Thursday, January 26, 2012

Uh...What?

I knew it was going to be bad..I didn't know it was going to be this bad. My task this month has been attempting to finish a big project I started in the spring of last year. It is not anything too exciting (therefore the lack of blog posts for the last week or two). I've been tasked with coming up with a "report writing curriculum" to teach new incoming officers as well as our seasonal law enforcement officers how to write a good police report.

I've always been a little shocked at the poor quality of reports coming from officers who supposedly somehow graduated from college. But now I'm questioning the quality of some of our state universities! Granted, those of you who follow this blog may say that I'm a pot calling the kettle black, but in my defense, whatever happens to appear on the screen before me the first time I type it is what gets posted on the blog. I'm typing with one hand while changing a diaper with the other- I don't have time to edit. However, I do write a column for a magazine bi-monthly and I edit the hell out of that. I think the only thing I edit more than my magazine column are my investigative reports.

So, recently in my pursuit to finish my report writing training booklet that will be used later this spring, I decided to add several "good examples" of investigative reports for officers to use as models. This sounds like it would be rather easy doesn't it? Just shoot some emails off, get some reports back, change them all to first person (as our department has always written in the 3rd person and I've managed to change our future practice to bring us into the modern era of police writing), spell check, grammar check, change all the names and stick them into the appendix of my booklet. I was wrong.

I sent emails out, I received reports in return. And I was horrified. Mostly because I sent these requests to officers who I thought would be decent report writers. Instead what I received were a slurry of documents chock full of "police jargon", entire pages that were entirely made up of one sentence, randomly punctuated paragraphs and extremely poor choice of quotations (but without the quotation marks of course).

Here are a couple examples (names changed):

Officer Smith went to the rear of his truck opened the tail gate and sat down; To Smiths surprise so did Mark. Officer Smith looked at Mark and stated in 27 years of law enforcement you are probably one of the worst liars I have ever encountered. Mark did not say anything, he did hang his head.

I don't know about you, but I think, aside from the obvious problems with the structure and punctuation, the choice of quote might make the officer look, oh, I don't know, kinda nasty mean? Or, how about this:

When the door open Officer Smith stated Mark, The man answered yes, Officer Smith stuck out his hand and shook Mark's hand introducing himself as a Game Warden. Officer Smith advised Mark that he would like to talk to him about his turkey hunt, Mark said OK and Officer Smith let go of his hand.

It is good to know that he held his hand throughout the entire greeting.

Officer Smith gets up from the tailgate and moves to about the front door of his truck, Mark follow, and Officer Smith tells Mark that he has been doing this for a long time. About 90% of the people Officer Smith deals with are good people, 20% would bend the rules if they thought no one was looking. The last 10% are just poachers.

Hmmm....I'm no math prodigy but....

I feel bad poking a little bit of fun at the officer here, but really? Anyway, I better get back at it. This might take awhile.

16 comments:

  1. Scary. On grammatical and mathematical fronts. ;) Good luck with the task before you. It obviously isn't a small one!

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    1. Good post.A awful report could in a sense get someone off the snare that despairingly needs to be put away particularly in the case of a homicide.
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  2. I have a really bad problem with proof reading. My blog has horrible puncuation and grammar. I try to clean it up but when I'm creating a post I do it really fast. I have to get it down quick before I lose my train of thought.

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  3. I'm no English major...oh wait, I actually was. The most difficult job I ever had in LE was teaching officers (rookies and veterans)was how to write a report. Everyone wants to shoot, drive and make arrests. Documenting is a necessary evil that no one cares to do. Remind them that their report could end up in front of the Supreme Court.

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  4. Good point Howard...I think I WILL tell them that. I feel mean, but these reports are REALLY bad. I guess it shows that we really do need more training for our officers. I'm one of the rare weirdos that actually enjoys report writing. Thanks for the comment.

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  5. FC, I enjoyed writing reports as well. The long and more detailed the better. A juicy homicide made me feel like I was getting my first novel published. Teaching them to write first person is the first step in understanding how ridiculous third person is. Ask them to imagine testifying in the third person. They'll get a good laugh out of that. Everyone's going to wonder if the officer lost his mind.

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  6. I remember the first report I ever wrote -- a fight between two guys at a summer festival. I handed it to the Sgt., he read it, and he said "Did you write this?". Turns out it was the first time he had read a report written in the first person. He thought it was good, but wrong. Oh well.

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  7. Yeah- I agreed to help teach report writing ONLY if we could change our policy to allow first person reports. Third person is just too confusing and weird. Hopefully with the new officers we will slowly get some better reports. I love it Howard...glad to know I'm not the only one who kind of likes writing reports though I've never gotten to write about a homicide!

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  8. And Steve- Don't you love it when the "best" way to do something isn't the "right" way...leave it to government work!

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  9. Good post.A bad report could in a sense get someone off the hook that desperately needs to be put away especially in the case of a homicide.

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  10. I had to write medical notes in my last job. I dreaded being called in for mistakes in record keeping, especially when something goes wrong. what is sad is when a case is lost due to poor record keeping.

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  11. HI Fish. How are you doing? Have not heard from you in a while..no posts. Just thought I'd drop you a line to see if I might get through to you and find out if all is well. Look forward to more! Take care and God Bless you richly!

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  12. Hey Fish..where are you??? Are you still writing? You haven't abandoned us, have you??? Write when you can. Have not heard anything for a long time. Miss your stories. Are you there????

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