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January 30, 2009
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John Bowden On Language, Communication, and Leadership
with John Bowden

Proof is in the review

We go to great lengths to train ourselves how to respond under stress, how to protect ourselves when attacked by suspects and how to protect them from harm when we take them into custody. When it is all over, we write it up. Our task is to accurately and clearly document what happened. Sound simple? To those of you that have been involved in a use of force case, you know it is not so simple.

First, there's the call to deal with the subject and your efforts to calmly defuse the situation. When that does not work, we find ourselves in the middle of a use of force situation. There is the struggle, the force, and finally the arrest and transport. When we are done, we are excited from the Adrenaline, drained from the struggle and dreading the paperwork.

Officer Murphy states: “Any incident that requires hours of paperwork will occur at the end of the shift.” We are often in a hurry to finish up and get off duty or on to the next call; no rest for the weary. This is where we can ruin the job we have worked so hard to do thus far. There is a tendency for us to write our report and file it with only a cursory review or no review at all. We often feel we are good report writers and if we are careful we will get it right the first time. Remember, when these reports are written we’re often tired and not at our best.

So, we knock it out, give it a quick once over and move on. Unfortunately, we have to explain our mistakes later, in court. For example, the officer that wrote in his report, “I saw a bulge in the suspect's pants that looked like a concealed iron."

Actually the officer intended to say “tire iron.” Instead of “tire iron” the officer wrote “iron.” Imagine the officer trying to explain in court why he thought the suspect had a concealed “iron” in his pants and, by the way, where is that “iron” anyway? This problem could have been avoided with a proper review of the report.

Before I share a few techniques for checking your report, I would like to test your ability to proof your work. The following is an exercise to see how well you see the material you are reading. Follow the instructions and see how well you perform.

Read the in the rectangle sentence below:

FINISHED FILES ARE THE RE-
SULT OF YEARS OF SCIENTIF-
IC STUDY COMBINED WITH
THE EXPERIENCE OF YEARS

 

Now count the F's in the rectangle. Count them ONLY ONCE; do not go back and count them again. How many did you find?

There are six F's in the sentence, inside the rectangle. A reader of average intelligence finds three of them. If you spotted four, you're above average. If you found five, you can turn up your nose at most anybody. If you found six F's in the sentence, you are a genius. There is positively no catch.

Actually, there is no correlation to a person's intelligence and how many F's they can find in the above sentence. A study of 187 people revealed the following statistics:

1% found two
52% found three
18% found four
9% found five
20% found 6 six

If you did not find all of the F's, take a look at the two-letter word “of.” There are three of them. Most people, even when they are trying to look at each individual letter, tend to skip the F's in the word of. They look at “of” as one entity, not a combination of two letters “o” and “f.”

When we read, we skim or scan the words we are reading. We do not look at each individual letter. This process causes us to miss errors in spelling, punctuation, capitalization, grammar and content. As you have probably noticed in your own work in the past, you tend to miss more of your own errors than those of other people. This is caused by your familiarity with the report.

The first step in reviewing your report is to allow a little time to pass before you conduct your review; the longer the time the better. However, even a few minutes during a water break is better than no time at all. Usually, 10 to 15 minutes is ideal. This is long enough to relax your mind and eyes, but not so long as to keep you from moving on to other tasks.

The next step is to break down your review into several parts, looking for different errors in each pass. I recommend three passes to conduct a thorough review of your own work:

1.) Check for completeness

Information blocks
Check that the correct blocks are filled in. In most police reports, there are blocks that do not need to be filled in or are reserved for later use. Since all blocks do not have to be used, it is easy for the initial report writer to miss vacant blocks in the review of the report. During this check, the review should evaluate if the block should have something in it, if it should and does, move on to the next block. The content will be checked later.

Narrative check
The first check of the narrative is to ensure all necessary information has been included in the narrative. Do not worry about grammar, spelling, punctuation or organization. The first step is to ensure that all of the information is in the report from the start.


2.) Check for content

Information blocks
On this pass look at the blocks that have information recorded. If the block is empty, ignore it, you have already determined that block should be empty. If it has information in it, check it for content. Does it have the right information? If it is supposed to be a date of birth, check to see if it is a date of birth. Is the writing or typing clear and easy to understand? Are the words, names, addresses, etcetera, correct?

Narrative
Read the narrative to make sure it flows well, makes sense and speaks clearly. Make corrections in grammar during this check. There is no need to be concerned about missing or extemporaneous information; the first check should have insured that all of the information has been included. You can concentrate on the structure of the report.


3.) Check for spelling and capitalization

Narrative
When you check your report for spelling and capitalization, read it backwards. This forces you to look at every word as a separate part and prevents you from skimming over the words, missing mistakes in spelling or capitalization.

Do not jeopardize the good work you’ve accomplished by getting in a hurry and leaving the job undone. Check you work.

Remember, the proof is in the review.

About the author

John Bowden is the founder and director of Applied Police Training and Certification (APTAC). John retired from the Orlando Police Department as a Master Police Officer In 1994. His career spans a period of 21 years in law enforcement overlapping 25 years of law enforcement instruction. His total of more than 37 years of experience includes all aspects of law enforcement to include: uniform crime scene technician, patrol operations, investigations, undercover operations, planning and research for departmental development, academy coordinator, field training officer, and field training supervisor. As the director of APTAC, John is responsible for coordinating operations and conducting training for law enforcement organizations across the United States. APTAC clients include law enforcement agencies, state police academies, sheriff departments, correctional institutions, military law enforcement, as well as colleges and universities across the United States. John has written numerous books, including Report Writing for Law Enforcement & Corrections, Management Techniques for Criminal Justice, Today's Field Training Officer, and others. Contact John Bowden

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