Why police investigators should write reports in first person

Using first person makes your reports more clear and easy to read


Before the early 1980s, law enforcement used third person when writing reports for investigations and record keeping. Third person is considered more formal and official. It seems to take the writer out of being directly involved in the story by converting the writer to just another player in the story. 

One of the greater influences to writing in third person was the push for law enforcement to attend college and obtain degrees. If you have been to college, you may remember the numerous papers, reports, and studies you were required to write. The required format for the college paper is third person. 

Here are some examples of third person:

The below listed writer …
The investigating officer …
The responding officer …
This writer …

Shift Toward First Person
In the 1980s we started to change to writing in first person where the investigators and officers (the report writers) refer to themselves as "I" as opposed to referring to another person. The sole purpose of the report is to clearly document the facts of a case — in other words, what happened. Using first person makes your report more clear and easy to read. 

Instead of "Officer Jones" where Officer Jones is the writer, use first person. Refer to yourself as I, me, my or to yourself and other officers as our, us, we or ours. It is much clearer and easier to understand.
 
Here are some examples comparing first and third person — you can quickly see that first person is more powerful. 

Third Person:

The below listed officer responded to the house. The below listed officer approached the victim and asked what happened.

First Person:

I responded to the house. I approached the victim and asked what happened.

Third Person:

The responding officer interviewed the witnesses and took statements.

First Person:

I interviewed the witnesses and took statements.

Third Person:

This writer told the arrestee to put his hands behind his back. This writer handcuffed the arrestee.

First Person:

I told the arrestee to put his hands behind his back. I handcuffed the arrestee.

Third Person:

The below listed officer was approached by the prostitute. 

First Person:

I was approached by the prostitute.

Using the third person point-of-view to make your report sound more "official" is more confusing and harder to determine who is involved in the incident. Here are some sample paragraphs comparing first and third person.

Third Person:

The responding officer, Officer Jones, and Officer Milton surrounded the house. The suspect exited via the front door, in front of responding officer. Responding officer called Milton and Jones. Milton and Jones came up behind the suspect while the responding officer held a light on the suspect. At the signal of the responding officer, Milton and Jones grabbed the suspect from behind.

First Person:

I, Officer Horton, Officer Jones, and Officer Milton surrounded the house. The suspect exited via the front door in front of me. I called Milton and Jones. They came up behind the suspect, while I held a light on the suspect. At a signal from me, Milton and Jones grabbed the suspect from behind.

Don’t Switch Back and Forth
As you can see in these examples, the first person version is shorter and easier to understand than the third person version. Sometimes writers change the term they use to refer to themselves when they use third person or even switch back and forth between first and third person. For example:

The responding officer and Officer Fernandez responded to the bar fight. When this writer and Officer Fernandez entered the bar, we saw the subjects fist fighting in the middle of the dance floor. The responding officer and Officer Fernandez ordered the subjects to quit fighting. They continued to fight. I grabbed one of the subjects and Officer Fernandez grabbed the other suspect. We arrested the subjects for disorderly conduct by fighting. The arresting officers transported the subjects to the booking office. This writer and Officer Fernandez were not injured by the subjects.

The writer referred to himself by the following terms: Responding officer, this writer, we, I, and arresting officer. The writer is trying to sound formal by using the third person point-of-view to write this report. However, when the writer starts to describe the action, third person begins to sound a little clumsy and is harder to use. To compensate, the writer jumps into first person to describe the action during the fight and then changes back to third person after the action is over. The end result is a report that is very confusing. It is not clear how many officers were involved and who was doing the writing. This confusion is good ammunition for the defense attorneys.

First Person:

Officer Fernandez and I responded to the bar fight. When Officer Fernandez and I entered the bar, we saw the subjects fist fighting in the middle of the dance floor. Officer Fernandez and I ordered the subjects to quit fighting. They continued to fight. I grabbed one of the subjects and Officer Fernandez grabbed the other. We arrested the subjects for disorderly conduct by fighting. We transported the subjects to the booking office. Officer Fernandez and I were not injured by the subjects.

As you can see, this version is much clearer and easier to understand. 

Conclusion
Use the first person point-of-view in your report writing. It is easier to write, takes less space and is easier to understand. To submit a quality report that is easy to understand, use first person. In so doing, your investigation is more likely to end with a conviction.

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