Elements of a Police Report
Forms and formats of police reports will
vary among police departments, but all will
contain the same informational elements.
 
It's FREE.  
Download the 164 page UCR
Handbook
from the FBI and save it to
your computer.
The importance of this book cannot be
overstated.  If you read this book, and you
keep it close for reference, you will never
experience problems recognizing and
properly classifying crimes.

Additionally, your knowledge of its
contents will put you far ahead of others
in any pre-employment interviews.
The truth is that the detectives and
scientists will come after you, and their
successes will depend largely on your
preliminary report of the offense or
incident.  The initial phases of any
investigation are super critical, and the way
you record basic factual information; your
observations; statements by others;
evidence collection, and any other actions
you take will determine the success or
failure of an investigation.

The Length of Your Preliminary Report

Many police officers believe a preliminary
report should be brief and cover only very
basic information.  Wrong...your preliminary
report should include every bit of relevant
information your investigation produces.  
The depth of your investigation depends
only upon your investigative abilities, and
the time and resources available to you.

The Importance of the Uniform Crime
Reporting Handbook

Knowing how to classify crimes and report
them in the proper format is all important.  
The proper classification of a crime will help
to ensure it gets the attention it deserves.  
It's sad to say, but you're going to learn that
a lot of police officers aren't very well
versed in UCR.  The ever increasing
political importance of crime reduction has
led a lot of supervisors and police
commanders to adopt some pretty creative
interpretations for crime classifications, so
your knowledge and understanding of UCR
is more important that ever before.
Basic Factual Information

Your police report is going to have labeled
information fields (boxes) for you to list
basic factual information.  Those fields are
there for a purpose other than balancing the
graphic design of the report.  You'll work
with officers who think N/A, none, and /
marks should fill the majority of these
fields.  The completeness and accuracy of
basic factual information is important for a
host of reasons including making you look
competent.  For example:  Follow-up contact
with a victim is important.  Your victim tells
you he has no telephone.  Before you write
[none] in that box, ask the victim for a
relative's or friend's phone number through
which he can be contacted.  Ninety-nine
percent of the time, under this circumstance,
your victim will be able to provide you with a
phone number.

Date; Time, and Location of the
Offense or Incident

You're probably thinking, "This is pretty
obvious."  You're absolutely right, but you'll
learn that some officers don't consider
accuracy that important when recording
these critical details.  When you're on the
scene with a victim only moments after an
offense, these details won't be a problem.  
However, people sometimes wait, even when
serious offenses occur, to report crimes.  
Rapes and sexual assaults often fall into this
category.

If and when a suspect is apprehended, these
details become extremely important.  For
instance:  If the true date is off by just one
day, that error could establish a verifiable
alibi for the suspect.  Even if the error is
corrected during the investigation, it could
cause problems during any prosecution.

You'll also learn that people badly estimate
time by either underestimation or
overestimation.  For example:  You're
interviewing the victim of a street robbery.  
The victim tells you she can identify the
suspect, because she got a good look at
him.  You ask her how long she looked at his
face, and she replies, "About a minute."  
While she's not lying, it should be obvious to
you that she's probably overestimating the
time.  One minute is a very long time.  A
little more effort on your part will bring that
down to a more realistic 10 second
observation.  You may not think it's an
important detail, but if the case ever gets to
trial, the defendant's attorney will certainly
make the jury aware of just how long a
minute can be.

The location of an offense should seldom be
a problem since the location you'll record is
the exact location where the offense occurs
or begins.  Even if a victim is abducted and
taken to several locations, the location of
the offense will be where the first unlawful
act occurs...in this case the abduction.  
Remember, so many things are intertwined.  
Take this example where an abduction
occurs:  The suspect forces the victim into a
car at gunpoint.  At this point the UCR
Crime is Aggravated Assault.  If the suspect
commits no other crime during the
abduction, the offense will remain
Aggravated Assault.  However, if the
suspect subsequently robs the victim, the
UCR classification changes to Robbery.  So
many officers become confused -- you need
not be confused -- JUST GET THE UCR
HANDBOOK.  The location remains the
same, your narrative will record the
additional locations.

Suspect Description - Name; Address;
Race; Age; Date of Birth; Height; Weight;
Eyes; Hair; Complexion; identifying
characteristics

You're going to look at a robbery report, and
in the suspect description field you'll see,
"M-B-NFD" or "M-W-NFD."  While the
description will tell you nothing about the
suspect, it will tell you two things about the
officer who wrote the report.  First, the
officer is lazy, and second, the officer
doesn't take his or her job seriously. The
acronym NFD for No Further Description is
a favorite of too many police officers.  Of
course, there are exceptions...the victim
might be blind, or the suspect could come up
on the victim from behind, and the victim is
too fearful to even look at the suspect.  
However, this is not the usual case.

When a person becomes a victim of a crime
of violence, it's an extremely traumatic
experience.  Sometimes the victim will be
upset and talk at length without providing
much relevant information.  Other times the
victim will be
subdued, and he or she will offer very little
information.  Either way, it is up to you to
obtain all available information regarding
the crime and the suspect(s) from the
victim.  Believe it or not, some officers will
wait for the victim to do the officer's job for
him or her.  The officer might ask the victim,
"How old is the suspect," and the victim
replies, "I don't know."  You'd be surprised
how many officers will take that answer for
omitting any age in the suspect description.  
As a police officer, you should already
realize that the suspect is probably between
the ages of 15 and 50.  From here, it's just a
simple task to get the victim's estimation of
the suspect's age.

You'd be amazed how much a person takes
in during stressful and potentially deadly
experiences.  All you have to do is
question...question...question.  When you
ask a victim about the suspect's height, you
already have two models to go by.  You
know your height, and the victim knows his
or her height.  A few up and down hand
movements by the victim will end with a
pretty accurate estimation of the suspect's
height.  Weight is more problematic, but
terms like thin; stocky; muscular; large
belly, etc. will aid in providing identifiable
information.  

Here's one which many, or even most, police
officers never seriously consider.  
Describing the race of a suspect is not as
simple as you might think.  When the
suspect is white, there's a wide variation of
descriptions concerning hair color, eyes,
etc.  Complexion can go from pale to dark,
but complexion is usually only one of a
number of characteristics.  When the
suspect is African-American, or black,
complexion is always listed primarily as
light; medium; or dark.  Here's the problem.  
When you ask an African-American victim
the complexion of a black suspect, that
victim will almost always describe the
suspect's complexion in comparison to the
victim's own complexion.  In other words, if
the victim is very dark complected, he or
she will describe the suspect as light skinned
when, in fact, the suspect is medium to dark
complected.  All you need do is point this out
to the victim, and he or she will immediately
understand and provide you with a more
accurate estimation.

It's really all up to you and how you treat a
victim.  Once a victim knows that you're
truly interested in getting as much
information as possible, you'll be amazed
how much the victim will be able to
recollect.  You simply start at the top of the
head to the tip of the suspect's toes.  The
more detailed questions you ask, the more
details the victim will remember.  
Detail...Detail...Detail -- That's what a
police report is all about.

When I was a patrol officer, I was sitting at
roll call when the shift commander used me
for entertainment.  He read one of my
reports from the previous day.  The
entertainment consisted of the suspect's
description.  The crime was only a larceny
from auto, but the woman who witessed the
crime gave me an extremely good
description.  I often took heat for my
attention to detail...some might use the word
anal.  Anyway, it was extensive, and
everyone had a good laugh right down to the
band aid on the suspect's left cheek.  
Moments later, as we hit the street, one of
the officers rolled around a corner, and his
attention was immediately drawn to a young
man standing on the corner.  Actually, his
attention was drawn by the band aid on his
left cheek.  The guy hadn't even changed his
clothes from the day before.  That officer
told that story for years.  The moral of this
story is this:  Suspect descriptions are
important.  It's all part of information, and
information is the life blood of police work.
One can argue that a perfect crime is one
that is not reported.  If a crime is not
reported, no investigation will follow, no
arrest will occur, and no prosecution will be
pursued.  

When a person is the victim of a crime and
that person decides not to report the
incident to police, that's a personal decision
by the victim.  However, when the crime is
reported to police, it is your responsibility to
document and investigate the incident.

The Preliminary Police Report

Every police investigation begins with a
police officer's preliminary report.  While
the cop TV shows and movies usually skip to
the parts where detectives roam a crime
scene handing off evidence and directions to
uniformed officers, they never reveal the
absolute importance of the uniformed patrol
officer's responsibilities.  Criminalistics is
the big draw now, so you'll watch the
scientists relegating everybody to the
background as they solve every case with
hi-tech theories and processes.  The only
time one of your cases will emulate the
movie makers' police investigations is when
you fall into a really high profile incident
where the heavy news makers, like
politicians and celebrities, are involved.  
Then...you'll be pushed so far into the
background that you'll be practically
invisible.  But...that's okay.  You  want to
have as little involvement as possible in any
investigation where others can blame you
for their screw-ups.
The Police Report Narrative

This is where it all comes together.  Your
department may have required headings for
your narrative such as a description of
property taken.  You may have to continue
basic information like suspect descriptions
into the top of your narrative section.  Just
make sure you have all your basic
information complete so that your narrative
doesn't have to include information which
will detract from telling the story.

Not Wrong...but needless

Some police academies teach officers to
begin a narrative by rehashing a lot of
information already listed in the basic
information fields.  Here's an example:  On
17 Oct 06, at 1712 hrs., I, Officer Tom
Jones, received a call, via communications,
to respond to 812 N. Collington Av for a
report of an armed robbery.  Upon arrival, I
was met by the victim, Sandra Smith, who
stated that at about 1700 hrs this date she
was robbed...

Get to the point

Everything you just wrote should already be
recorded in the basic information.  Here's
how you should begin this narrative:  Victim
Smith reports she was standing in the bus
stop in front of 812 N. Collington Av when
suspects 1 and 2 emerged from the alley
adjacent to that address.  Suspect 1 pulled a
silver colored revolver from his waistband
and pointed it at the victim's head.  Suspect
1 stated, "Give up the money, bitch."  
Suspect 2 walked behind Victim Smith and
pulled her handbag from her shoulder.  Both
suspects then fled back into the alley
escaping in an eastbound direction.

Be concise...but complete

You might think that completes the
narrative.  It does pretty well describe what
happened, but it's not the end of your
investigation.  As you interview the victim,
other information may come to light which
was not immediately apparent.  The victim
may have observed the suspect(s) in the
past at another location.  Your canvass of
the neighborhood may reveal witnesses to
the robbery.  Even if you locate no witnesses
to this crime, your conversation with
residents may reveal additional information
about the suspects from their physical
descriptions.  You identify every person you
speak with and list that information in your
report; you leave a business card with each
person you interview.  Investigation can
become an addictive process - hopefully -
and the more of it you do, the better at it
you'll become.  Sure...some people won't
share information with you, but a lot of
others will.  However, those others aren't
going to volunteer the information.  They've
got to be asked.

Over time you should create your own
format for your narratives.  Make sure you
create it considering the fact that other
people are reading your reports.  The
information should flow smoothly.  Always
refer to the victim by name [Victim Smith].  
When you have multiple victims, using
numbers becomes confusing for the reader.  
Likewise, when you have a name of the
suspect, always use the suspect's name
[Suspect Jones].  Concise doesn't mean
short; it only means that you shouldn't
embellish your narrative.  Don't make
observations that aren't verified by facts,
and don't make cute remarks.  The amusing
parts will happen automatically:

I once responded to a domestic disturbance
where the boyfriend punched his girlfriend
knocking out her two upper front teeth.  
After a brief struggle with me, (he didn't
struggle that hard with me) I got him
handcuffed.  As we stood outside waiting for
the wagon, I was doing a complete search of
his clothing.  When I felt his right front pants
pocket, I felt two small objects.  I paused
and asked, "That's not what I think it is...is
it?"  He simply rolled his head slowly toward
me and answered, "They was loose
anyway."  I recovered and submitted the
girlfriend's teeth as evidence.  I recorded
our exchange word for word in my
narrative.  While that exchange could be
viewed as amusing, the Judge wasn't
amused, and it got the boyfriend a year in
jail.

Remember, no information is irrelevant as
long as it is pertinent to your investigation.  
If you develop information which contradicts
other information in your investigation,
record that information.  No investigation is
free of contradictions.  Your recognition and
attention to contradictions only shows your
thoroughness.  The earlier contradictions
are noted, the quicker they'll be resolved.

Neatness counts

If you're writing your field reports by hand,
neatness does count.  Even beautiful
handwriting can be difficult to read.  Most
peoples' handwriting is just plain terrible.  
Learn to print -- preferably in upper case.  
Your written reports, no matter what the
process used, is a measure by which others
will view your knowledge and competence.  
It's all really very simple.  Make the reader
believe he or she is there watching the
events unfold, and make the words readable.
Police
Report Writing
"...the way you record basic factual
information; your observations;
statements by others; evidence
collection, and any other actions you
take will determine the success or
failure of an investigation."
~ Barry M. Baker
Copyright © 2015  Barry M. Baker  
CareerPoliceOfficer.com