Avoiding Wordiness in Police Reports

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Because of the many demands on an officer’s time, police reports should be written efficiently. Avoid unnecessary transitions, repetitive questions, and empty phrases that don’t contain useful information. Effective police writing combines both brevity and completeness.

Because you’re going to be busy during your shifts as a police officer, it’s important to write your police reports efficiently. Old-fashioned, wordy police writing practices have been replaced by writing procedures that avoid unnecessary words and eliminate meaningless repetition. Following these practices will not only save time during the writing process: You’ll be helping everyone who reads your reports—supervisors, attorneys, media reporters, judges, prosecutors, and community leaders.

Here are some principles to ensure that your reports are written efficiently without omitting any important information:

  1. Make sure that each word has a job to do. Unnecessary wordiness wastes time.

Compare these examples:

  1. a) Cantley said she received threatening phone calls throughout the month of September. WORDY (September is always a month)

Cantley said she received threatening phone calls during September. BETTER

  1. b) He sped away from the parking lot in a car that was red in color. WORDY (Red is always a color.)

He sped away from the parking lot in a red car. BETTER

  1. Avoid unnecessary transitions.

Here’s a wordy paragraph. A more efficient version of the same information appears below.

I looked through the window of the 7-11 and saw a man with his fists around the neck of a young woman. Upon seeing this, I notified dispatch and then proceeded to enter the store. Upon making contact with the young man, I identified myself as a police officer and ordered him to take his hands off the woman’s neck. Upon hearing my words he removed his hands. WORDY

Here’s a more efficient version. Notice that even though this paragraph is shorter, all the information is still here. Every word has a job to do:

I looked through the window of the 7-11 and saw a man with his fists around the neck of a young woman. I notified dispatch and entered the store. I identified myself as a police officer and ordered him to take his hands off the woman’s neck. He removed his hands. EFFICIENT

Notice that the story makes perfect sense without the empty phrases “accordingly,” “proceeded to,” “upon seeing this,” or “upon hearing.” Recording just your actions and his tells the whole story.

  1. Avoid repetition.

You don’t need to keep repeating phrases like “I asked” and “he replied.” Just write the victim’s or suspect’s statement. Compare these two versions of an interview. The first is wordy; the second is efficient.

I asked Jamal what happened. He told me that he was withdrawing money from the ATM in front of the First National Bank on Simpson Street. I asked him what time he made the withdrawal. He said it was about 8:30 p.m. I asked what happened. He said he heard a car pull into the parking lot. I asked him what happened next. He said two men got out of the car. I asked him what they did. He said they rapidly walked up to him and grabbed his money. I asked him what happened next. He said they drove away in a late-model, black SUV. I asked him what he did next. He said he pulled out his cell phone and called 911. WORDY

Here’s a more efficient version. Again, notice that all the information is still there:

I asked Jamal what happened. He told me that he was withdrawing money from the ATM in front of the First National Bank on Simpson Street at about 8:30 p.m. A car pulled into the parking lot and two men got out. They rapidly walked up to him and grabbed his money. They drove away in a late-model, black SUV. He pulled out his cell phone and called 911. EFFICIENT

These simple principles will help ensure that your police reports are complete and efficient—and you’ll save time that can be directed towards other police duties. Most important, you’ll be following the guidelines recommended for modern police writing.

 

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