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Good report writing for less lethal use-of-force incidents
After deploying a less lethal tool, proper documentation is necessary for that use of force
Too often, when officers write their reports, especially after a difficult situation that requires the application of force, they get in a rush to complete their report. They want to relax a moment, or just get back on patrol, and they write their report in haste, leaving out details. While this does get the officer to a point of closure with their report and other forms — so they can move on to a different activity — it can create problems later.
Failing to fill out the report and forms in a complete and detailed manner can result in more work and complications. The documents need completed in a manner that will provide accuracy and clarity for anyone who may refer to them. Depositions, legal review, trainers, judges, other officers and the writing officer themselves may find a lack of information that is needed for clarity and accurate reference. This can result in many questions asked, often times weeks, months, or even years after the original incident occurred. Without an accurate detailed reference, and given the passing of time, the officer will be unable to recall specific information about an incident. Spending a few more minutes in writing the report will create a reference giving the detail needed to refresh their memory readily, and sharing the information without a great amount of questioning.
Successful litigation is often due to good writing with detailed reference. Leaving bits and pieces out of a report leads the person referencing it to fill in the missing items him or herself. A few extra minutes taken to write a few additional sentences, providing detail, will give the officer the solid reference they need to have a better result when the incident is reviewed.
Certain things should be included and concentrated on when writing a report post TASER electronic control device (ECD) use, for example. First, and foremost, what was the reason the ECD was deployed? What was the subject doing prior to the ECD deployment (note the behavior)? What information were you provided about the situation prior to your arrival? Note the description of the subject – not just height and weight.
What action did the subject take that prompted you to utilize the TASER ECD? What was the specific nature, type and severity of the suspect’s threats, what subjects were at risk (officers, victim, others)? Was there an extenuating circumstance to this scene, crowd, location, etc. Next, provide detail of the actual application of the TASER device and why it was chosen as the response to resistance. Where did the probes impact if probes were deployed (did either probe penetrate skin)? What was the distance at the time of deployment? Was any other force methods utilized? What contact areas were chosen if a drive stun was affected? How many applications and of what duration were they? Was the laser and/or arc shown prior to deployment, and what verbal commands were given? Was medical aid or examination conducted and by whom? Were there any injuries and what was their nature and what treatments occurred? Was there any drug or alcohol involvement? Was the officer or any one else injured? Where did the incident occur and was there an extenuating circumstances to this such as a large crowd, dangerous roadside conditions, weather,
etc? Why were police involved? What was model of TASER utilized and the serial numbers of the unit and the cartridge? What was the cartridge type? Did the TASER use achieve the desired effect, and if not, why? What kind of clothing was the subject wearing? Was the subject armed? What was the subject’s response to the ECD application? Did you identify other officers or additional people at the scene, and did they do or say anything?
If you utilized a TASER CAM, AXON, belt tape, or some other audio/video capture method, be sure to include the detail from that reference. At times after a stressful incident, you may not recall some details, so use that audio/video reference to enhance your recall, and thus the written report detail. Writing about the details within the audio/video captured can be very useful should that record be unavailable in certain venues.
Police officers are often hesitant to talk about being afraid of being attacked or injured. We do not like to admit that we were afraid. Officers believe that they will not appear strong and protective enough if they admit to fear. Fear is a natural response for all of us when threatened. Being afraid is normal when threatened. It is what you do while you are afraid that counts. Stating that you were afraid or concerned for yourself or someone else can help the reader of your report to feel the reality in your words. This statement of concern or fear of an attack or injury is critical in explaining why you did what you did when it comes to using force.
Also for inclusion in your report are details about weather conditions, lighting, and any other physical or environmental factors that played a role in the incident or that can be excluded from discussion. The details suggested for your reports and documents here are by no means all inclusive. We as officers realize the multitude of variables that occur when looking at the work we do. Details included in your report have an impact in describing why you responded to someone’s actions and behavior the way you did with a TASER. Remember to archive any device data and audio/video files per your agencies policy to preserve that record for later reference. Having a detailed record of what happened during an incident where force is used can save you time and effort proving your actions later. Ensuring a well-written report can provide proof that your use of a TASER was proper, and can have a great influence on the judicial result that follows.