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

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