Your Friday Quiz

Can you spot the common mistakes in these sentences? (Answers are provided below.)

1.  If you have alot to do next week, we can postpone the project.

2.  Superintendent Jones asked Officer Payne and me to meet with him tomorrow morning.

3.  There’s several messages from reporters who want to talk with you.

4.  The visiting room is busy today, it was unusually quiet yesterday, though.

5.  The staff canteen is expanding its hours of operation.

ANSWERS

X 1. If you have a lot to do next week, we can postpone the project. (A lot is always two words – no exceptions.)

2.  Superintendent Jones asked Officer Payne and me to meet with him tomorrow morning.  (Think: “asked…me” = “asked Officer Payne and me.” To learn more, click here.)

X 3.  There are several messages from reporters who want to talk with you.  (Think: “several messages are there” = “there are several messages.” To learn more, click here.)

X 4.  The visiting room is busy today. It was unusually quiet yesterday, though. (Any idea that starts with it is a sentence: Use a period and a capital letter.)

5.  The staff canteen is expanding its hours of operation. (The possessive of it has no apostrophe – compare his, another possessive word with no apostrophe. To learn more, click here.)

How did you do?

The word quiz spelled out in Scrabble pieces

An Assault in Hialeah

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?)

Police Make Second Arrest in Brutal Beating of Rubio Canvasser; Victim Maintains Attack Was Politically Motivated

 

What to Omit from a Police Report

Officers often worry (and rightly so) about leaving something important out of a report. But it’s also true that some things don’t belong in a report. Here are some examples. (I’ve included improvements in blue.)

OPINIONS
Because of Mrs. Brown’s age, I knew she might not have heard the noise outside.

THOUGHTS
I decided the suspect had probably exited through the bedroom window.

GENERALIZATIONS
Foster seemed confused.

HUNCHES AND GUESSES
I had a hunch that Casey had put the money in the freezer.

PASSIVE VOICE
Clark was questioned by me.
CORRECT:

I questioned Clark.
But you can use passive voice if you didn’t know who performed the action:

A wallet and a diamond ring were taken.

JARGON
“Mirandized,” “Baker acted,” “this officer,” “I processed the area.”
BETTER:
I took him into custody and began Baker Act proceedings.

I read him his rights from my Miranda card.
I examined the front and back doors. I found pry marks by the outside door handle on the back door.

REPETITION
I asked what time she got home from work. She said 5:20 p.m. I asked what happened. She said she noticed the open window and got worried. I asked if she was sure it had been closed when she left that morning. She said yes, she was sure it had been closed.
BETTER:

She said she got home from work at 5:20 p.m. She saw the open window and got worried. She was sure it had been closed when she left that morning.

A concise and objective report saves time and shows off your professionalism. Make it your goal to write an excellent report every time.

 

The Robert Crimo Incident Report

Robert Crimo III is the 18-year-old man who confessed to the July 4 killings in Highland Park, Illinois. Three years ago police officers went to his home to check on him. A relative had told police that shooter Robert had threatened to “kill everyone” in his family. The incident report about the visit mentioned “a collection of knives in his bedroom.”

That report is a good reminder that police reports never go away! Something that seems routine at the time can become front page news later on.

I have some thoughts about the report (which is posted below). Overall this is an excellent report: it’s clearly written and thorough. The officers recorded a great deal of useful information.

  • The report could be more efficient. After you fill in the spaces on your laptop with  the date, time, and other background information, don’t repeat it.
  • “Upon making contact” is unnecessary. How else would you have talked to them? The second paragraph should begin with “Robert admitted to being depressed on Monday 9/02/19 and having a history of drug abuse.”
  • “Robert was not forthcoming as to the language that he used on Monday” is not specific enough. Was he silent? Did he say that he wasn’t going to answer any questions?
  • Here’s another sentence that should be rewritten: “After speaking to Robert E. Crimo III’s father, it was learned that the collection of knives belonged to him.” 
  • This is my version: “Crimo’s father told us that the knives belonged to him.”
    Police officers are busy – and so are the people who read reports!

Develop the habit of making every report both complete and concise. Effective reports are a great way to showcase your professionalism.

Danger zone

 

The Alvin Kamara Arrest Report

In February, New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara was arrested for assault in Las Vegas. You can read the police report below.

A line or two at the bottom seems to be missing. A news story about the case states that a video confirms what Detective Bone reported.

The report is remarkably well written! Detective Bone is an excellent writer. The sentence structure is professional. Everything is written in active voice. The word choices are natural and simple.

My only question is about some of the repetition. Detective Bone identifies himself twice, for example. The report includes an event number. Nowadays that information should have been recorded elsewhere on the laptop. Detectives are busy! They shouldn’t be required to write basic facts twice.

Otherwise, however, this is a superb report! I recommend studying it and using it as a model.

Photo by Euphoric Orca

 

Your Friday Quiz

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

Part 1  Correct the English usage errors in these sentences. (Some sentences may not have errors.)

a)  The homeowner asked Officer Cooper and me to check on the elderly woman who lived next door.
b)  The childrens’ aunt forgot to pick them up after school.
c)  The EMT told Forster to breath deeply and exhale into a paper bag.

Part 2  Choose the best answer for each question below

1) What important information is missing from the sentences below?

a)  The scraps of cloth and coffee cup were logged into the evidence room.
b)  I patted down Rogers because he was acting suspiciously.

2)  Which sentence is appropriate for a police report? Choose one answer.

a)  Davis expressed that he had a doctor’s appointment at three o’clock.
b)  I advised Lydia to see a doctor about the cut on her arm.
c)  Johnson advised me that the driver failed to stop when the light turned red.

ANSWERS

Part 1 

a)  The homeowner asked Officer Cooper and me to check on the elderly woman who lived next door. [Think: “asked me” – so it’s “asked Officer Cooper and me.” Shortening a sentence this way can often help you choose the correct word quickly.]
X b)  The children’s aunt forgot to pick them up after school.  [The apostrophe goes after the last letter of the word or name. Children ends with “n,” so it’s children’s aunt.]
X c)  The EMT told Forster to breathe deeply and exhale into a paper bag. [A breath is a thing. Breathe is an action.]

Part 2  Choose the best answer for each question below

1) What important information is missing from the sentences below?

a)  The scraps of cloth and coffee cup were logged into the evidence room.  [Who logged in the cloth and the cup? Use active voice: “I logged the scraps of cloth and coffee cup into the evidence room.”]
b)  I patted down Rogers because he was acting suspiciously.  [You didn’t provide probable cause to search Rogers. What behavior – specifically – made you suspicious? For example, perhaps Rogers looked over his shoulder every two or three steps.]

2)  Which sentence is appropriate for a police report? Choose one answer.

X a)  Davis expressed said that he had a doctor’s appointment at three o’clock. [Use simple, normal English.]
b)  I advised Lydia to see a doctor about the cut on her arm.  [Advised is correct because you’re counseling her.]
X c)  Johnson advised told me that the driver failed to stop when the light turned red. [Save advised for giving counsel. Use simple, normal English: told.]

How did you do?

quiz in golden stars background

 

Your Friday Quiz

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

Part 1  Correct the English usage errors in these sentences. (Some sentences may not have errors.) 

a) I saw the suspect run toward First Street, then Officer Linton chased him.
b) There’s three people waiting to talk to you.
c) The car passed me and turned right on Hollis Avenue.

Part 2  Answer the questions below.

1) Here’s a type of sentence that often appears in police reports. What should the next sentence be? “I looked for footprints on the kitchen floor.”

2)  Which version is most appropriate for a police report? Choose one answer.

a) Axel stood up and slapped his wife on the right cheek. I handcuffed him.
b) Axel stood up and slapped his wife on the right cheek. I proceeded to handcuff him.
c)  Axel stood up and slapped his wife on the right cheek, whereupon I handcuffed him.

ANSWERS

Part 1

a) I saw the suspect run toward First Street. Then Officer Linton chased him. [Don’t try to join two sentences with then. Use a period and a capital letter.]
b) There are three people waiting to talk to you.  [Flip the words, and you’ll instantly know which word is correct – is or are. “Three people are there.” “There are three people.”]
c) The car passed me and turned right on Hollis Avenue.  [CORRECT! The verb forms are pass, passed, passing.]

Part 2

1)  ANSWER: The next sentence should state whether or not you found any footprints.

2)  Which version is most appropriate for a police report? Choose one answer.

a) Axel stood up and slapped his wife on the right cheek. I handcuffed him.
X b) Axel stood up and slapped his wife on the right cheek. I proceeded to handcuff him.  [Be efficient! You don’t need “I proceeded.”]
X c)  Axel stood up and slapped his wife on the right cheek, whereupon I handcuffed him. [Be efficient! You don’t need “whereupon.” Make this two short sentences.]

The Zoe Bethel Police Report

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!