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Doug  Wyllie

Doug Wyllie

Doug Wyllie has authored more than 1,000 articles and tactical tips aimed at ensuring that police officers are safer and more successful on the streets. Doug is a Western Publishing Association “Maggie Award” winner for Best Regularly Featured Digital Edition Column. He is a member of International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA), an Associate Member of the California Peace Officers’ Association (CPOA), and a member of the Public Safety Writers Association (PSWA).

William Harvey

William Harvey

William "Bill" Harvey is currently serving as chief of police in south central Pennsylvania. He retired from the Savannah (Ga.) Police Department where he worked assignments in training, patrol, and CID. Harvey has more than 25 years of experience working with recruits, rookies, and FTOs.

An Officer's Most Potent Weapon

The least suspected item is the most life-changing one.

February 28, 2011  |  by William Harvey - Also by this author

Image via Flickr (pigpogm).

The police implement and potent weapon that can change an officer's life doesn't come in your choice of calibers. It's usually offered in just one color — black. And every one of us has it, but do we really know how to use it? It's the pen.

Do you believe the maxim that the pen is mightier than the sword? I do. Even though most departments use a work station and software to prepare reports, writing ability is honored among those in the criminal justice profession. I'm reminded of a lesson an old sergeant taught me years ago about making your mark. I was a young, eager recruit wanting to make my mark on the department. One of my reports was held up, and I was asked if this was the mark I wanted to make for myself?

Admittedly, it was not my most stellar effort, and here was the learning point. You're graded by others on how effective you are by your work product. There are many end users of your police report. A supervisor reviews it. Detectives use it to build their case. The CompStat office gleans its statistical data from it. Probation/parole can use it for their administrative cases. Insurance companies review it for their customers. The district attorney needs to build the prosecution case from it. The defense attorney uses it to free his or her clients.

Each report has a multiplicity of customers. Build your reputation as an effective officer, not on how shiny your brass and boots are, but how well worded your reports are. I was present in the courtroom for one hapless officer who looked sharp and testified well.

The defense then brought its version of show and tell. The officer on the stand had a poorly penned report; I still can't believe a sergeant approved it. The defense attorney had the report blown up to a poster size for the jury. As it stood propped up on an easel, the case unraveled. It should have been written in crayon. This officer didn't lose the case, but lost his credibility in the courts that day.

Making your mark now is easier than when I came along. In the late '70s and '80s, we had to write our reports in ink. Now, you have spell-checking, grammar check, formatting, and all of the tech tools that your software affords you. My old pen didn't have spell check; only I wish it had it then and now.

You have the ability to cut and paste from code books. One could get hand cramps and writer's fatigue then; now you can keep typing on. This makes it all the more easy to make your mark today. To me, there is little excuse not to produce fine reports. I strongly suggest signing up for a course on advanced report writing or investigative report writing at the local academy.

As the old crusty sergeant told me — once you make your mark, you can take it easy. How does this happen? He groused and told me, once the defense knows your mark and how complete your report is, they don't want you in court. They will be pleading out or cutting deals; you can enjoy your day off.

There is something to be said for crusty old sergeants.


How to Master Report Writing

Report Writing Tune-Up

Comments (2)

Displaying 1 - 2 of 2

SGT Mike Allen @ 3/1/2011 11:23 AM

All 3 are excellent articles. However, a lot of today’s officers that use computers to generate their reports still can’t functionally use them to create satisfactory reports. As an older guy who used to handwrite reports, as an accident investigation review officer, and now as a sergeant still reviewing accident and arrest reports, I find far too many mistakes. These include spelling, proper format for the particular type of incident, missing vital information to support the cause or the crime, and last but not least and probably the most crucial in my eye, too much “cut & paste.” While all the information presented in these articles are vital to a report to stand the test of time, one of the most important aspects not mentioned, is PROOFREADING. With the “cut & paste” generation, proofreading to make sure the “he & she”, the “Vehicle One vs. Vehicle 2”, and even the person’s name from this report not from a report 2 weeks ago, are all easily corrected by PROOFREADING. In my reviews, I don’t necessarily care about writing style or so much where a comma should or shouldn’t go, just as long as the necessary info is in the report. What does cause me a little heartburn now and then is the lack of PROOFREADING.

DavesamS-55 @ 3/1/2011 11:10 PM

Excellent! Veterans and Rookies needed tools to succeed! What I am trying to say is the veterans of yesterday, like the elders have so much wisdom share but some have forgotten how to do this or it is ignored, a rich source no doubt...This is however, always a two-way street of sharing and teamwork. Some rookies seem to know everything or don’t listen and learn. Some veterans or retiree’s seem to have forgotten they too, they were rookies once and the veterans before them pulled them along and guided and mentored them. Or the big "EGO" Like the band of brothers – we were rookies once- I have not forgotten that very challenging path. Also, confidence, credibility, trust, keep promises/comitments, or don't make them your character is on the line like you said when old Sgt held it up "Great Message/wisdom...

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