A significant part of the work of an employee of the authorities is documentation. Thus, it is very important for them to have the necessary writing skills to be able to provide multiple but informative reports on any events. The information should contain the main provisions of the incident or crime so that any reader can understand the events described without problems and doubts. All information for further investigations, prosecutions, or arrests must be reliable and supported by evidence. Usually, a report is compiled based on interviews with the victim, witnesses, and suspects at the site of the incident. A report can be submitted by a police officer on the spot and personally by the victim or a witness. Despite the fact that each case is individual and refers to different police departments, law enforcement agencies have common forms for filling out a report. Thus, all reports have a general pattern in the design structure. However, the information provided changes depending on the case.
General Information About Reports
Police and law enforcement officers deal with different incidents and crimes every day. Each of them requires officers to make important decisions, often without delay and in a state of stress or considering all the facts regarding the situation. For this reason, all details of any incidents or crimes must be recorded for further investigation. Despite the fact that the content of each report has its characteristics, six characteristics are common to all effective accounts.
Regardless of the type of police reports, they are always (Boateng, 2018):
- Actual. Law enforcement officers provide objective reports that record the case’s observed and relevant facts. Any conclusions drawn by the whistleblower must be supported by the stated and documented facts. Unsubstantiated opinions or findings should never be included in an effective report.
- Accurate. Reliable data must accompany all information contained in the report on the actions taken and decisions. If any evidence is found to be incorrect, the credibility of the report will be compromised. Only necessary, honest, and correct information should be provided to achieve meticulous accuracy.
- Understandable. The reports drawn up by the police must provide information that does not raise questions and doubts in the words of the informant who describes the events of the incident or crime. It can be achieved with a clear report structure that is logically structured, with the correct use of language and writing techniques.
- Brief. The description of the events should include all the necessary information that may be needed to understand the events that occurred at the scene of the crime or incident. However, at the same time, it should be concise and include all relevant information without the need for further explanation. At the same time, it should be remembered that the report should not be shortened if this hinders understanding and accuracy.
- Completed. If the report is written correctly, it has all the necessary details thus that any reader can easily understand the facts and details of the crime or incident described. It is complete when it presents a full picture of the incident without the reader having any questions. The content justifies the officer’s actions in such a report; both supporting and contradictory information is included.
- Timely. In the event that the filing report is not timely, requests for an investigation or general decisions or actions cannot be taken.
Reports of various types, which are compiled by law enforcement officers, are necessary for the daily work of the authorities. Most of them correspond to certain types of events. Hence many police departments have special general forms accepted for quick completion. Even though each police department has its forms, they usually require similar information to fill out, therefore, they are very similar in content and design. There can be many different forms used by police agencies everywhere, but these four types are most common: Traffic Crashes, Misdemeanor Crimes, Felony Crimes, and Domestic Violence Crimes.
Traffic Crashes (TC) are events that occur during the movement of a vehicle on the road. It results in bodily harm, death of a person, damage to vehicles, structures, cargo, or other material damage (Lippman, 2019). The driver of a car involved in an accident must stop immediately and provide his name and address to any other party involved in the accident. The exception is when the driver is injured and cannot do it on his own.
Misdemeanor Crimes and Felony Crimes
A misdemeanor is considered to be a less serious violation of the law than a felony crime. Typically, the punishment for such an offense consists of either probation, a fine, or imprisonment in a local jail for a short time. Punishment depends on the severity of the offense committed and the state in which it was committed, as some counties classify minor offenses into levels (Lippman, 2019). Felony crimes are the most serious crimes a person can commit (Lippman, 2019). They entail fines, lengthy prison terms, or permanent loss of freedom.
Domestic Violence Crimes
The term ‘domestic violence’ refers to a serious offense or crime against a person committed by someone close to the victim: current or former spouse, intimate partner, and others. Domestic crime is usually defined as an act of violence that causes actual bodily harm or an imminent threat of physical harm (Klein, 2017). Some states have different laws that apply to acts of violence, while other states treat domestic violence as an aggravating factor. It entails an increase in punishment for defendants convicted of a violent act in such a case.
Compilation of a Report
As a rule, reports are compiled on the basis of direct observations and interviews of victims, witnesses, or suspects by police or law enforcement officers. During the on-site survey, law enforcement officers receive the main information about the incident or crime. Thus, the testimony given during the on-site consultation is often decisive in examining the case’s specific facts. It is important because important special features of incidents and crimes can be distinguished from the testimonies of victims, witnesses, and suspects. To prepare a report, one must provide the following information (U.S. Dept. of Justice):
- Date and time of accident/incident/crime
- Exact location
- Participants’ personal data (including data from the driver’s license, such as Vehicle registration plate and expiration date, in the event of an TC)
- Injury information and total cost of damage
- Description of the incident
- Sometimes, it is necessary to provide photo or video materials.
As a rule, in the event of any incident or crime, a police or law enforcement officer arrives at the scene and draws up a report on his own. However, the participant can apply in person at the police station, by mail, or online. In this case, it is important to remember the hierarchy of crimes. That implies that each incident and crime has its value, based on which only the most serious ones should be reported to the authorities.
All reports retain a general form, although they have individual characteristics depending on the type of incident or crime. It is important to follow the general rules for effective reporting to avoid any misunderstandings and problems. The FBI, state criminal justice departments, and courts maintain incidents and criminal history databases. As a rule, only government officials, such as prosecutors and law enforcement agencies, have full access to these databases.
Boateng, F. D. (2018). Crime reporting behavior: Do attitudes toward the police matter? Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 33(18), 2891–2916. Web.
Klein, A. R. (2017). Practical implications of current Domestic Violence Research: For law enforcement, prosecutors and judges. Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Dept. of Justice.
Lippman, M. (2019). Essential Criminal Law (3rd ed.). SAGE.
U.S. Dept. of Justice. (n.d.). Report writing manual.