You Fought A Good Fight Now Write It Right
by John Bowden
Do you know the first rule of law enforcement?  Sean Connery summed it up in the
movie " The Untouchables ", when he played the part of a seasoned Irish cop, working
in Chicago.  He said " At the end of your shift, make sure you go home alive."  Truer
words have never been spoken in law enforcement.  Staying alive is the most important
job we have.  To fail in this task, we fail ourselves and those we are sworn to protect.  
Defensive Tactics are the tools we use to fulfill the first rule of law enforcement.  Today
we have another axiom we often refer to.  "It is better to be tried by 12 than to be
carried by 6."  It brings out the message; it is better to be alive, to be judged, than to be
dead wrong.

In today's society, the scrutiny of police and the tactics we use, is greater than ever
before in our history.  It is more likely now, than it has ever been, that an officer will be
tried as a result of doing his job.  It does not matter if the officer won the conflict and the
bad guy is in jail.  Questions are raised.  Was this really a criminal?  Did he really
commit a wrong?  Was the force used by the police just and appropriate for the crime
and the resistance?  did the police take advantage of their position and power to deliver
a little "criminal justice" before the courts had their chance to work?  

In an examination of these questions, the actions of police are looked at with a probing
microscope.  For this reason, it is now, more important than ever before, for police
officers to document the circumstances leading to the use of force.  We must clearly
describe the actions of defendants and our counter actions as police.  Poor report
writing can lead to officers becoming defendants in a civil or criminal suits.  Officers
must remember, even though the writing of the report is at the end of their task and less
intense than the action that led to it, it is the beginning of a successful or failed
prosecution.

In most instances, where force is used, the reason for the police action is to take an
offender into custody, for a crime he or she has committed.  It is not because the
offender initiated any action against the officer or is attacking another person.  A typical
use of force scenario may be as follows:  

An officer has stopped a subject on the street for any one of a variety of reasons:
suspicious person, possible warrant, or the perpetrator of an arrestable offense.  At
some point, the officer makes a conscious decision to make the arrest.  As the officer
begins to make the arrest, the subject begins to resist.  To overcome the resistance the
officer must use the appropriate level of force to overcome the resistance and make the
arrest.  

In cases involving the charge of resisting arrest,  the resisting charge is considered, by
the officer, to be secondary to the initial charge that initiated the arrest.  Sometimes, the
initial charge is minor, compared to the resisting arrest charge that is made.  These are
the cases you often times see on the TV news or in the paper, "Police Officer Beats
Speeder For Failing To Sign Traffic Summons."  The news media does not address the
resistance of the violator during the arrest, for not signing the ticket.  The officer's
second hand consideration of the resisting charge can easily result in the officer being
less thorough in his narrative description of what happened.  In fact, the court considers
the resisting charge separate from the initial charge that started the chain of events.  
The resisting charge will be considered on it's own merits.  The initial charge will
become secondary and is only needed to introduce why the officer had the right to take
the person into custody.  After the introduction, the specifics of the resistance will
determine whether or not the subject is found guilty of resisting arrest.  It is here the
officer must pay attention to report writing skills.

The officer must present all of the elements of resisting arrest in the report.  The
elements are not just stated.  The officer must specifically state, by way of careful and
clear articulation, what the offender did.  The officer must paint a clear picture to the
judge and jury to achieve a conviction.    If your report is found wanting for any of the
details needed by the prosecution, you may loose the case at any of the judicial levels;
dropped by the Prosecuting Attorney, found not guilty by the jury or lost on appeal.  To
loose a case against the defendant, where the officer used force, opens a pandora's
box to civil and criminal prosecution.  Even an accusation of excessive force can hang
as a specter over the department and the  officer's career.  If a defendant is found
guilty of the charges, it seriously weakens any case he may have against the officer or
the department.  However, even the best written reports may meet defeat in the courts.  
Once they are lost, these cases may open the officer up to legal action and monetary
loss.

The suit will not concentrate on the resistance the offender used.  Often that part of the
officer's report is quite clear.  The opposing attorney will, instead, talk about the officer's
level of force.  He will describe the terrible injuries (now healed) that the client has
suffered.  The agonizing mental trauma that will take hours of psychological counseling
to correct.  The brutality of the officer when he struck the defenseless victim.  The
attorney will mention the tremendous power and authority wielded by the bludgeoning
police and their secret society.  How the police keep quiet and support their own.  What
will the attorney use drive home his point, and dig deep into the taxpayer's pocket.  He
will use the officer's report and the lack of information describing the force the officer
used to counter the resistance of the client.  He will use the lack of witness statements
from bystanders, stating the officers deliberately failed to get their story, because it
would support the poor victim's story of police brutality.  The officer has become his own
worst enemy.  His memory is the only tool to use against the legal onslaught raged
against him in court.  Fellow officers may hinder more than help.  The initial incident is a
year or more past.  Also, They did not write down what happened and must rely on their
own memory.  If not accurate, their memory may contradict what the defendant officer or
fellow officers have to say.

What is the solution to this problem.  How do you insure, that when you are judged by
12, you are fairly vindicated?  Record the events.  All of the events.  What the
defendant did,  what you did in response, what your fellow officers did to help and what
the bystanders had to say about what they witnessed.  Your narrative must be clear and
specific.  It must paint a picture as clear as photograph.  One that can be witnessed as
true and point out that you used the force that is proper and just.  
For as sure as you live and die, you will be judged on what you do by what you write.
So, write it right.