Elements of a Police Report
Forms and formats of police reports
will vary among police departments,
but all will contain the same
informational elements.
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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

Additionally, your knowledge of its
contents will put you far ahead of
others in any pre-employment
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

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.
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 [date], at [time], 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

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.
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  

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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

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

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 --
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

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.