Police officers sometimes wonder whether their police reports matter. Does all that time and effort ever make a difference?
A recent police report confirms that sometimes, at least, the answer is an emphatic yes. On October 23, Javier Jesus Lopez was arrested in Hialeah, Florida, for aggravated battery and causing great bodily harm.
His victim was a Republican campaign worker who claimed that the attack was politically motivated. Soon Republican Senator Marco Rubio went public with a similar complaint.
But here’s the thing: politics isn’t mentioned anywhere in the police report. Neither the victim nor the attacker talked about politics when police arrived. (Click the link below to read the report yourself.)
There’s an old (and wise) maxim about police reports that goes like this: “If it’s not written down, it didn’t happen.” It’s a useful principle for anyone who writes reports.
The report is worth reading even if you’re not looking for political content. The officer is obviously a skillful writer. Sentences are clear, precise, and professional.
But – as I see so often in police reports – two criminal justice principles have been overlooked.
The first is brevity. Take a look at this sentence:
Ultimately, all parties were separated by neighbors who had overheard the commotion and fighting. (14 words)
Here’s my version:
Neighbors heard the fighting. They separated Monzon and Lopez. (9 words)
My sentence is one-third shorter – without losing a single piece of information. (I also used active voice – they separated – rather than passive – were separated.)
Second, the report lapsed into passive voice at the end: “The defendant was transported to the Hialeah Main Police Station.” Who transported him? Suppose that later on there are questions about what happened during that trip. It would be important to know who did the driving, wouldn’t it? And why “the defendant”? Just write Lopez.
I’m endlessly amazed that police leaders don’t step in when officers overwrite their reports. Everybody saves time when reports are crisp and to the point. (What would your shifts be like if you cut your writing time by a third?)