subject of report (Zoe Sozo Bethel) a black female unresponsive laying on the ground on the west side of the building parking lot. Fire rescue Lt. Jackson responded to the scene and transported SR to Jackson Memorial Hospital Trauma Center. Witness Santiago Roman who was the brother of SR stated he and SR were at a restaurant a couple of hours earlier and observed SR take an unknown amount of an unknown suspected narcotic. Witness asked SR what she was taking and she replied, “It’s something that makes me relax.” Witness stated once they arrived at the apartment she stated she was feeling hot and wanted to take a shower. Witness further stated SR after a shower and she got dressed and went out the front door to the hallway. Witness stated he went out to the hallway and observed SR acting erratically pacing back and forth. Witness stated when he went to approach SR she took off running westbound down the hallway and observed SR jump off the third floor of the building.
Here’s a more efficient version. The information is exactly the same, but this version is easier to read and 16 percent shorter (Notice that only the witness statement uses a list. The rest of the report is written normally.)
Upon arrival, units saw Zoe Sozo Bethel, a black female, unresponsive lying on the ground on the west side of the building parking lot. Fire rescue Lt. Jackson responded to the scene and transported Bethel to Jackson Memorial Hospital Trauma Center.
Witness Santiago Roman is Bethel’s brother. He told me:
- He and Bethel were at a restaurant a couple of hours earlier
- He saw her take an unknown amount of an unknown suspected narcotic
- Bethel told him, “It’s something that makes me relax”
- They went back to the apartment
- She said was feeling hot and wanted to take a shower
- After the shower she got dressed and went out the front door to the hallway
- He went out to the hallway and saw her pacing back and forth
- When he approached her, she took off running westbound down the hallway
- He saw her jump off the third floor of the building
Which report do you think is a better use of an officer’s time?
Police departments that value efficiency encourage officers to use a list when recording a lengthy statement from a witness. (Lists may have other uses too – recording stolen items, for example.) Try a list and see for yourself!