Herschel Walker is a former candidate for the US Senate and a renowned football player. Back in 2001, police filed a police report about Walker’s involvement in a domestic dispute. You can read more (including the entire report) here.
The police report is thorough, objective, and…wordy. (Click the link to see what you think of it.)
Suppose you were the reporting officer. Your shift is at least 8 hours long – perhaps 12 hours. There’s a lot to do. Put a √ before the information you would include in your report. Put an X before anything you would omit:
___I went to the address listed on the form I filled out.
___Walker’s girlfriend invited me to come in and talk to her.
___She and Walker had an off-and-on relationship for 20 years.
Here are my answers:
X I went to the address listed on the form I filled out.
X Walker’s girlfriend invited me to come in and talk to her.
√ She and Walker had an off-and-on relationship for 20 years.
It’s not just that the officer wasted time. Everyone who has read that report (which is still of interest, more than 20 years later) wasted precious minutes reading information that was obvious.
Of course the officer went to the listed address. Where else would he have gone? Of course Walker’s girlfriend agreed to talk to the officer: everything she said is right there in the report!
I often talk to police administrators who shake their heads over the wordiness in police writing. But when I ask what they’re doing about it, they look surprised. Isn’t it the officer’s problem?
No. It’s a training problem, and the solution is a simple one:
- Emphasize critical thinking. That means teaching cadets (and reminding sworn officers) the difference between information that matters – and information that doesn’t.
- Refuse to accept wordy reports. Nobody enjoys writing police reports! And nobody wants to rewrite a report. You get what you ask for!