Writing an Effective Police Report

One of the most important aspects of police work, and possibly one of the most difficult for some to master, is the art of report writing. Over the course of my career I have not only written countless reports, I have also spent over a decade reviewing reports prepared by other officers. Some were simply works of art that left the reader feeling they fully understood what had happened. Others simply left the reader wondering.

If you are new to report writing or a veteran officer who has repeatedly suffered at the end of your Lt’s red pen, maybe the following tips can help you.

The purpose of the report – The first question you need to ask is “why?” followed by “who?” In other words “Why are your writing the report?” and “Who will be reading it?” If it is an internal report, maybe you can get away with an informal, less detailed account. If, on the other hand, it is going to be reviewed by outside agencies, attorneys, or the court, you had best put your best effort into it. To put it in perspective, the narrative at the end of an accident report may not contain the same detail as an affidavit for a search warrant.

ArrestJust the facts – You are not writing a novel but you need to paint a complete picture of what occurred. You may be able to accomplish this in a half page or it may take ten pages. Length is not important; what you say is. The biggest mistake I see is that officers tend to provide a lot of unnecessary background and not enough substance.

Coherent from start to finish – As I said earlier, you are painting a picture, and after reading your report, the reader should have as clear an understanding of the situation as you had when you wrote the report. This is best accomplished by using a simple narrative that follows the same timeline as the events you are describing. Avoid jumping from topic to topic or person to person. If you need to describe the actions or statements of several individuals, provide a separate account for each one.

Avoid “police speech” – Cops, like any profession, tend to have their own internal language. While this makes for easy communication with your partner, adding it to a report is not only unprofessional but it is difficult for others to understand. This does not apply simply to the use of jargon, but to overly technical sounding language as well.

Write it now – even the best report writer can fall victim to time. As time fades, so does your memory, so you should write your report as soon as possible after events occur. If circumstances do not allow you to complete the final report in a timely fashion, I suggest you at least jot down a quick draft by the end of your shift.

A properly written report not only shows your skills behind a keyboard, but it also removes an unnecessary distraction from the otherwise professional work you’ve done. Wouldn’t it be a shame if you solved the crime of the century only to find the prosecutor couldn’t tell if it was last week’s bank robbery or a stagecoach hold up 100 yrs ago?

Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.

Tom Burrell

Tom Burrell

Tom enlisted in the US Marine Corps Reserves in 1987. Following service in Desert Storm, he transitioned to active duty with the US Coast Guard. In 1997 he left the USCG to pursue a position in conservation & maritime law enforcement. Tom is currently a Captain and he oversees several programs, including his agency investigation unit. He is also a training instructor in several areas including firearms, defensive tactics and first aid/CPR. In 2006 Tom received his Associate’s Degree in Criminal Justice from Harrisburg Area Community College and in 2010 a Bachelor’s Degree from Penn State University.
Tom Burrell
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