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A good report is a complete and clearly-written narrative. It should be able to answer the questions what, when, where, who, how, and if possible, why. (WikiEducator, 2007) The first five questions are rather easy to deal with because they only require factual answers which could be gathered from the scene of any incident. For this reason, a report is considered “good” if it satisfactorily answers these five questions. Answering the sixth and last question, however, is another thing altogether. Unless the perpetrator of an incident explains the reason behind his or her actions, it is difficult to answer the question “why” with certainty. Trying to answer this question by him- or herself could amount to conjecture on the part of the person making the report. Hence, in the absence of an admission or a declaration from the perpetrator, the officer investigating an incident could only hint at motives by resorting to presumptions or assumptions. A report, therefore, could still be a good one even if it does not attempt to answer the question “why” or does not venture into the motive of the perpetrator.
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Narrating literally means telling or recounting. A police report, be it a situational, intelligence, crime, or administrative report, is actually a narrative. Specifically, it is “a detailed account of an incident observed, information received or findings of an investigation which establishes the truth or otherwise of an issue or allegation.” (WikiEducator, 2007) The process involves the gathering and assimilating of information and then retelling it. (Levison, n.d.) It is important, therefore, for an officer to listen attentively to the witnesses to an incident and assimilate everything they tell him or her, before he or she could accurately recount what happened. Taking down notes while interviewing witnesses or attending to the person reporting an incident is very valuable during the information-gathering stage. The notes will later serve as a back-up tool during the actual report-writing process. To be able to narrate an incident with precision, it is also imperative that the report should be written immediately, while the details are still fresh in one’s mind. Postponing the actual writing process to a later time or date, even if one has notes to help him or her, does not amount to the same thing.
A good report should include everything related to the incident being reported. Nothing should be left out because everything should be considered material and significant provided it has something to do with the incident. In cases where an officer encounters contradictory information, such should be duly noted, but the information should nonetheless be included in the report. (Baker, 2006)
As earlier stated, a good report is factual and answers the questions what, when, where, who, and how. Let us consider the following example:
An American Savings Bank branch at 3265 Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles was robbed by armed men Monday, July 2, 2007. The robbery occurred around 9:00 o’clock in the morning while two tellers were busy serving the bank’s Monday morning clients. According to the lone guard, a long-haired white man with dark glasses and dressed in business suit approached him upon entering the door and suddenly brought out a gun, disarmed him, and forced him to lie face down on the floor. Three more men in ski masks and armed with handguns entered the bank and announced the hold up. The robbers escaped aboard a waiting black car after divesting the tellers and the bank clients of their cash and other valuables. According to witnesses, the robbery took only 10 minutes.
The above example is a good report because it answers the questions what, when, where, who, and how. In other words, it provides the basic information regarding an incident. Note that the report does not dwell on “why” the men robbed the bank or what they will do with the money afterwards simply because the perpetrators did not say so, or because no other motive could yet be established other than that they were after the money of the bank and its clients. The narrative, however, should not end with the basic information. The officer investigating the case should also incorporate other information which might solve the case. This should include eyewitness accounts which could help reveal the identities of the suspects, as well as their modus operandi - facts that could very well lead to their arrest.
Baker, B.M. (2006-07). Police Report Writing. Retrieved August 7, 2007, from http://www.careerpoliceofficer.com/PoliceandVictims/police_report_writing.html
Levison, C. (n.d.). Narration. Retrieved August 7, 2007, from http://www.angelfire.com/wa/beeme1/page2.html
WikiEducator. (2007). Lesson 1: Police Administrative Report. Retrieved August 7, 2007, from http://wikieducator.org/Lesson_1:_Police_Administrative_Report
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