This may surprise you, but, as the primary police officer at the scene of a homicide, your
homicide report will most often be one of the simplest reports you'll prepare. Of course,
there can always be exceptions. If you arrive while the homicide is in progress, your
reporting will obviously be more comprehensive. Or, if the homicide victim is somebody
important, your note taking on the crime scene activity could take on a fast and furious
When you're the first police officer to arrive on the scene of a homicide, you become the
primary officer. Your first and foremost concern will be the protection and preservation
of the crime scene.
Let's look at what would be a pretty simple homicide report. You receive an anonymous
call for suspicious activity in a secluded wooded area about one o'clock in the morning.
You arrive to find no current activity. As you walk the area with your flashlight, you see
a person lying on a foot path. You soon determine you have a homicide evidenced by the
obvious bullet holes in the victim. The victim is cold to the touch indicating to you an
earlier time of death. You also notice a lot of blood on the victim's clothing indicating
that bleeding had been excessive; however, you observe no blood on the ground where
you'd expect to see some blood. You conclude that the victim was probably murdered at
another location and subsequently dumped on the foot path.
Okay, what have you established as far as your reporting is concerned. You've made a
number of observations, but which, or how many, of your observations should you note in
your report? Since you're not a pathologist, you should leave the determination
regarding any transport of the body up to the medical examiner.
Here's how your report should read up to this point:
Let's go back to your victim on the path. Whether or not the homicide occurred on your turf, that's where it ended up. As
a police officer, it's your duty to contribute your efforts as time permits. Let's assume that you return to the crime scene
the same morning at sunrise where homicide detectives are doing their own daylight search of the area. You decide to
expand your search even though it would appear the victim was transported into the wooded area by way of the path since it
didn't appear that any effort was made to further conceal the body.
Since you're very familiar with the area, you decide to check a parking lot that's located about 100 yards from the crime
scene and adjacent to the woods, but with no direct access [pathway] into the wooded area. There are about twenty
residences around the parking lot, and you decide to interview as many residents as possible. The hour is good since you'll
be knocking on doors as most people are getting up for work. As you look around the parking lot, you immediately notice
that some high grass on the hillside next to the woods is trampled giving the appearance that a person or persons have
recently been traversing the hillside.
As you begin interviewing residents regarding any activity on the parking lot from the previous evening or morning hours,
you point out the trampled condition of the grass on the hillside to determine if anyone might have knowledge of anyone
entering the woods at that location. About halfway through your interviews, you speak with a resident who tells you he
heard voices on the parking lot sometime after midnight. Since it's usually very quiet at that time, he looked out from his
living room window where he saw three men standing and talking near the rear of a parked SUV. Upon further
questioning, you learn that the SUV was not familiar to the resident, and, even more significant, the SUV was parked
directly in front of, or very near to, the area of trampled grass on the hillside. The resident gives you physical descriptions
of the three men and the SUV. A license number would have been nice, but that is not to be. You continue knocking on
doors, but no further information is forthcoming.
You decide to traverse the hillside to see what might turn up. You're definitely looking for any signs of blood since your
victim was covered in blood. You don't see any blood, but, as you continue farther into the woods, it does appear that
someone had recently traveled through the area. There is just enough underbrush that you can spot areas that appear to
be trampled. At one point, you observe several footprints in some soft dirt which indicates more than one person. As you
continue your trek, you realize you're heading in a straight line toward the crime scene. The foot prints, at about the
halfway point, end up being the only real indication of recent presence.
When you emerge onto the footpath, you soon locate the homicide detectives. While the detectives had checked the woods
surrounding the crime scene, they had not located the foot prints you came upon. You lead the detectives back over the
route pointing out the footprints and any other areas you found indicating recent movement.
Now...what kind of, if any, reporting should you submit. It's simple, you should report everything you did to include all the
interviews identifying all the people interviewed; information received, how you acted on the information, and evidence
[footprints] you recovered. One of two things is evident. Either the evidence you've developed has absolutely no
connection to the homicide, or you've just established that the victim was probably transported by the SUV described, and
the three men described carried the victim's body up that hillside and through the woods to the footpath.
Under this circumstance, if you're dealing with competent and experienced homicide investigators, they're going to instruct
you to report everything on a supplemental report so that all your interviews and subsequent observations become a
permanent part of the investigation. If you're dealing with a couple of "hotshots," you could get a different instruction.
You could be told, "You don't need to write anything. We've got all the information, so you don't have to bother writing
I put that body on the footpath for a reason. Your detectives could have already concluded that the body was carried into
the woods over the footpath since it doesn't make sense why the body would be carried through the woods and then dumped
on the path where it was clearly visible. Even though you'll soon learn that good sense and criminal activity have very little
in common, you'll find that a lot of police officers, even the supposedly experienced and expert ones, stubbornly ignore
information that contradicts their theory of an event.
Any time you develop any information that could reasonably relate to a homicide, that information should be documented
as part of the official police report. You'll find that some investigators, as well as supervisors, won't agree. They'll like to
control the information that ultimately becomes part of the official reporting. It's human nature to avoid contradictions,
but it's human folly to ignore contradictions. Let's say your detectives ignore what they believe to be your over zealousness
or interference. They ignore the foot prints, and that evidence is lost. If the footprints ultimately have no significance,
there's no harm done. However, if the footprints belonged to suspects who dumped the body, valuable evidence has indeed
There's another reason why you might be told not to bother writing a report. Your "hotshots" might indeed see the value
of your discoveries. It could turn out that your information will lead to further information that solves the case. Of course
their reporting won't mention your efforts in the woods. They'll reinterview the witness you located, but, again, no mention
will be made of your original interview. It's just another of those human nature conditions...who gets the credit?
They'll be plenty of times when you'll pursue interesting and important investigations when no one else has any interest.
You can go along documenting your investigation's progress without any criticism or interference. When it comes time to
obtain search warrants or arrest warrants, it's your investigation, so you do what needs to be done. However, when it
comes to any active investigations, particularly homicides, you must always coordinate your activities and reporting with
those responsible for the investigations.
Let's go back to that witness who observed the three men and the SUV. Only, this time, we'll make it more interesting.
The witness tells you he saw the three men removing a large object from the rear of the SUV. He describes how the men
appeared to be struggling with the weight of the object as they crawled up the hillside, before they disappeared into the
woods. At the time, he suspected the men were discarding trash in the woods. That belief irritated him, so he went outside
to get close enough to the SUV to record the vehicle's license number. You check the license number, and you learn that
the number is registered to an SUV as described by the witness, and you further establish that there is no report of the
vehicle being stolen.
You've obviously just revealed a major development in this case. Your correct action is to get this witness and the
homicide investigator(s) face to face. In this instance, the investigators are nearby, so you'll request their immediate
response. In case you don't realize it, you've just developed a ton of probable cause to obtain a search and seizure warrant
for what is now a suspect vehicle. Here again, the investigators should instruct you to start writing your report as they go
about preparing the application for a search and seizure warrant based upon the information "you've" developed. Your
report will describe everything you did leading up to the application for the search and seizure warrant.
Now...if you're a moron, or worse and idiot, you could -- without consulting with anyone -- just run with what you've
developed and obtain the search and seizure warrant; locate the vehicle; execute the warrant, and possibly seize important
evidence. Believe it or not, you're going to work with police officers who will do just about anything to achieve recognition.
For this type of individual, recognition is useless if it has to be shared. When it comes to a homicide investigation, this type
of recognition will do you far more harm than anything else.
By this point, it should be obvious just how important it is for you to search for information; document the information, and
coordinate investigative and enforcement activities based on all the information. Of all the reporting you do, the homicide
report, and any subsequent follow-up reports, will be of the utmost importance. There's nothing hard about it as long as
you follow established procedures and document everything that should be documented.
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"At 0105 hrs, [date], I responded to [location] for a report of suspicious activity. During a search of the area, I discovered a
male lying on his back across a foot path with his head pointing in a northeasterly direction. I observed apparent gunshot
wounds to the victim's chest and head. Fire Department ambulance number 3 responded to the scene, and Paramedic John
Smith pronounced the victim dead at 0120 hrs., [date]."
In this incident, it's obvious to you that the victim is dead, and, theoretically, as a police officer, you'll be qualified to make
a pronouncement of death. However, in reality, it's always best to have an authorized paramedic make that official
determination. There will be times when death is so obvious, the paramedic pronouncement will not be required. The
medical determination is a routine occurrence, and people expect to see it in your report. It's a lot easier to follow the
routine rather than explaining why you didn't. The paramedics you work with will be aware of crime scene procedures, and
they'll do their pronouncement quickly and efficiently without contaminating your crime scene.
It's obvious that this crime scene will be easy to secure. Your report will go on to record the notifications you make, and
the arrival of persons such as detectives, crime lab, and medical examiner. Your report is primarily a chronological record
of activity regarding the crime scene. The investigative portion of the homicide will rest with the assigned investigator(s).
As a new police officer handling your first homicide, you may have a lot of theories you'd like to relate...and that's find.
You can verbally communicate your theories to the primary investigator who can evaluate their relevance.
When it comes to investigations, homicide comes in at the top of the list. Whether you're employed by a police department
that experiences few or many homicide investigations, the homicide will always be the one to receive the most attention,
and...the most restrictions. When I say restrictions, I'm referring to your involvement in the investigative aspect. Simply
put, your department doesn't want some rookie cop screwing up a homicide investigation.
You'll learn that following the very beginning of a homicide investigation where patrol officers are expected to search for
evidence and witnesses, homicide investigators will rarely seek your active involvement in the continuing investigation.
That's not to say that you should abandon your interest or efforts to locate witnesses, evidence, or other information that
will assist the investigation.