The purpose of a use of force report is to clearly document the events that led up to the
use of force, the force that was used and all of the circumstances surrounding the
incident. An easy statement to make but not always an easy thing to do. For instance,
what is wrong with the following report?
The suspect, Tom Edwards, was standing next to the window removing the glass. I
pointed my weapon at him and said "Freeze, Police!" Edwards did not move. I directed
him to the ground, into a kneeling position. He complied. I holstered my weapon and
took out my handcuffs. I told Edwards to put his hands behind his back. I put a cuff on
Edwards' right hand. Edwards resisted my efforts to handcuff him. I executed an Iron
wrist takedown, pulling Edwards to the ground. I attached the other cuff to his left wrist.
To the average officer this report looks pretty good. Unfortunately, our audience is not
always someone in law enforcement or someone with defensive tactics experience. In
fact, the person we need to be concerned with is our future legal adversary, the
suspect's attorney. He will be looking for an alternative meaning to what we wrote.
This report accurately reflects what happened. However, it assumes a certain level of
understanding of defensive tactics terminology and police experience on the part of the
reader. The first problem occurs in this sentence:
"I directed him to the ground, into a kneeling position."
A person with police experience understands this to mean that we told the suspect to
kneel down on the ground, cross his ankles and put his hands on top of his head.
Unfortunately, this sentence offers the suspect and his attorney an alternative
"The officer grabbed my innocent client and slammed him to his knees on the
We know this didn't happen, but the statement in our report left the interpretation to the
reader or the attorney. When this is brought up in court, we will have to refute the
attorney's interpretation with what really happened. When we try to do this, the attorney
will have us where he wants us, between the rock and the proverbial hard place. For
Att: Officer, your report says you directed my client to the ground, is this where
you slammed him down to his knees? (note this is a yes or no question)
Ofc: No sir, I told him...
Att: Doesn't your report say you directed him to the ground?
Ofc: Yes, but...
Att: Is this an accurate reflection of what happened?
Ofc: Yes, but that's not what happened. I...
Att: That's not what happened? Did you falsify your report?
Ofc: No, I didn't.
Att: Did you leave some information out of your report?
Ofc: Just a few details, but I can clarify what...
Att: Just a few details? Perhaps you left out other details about what you did to
provoke my client.
Ofc: No, I didn't leave out those details.
Att: Were you taught to leave out details.
Ofc: No, I just, I, I, uhhh...
Att: You just leave out what you want?
Ofc: Yes, no, only if it is irrelevant to the case.
Att: You mean if it suits your purpose.
Ofc: No! I...
Att: NO MORE QUESTIONS YOUR HONOR!
The attorney didn't change our testimony. What he did was make us look bad. He
pointed out that we left information out of our report and suggested we may have
provoked his client into resisting, to get away from "the big bad police officer." In making
us look bad it brings the credibility of every thing else we did into question. Did we leave
out other information? Are we hiding something? Maybe we added something. The next
step is for the prosecutor to deliver some damage control by getting you to clarify what
happened. Unfortunately it is too late. The attorney has put a little crack in your
credibility and will pound away at it at every opportunity. All the attorney needs in the
end is a little doubt. We could have avoided this little exchange by filling in the details
instead of using our shorthand terminology.
There are jargon phrases we use in our business to communicate to others in law
enforcement what happened. These phrases work well when we are communicating to
our peers who know what we really mean. However, when we write our use of force
reports we need to omit the jargon and replace it with straight forward language so that
the reader will not be able to twist it into something that did not occur.
The second sentence in our paragraph has the same problem as the first. It leaves a lot
of room for interpretation on the part of the reader.
Edwards resisted my efforts to handcuff him.
We should state exactly what Edwards did to resist. For Example:
Edwards pulled his wrist away and tried to stand up.
The next problem is this statement:
I executed an iron wrist takedown.
The "Iron Wrist Takedown" is an acceptable response to the resistance we received.
However, the name of the technique does not tell the reader what actually happened.
The term "Iron Wrist Takedown" will have to be explained. Instead of explaining it in
court, describe it in the report. For example:
Edwards pulled his wrist away and tried to stand up. I pressed the cuff against Edwards'
arm, pulled him backwards and laid him face down on the ground.
This sentence is only slightly longer than the original, it is much clearer about what
happened and does not have to be explained.
The best way to write is to keep your writing simple and clear. Use the term that is
easiest to understand. A use of force report is not the place to show people your
command of the English language. The only exception to using simple terms is when a
complex term is the best one to use to describe the incident. For example:
I struck the suspect with a double fist blow to the suprascapula.
Suprascapula is a complex scientific term designating a specific location on the body and
may be difficult for the average person to understand. However, to change it to
something different would hinder rather than help the clarity of the report. Here are some
The shoulder, the back, or the base of the neck.
Each alternative is easier to understand but is incorrect. Each one could be twisted into
something different and make it sound like a deadly blow. In this case use the correct
term even if it is complex. Sometimes, the use of a complex term cannot be avoided.
Your report will receive the final test long after you write it and you will not be able to
change it. Take the time to choose the best terms in your terminology so you will not
have to explain them later.
|Putting Terms In Your Terminoloy