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Paul Clinton

Paul Clinton

As the POLICE Web editor, Paul Clinton contributes posts about patrol cars, motorcycles, and other police vehicles. He previously wrote about automotive electronics as managing editor of Mobile Electronics. Prior to that, he was an award-winning newspaper reporter.



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.
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Never Settle for Just Good Enough

If your written work isn't up to your standards, step it up. Improve the quality.

September 20, 2011  |  by William Harvey - Also by this author

How many times have you heard the old saw, "That's good enough for government work?" Does that mean shoddy or marginal work is acceptable? You'll have to ask yourself if that's what you want to be known for producing?

One thing I tell all young officers is that your work products — reports, evidence tickets, traffic citations and the like — are your trademark. You'll produce a product that will have several end users.

Detectives build their case on your preliminary report. Prosecutors decide whether to move forward with the case based on your report. Insurance companies, probation officers and others will use your work product to help them with their roles. Sooner or later a case will come up to the detectives and prosecutors, and they'll look to the officer to bring charges.

How do you want to be viewed by your criminal justice colleagues? You should desire to be known as the articulate officer with a keen attention to procedure and detail. You don't want the reputation of the sloppy dullard who just tries to get by with minimum effort. Make your mark here as a positive one.

Years ago, when I was a detective sergeant, I was tasked with assisting with detective applicant interviews. I would go to records management archives and make copies of the example reports for burglaries, assaults, traffic citations, and traffic accidents. I would make a copy of a daily activity report (DAR) for good measure.

Today, these could be generated at a workstation with spell check and grammar check. The dais would review the applicants' reports before we interviewed them. If you claimed to be an excellent report writer and premier preliminary investigator, the example reports would validate you.

Oftentimes the lackluster reports caused chagrin among the aspiring detectives. You never know who'll read a mundane report, and you never know what a well-written report will net you. Pay attention to the details; it will pay off in more ways than one.

You take pride in your job, uniform, and appearance. Why stop there? When you start in this profession—yes, I said profession—you're young, motivated, and full of desire to be the future's warrior. As the shifts drag on, you can feel mundane at times and start to slack off. Don't do it; it's a contagious disease. The malady of mediocrity will creep in and you'll be a slacker as well. Don't let your trademark slide and become an inferior product.

Do it correctly the first time and give it all you've got—you often won't know when the smallest things will pay off. I'd bet a few aspiring detectives who didn't make it wish they'd had this tip. Be the detective they never were; you now have an inside track.

Tags: Professional Image, Writing Reports


Comments (4)

Displaying 1 - 4 of 4

GPD1185 @ 9/20/2011 8:52 PM

Amen!!!!! Take this to heart youngsters.

Det. Sgt. M.C. Williams @ 9/21/2011 7:24 AM

Outstanding article, even better reminders. I "preach" report writing to those in my agency and -- more than any other skill -- this is what will be seen (and judged) the most by those outside your office. We can't serve and protect well unless what we put on paper stands up in court -- both the judicial and the one of our peers.

Deadman @ 9/21/2011 12:15 PM

On the flip side of the coin,don't just sit on your duff when you make detective or you might be known as just plain (dick).When you sit down to review reports,don't (again)ass/u/me,that the uniform is a putz,because if you do,you're assisting him in becoming one by not asking him further questions,asking for witness statements,photos,other officers on scene and their statements,double checking with all officers on scene or departments about what they did,that's on you,They recently had a cold case on tv where the original detective didn't see the forest for the trees and another officer came up with the evidence to put the perp away from the same evidence it was all there.

Once i was contacted at home by an attorney gathering evidence for a case,i was upset somebody gave him my phone number,BUT,i had evidence that nobody was aware of because the original officer blew it off and so did the detective,but the attorney want a conviction because of previous contact with the perp,I had taken pictures,there's the perp,there's his counsin,there's his dog,there's his car.Original reporting officer,didn't want statements,was lazy,didn't indicate that i had taken pictures,from that moment on,everytime that attorney saw my badge number on a report,my phone rang,my photos helped with convictions,defending officers and eleviating the threat of a lawsuit.

I arrested a man wanted for three homocides,i indicated i had arrested for a warrant for disorderly conduct,did not mirandize ,but he performed an utterance confessing to three homocides,detectives read my report and let him plea to one homocide,yeah they cleared the books but they could have gotten a conviction for all three,complacency is in all departments,from the chief to the 1 year rookie.How do you think rookies get their training,just from the academy,it is a never ending battle,(story).

Deadman @ 9/21/2011 12:40 PM

Bad training can have quite effect on arrests,convictions,we had rookies fresh out of the academy reading miranda to arrested individual nailed on a warrant from another department for traffic offenses or other crimes that if mirandized could have a bad effect on later questioning by another department,i never mirandized,it wasn't my job.I arrive at a complait,interview the subjects there,from interviews,i effect an arrest,once i arrest,i don't speak to arrested suspect,i indicate on report that suspect was not mirandized to detectives,their job starts with clean slate,i never had a problem,high conviction rate for 28.5 years.Everything that comes out in a book by a college professor,retired cop,trainging officer or manual is not gospel,every circumstance is different,unfortunately ,management/upper eschelons get it wrong quite often.Training evolves,management doesn't.

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