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 Adrenalin, drained from the struggle and dreading the paperwork.
Officer Murphy's law states that "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 are 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 sentence inside the rectangle.
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 rectangle. A study of 187 people revealed the following statistics:
1% found 2, 52% found 3, 18% found 4, 9% found 5, 20% found 6.
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
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
1. Check for completeness.
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.
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
to start with.
2. Check for content
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 in it.
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
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.
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 have accomplished by getting in a hurry and
leaving the job undone. Check you work. Remember the proof is in the review.
|The Proof Is In The Review