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.
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

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 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

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

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

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.
"...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
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

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.
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

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

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.
Report Writing

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