October 28, 2009
Guidelines for improving your report writing
John Bowden, Orlando (Fla.) Police Department (Ret.)
I first volunteered to teach police report writing at the academy when I was an FTO on the street. The number one problem I found in officers' report writing (not just by recruits but at times by veteran officers) is organization. The next problem is knowing what to put in the report. I've written an entire book on this subject, which you can download here, but for the purposes of giving you a quick "tip" here are some guidelines/requirements that apply to all reports.
1. All narratives should be written in chronological order, meaning the incident is described in the order in which the events occurred and not from the perspective of anyone witness or the officer.
2. In the narrative, use a person's name if known. If the name is Unknown, use Suspect #1, or Suspect #2.
3. In cases involving property, list each item in the property section. Groups of the same or similar items may be combined; but items of great value or that may be readily identifiable must be listed separately with specific descriptions provided, when available.
When referring to property in the narrative, use general terms, i.e., "the jewelry was removed from the upper right dresser drawer in the victim's bedroom", NOT a diamond ring, emerald necklace, and bracelet were removed from the upper right dresser drawer in the victim's bedroom".
4. The total value of property taken should be mentioned in the report narrative.
5. If a juvenile is a subject in a report, the parent/guardian and school information must be obtained and reported in the subjects section of the report.
6. All subjects mentioned in the report Narrative, must be listed in the subjects section of the report. All subjects listed in the subject section, must be mentioned in the report Narrative.
7. All vehicles mentioned in the report Narrative, must be listed in the Vehicle section of the report. All vehicles listed in the vehicle section, must be mentioned in the Narrative.
8. If a subject is not a local resident (IE: tourist, transient), obtain local address information, i.e., motel name, phone number, room number. State when the subject is leaving area and when the subject will be at a permanent address.
9. Officers should obtain secondary addresses and telephone numbers (even out-of-state) and social security numbers from victims and witnesses who may move before the trial. This will assist the prosecutor in locating them at that time.
10. All statements must have a synopsis in the narrative along with the person's name making the statement.
11. Detailed descriptions of suspects and missing persons should be included in the principal's list of the report. General descriptions of the suspects or missing person should be used in the narrative (i.e. race, sex, clothing).
John Bowden retired from the Orlando Police Department in 1994 and is the founder and director of Applied Police Training and Certification (APTAC).