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.

Related:

How to Master Report Writing

Report Writing Tune-Up

Author

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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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.

View Bio
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