Good Police Report Writing: A Guide

Most investigators and law enforcement officers regard taking contemporaneous notes and report writing as a necessary evil. Police field notes are extremely important to a police officer. Aside from serving as a personal log, the notebook is also utilized to document what the police officer has heard, seen, or actions taken such as seizure of evidence and searches of premises. An officer usually does not have enough time to write down a complete report while working in the field. Thus, he or she documents essential information in a notebook and later utilizes this info to write a complete report. Therefore, it is important that every field police officer keep a police notebook with which to record his or her activities. .

Investigators are expected to acquire as many details as possible upon arrival at a crime scene. Also, comprehensive police field notes decrease the need to make another contact with witnesses and victims concerning questions which were not asked or details that were overlooked during the initial contact. Furthermore, police officers are sometimes required to testify in a law court several months or even years later with regard to a particular investigation. Apart from helping to refresh the officer’s memory, detailed contemporaneous notes can also strengthen the investigator’s court testimony.

For police officers and investigators working in the field, each day comprises of continuous note taking as well as writing down information about likely suspects, lost persons, crimes as well as other disputes among members of the public. Most times, the officer writes these notes on his or her pocket notebook. However, other official documents like crime reports, police reports, citations and tickets are typically filled out on special forms or documents. Nevertheless, most officers tend to keep certain notes. These could be notes about suspect descriptions, possible crime patterns as well as other info that may be essential toward helping other police officers and investigators resolve crimes. So, what should happen to these notes when an officer is going on vacation or is off duty? Generally, an officer is expected to go to his or her department headquarters and enter all the info they deem necessary into the computer database. This will enable other officers and investigators access the information when they need it.

Features of a Good Police Notebook

A police notebook should possess the following features:

  • Be sufficiently large for easy writing
  • Small enough for easy pocket carry
  • Sequentially numbered pages
  • Clothbound with no loose pages
  • Protected by sufficient cover

Types of Police Reports

Generally, police reports are categorized as either non-emergency or emergency report

Traffic Reports

Traffic violations are reported via police traffic citations or reports. Expired vehicle registration, failure to yield and speeding are examples of violations which might call for a traffic report. A traffic report will contain details such as the violation, the driver’s name, vehicle model and make, vehicle identification number and license plate number.

Administrative Reports

Administrative police reports document crimes and violations of the police workforce. Such reports contain information that will enable the police establishment take administrative action against erring officers. The administrative report is used to report about police officers who might be guilty of wrongdoing.

Five possible findings can result from an administrative report. If the admin report is “unfounded”, it means that either the allegation is not based on fact or it has been disproved. If it’s “not sustained” it means there is no way to prove or disprove the allegation, thus no action will be taken. A “sustained allegation is one which has been established to breach the department’s rules and regulations. An “exonerated” allegation is one that’s established to have taken place, however was established to be within the law. Finally, if an allegation is established to be a “policy failure,” then the actions of the police officer are established to be in line with police laws and policy; however the policy will be placed under review.

Crime Reports

Police crime reports enable the police to have some idea about what happened at a crime scene without actually being present at the crime scene. These reports are recorded for criminal offenses like vandalism, assault and theft. The report comprises of five separate components, starting with a heading which states what’s being reported about. Also, the report has an intro section that outlines the subject matter of the report. The body of the report gives comprehensive details about what’s being reported. The concluding part of the report gives a summary of the main points within the report’s body, as well as a recommendation which states what the police officer thinks should be done regarding the claim.

What Are The Features of a Good Police Report?

Basic Information

Report forms contain checklists as well as fields where officers can fill in information. It is important to thoroughly complete each item and field, even if the item is not applicable. The police officer completes many of these fields using the suspect or victim’s identification card issued by the government. Phone numbers and contact details are essential to obtain additional info from the alleged suspect or victim.

Crime Category

It is important that the offense classification is reported accurately and placed within the right crime grouping. Statistical data regarding these offenses is gathered from the various law enforcement agencies and then analyzed to determine the kinds of crimes that take place throughout the country. It is the duty of the police officer to know the different kinds of crimes and apply the relevant crimes within the report.

Suspect Details

Obtaining a comprehensive description of the alleged suspect is an essential aspect of taking police field notes. If the victim had a traumatic experience, it might be difficult to obtain a reliable physical description of the suspect from him or her. In such a situation, it is best to ask many questions that can be used to produce a thorough and effective report. This is especially important if the report will be utilized in a court case. The notes should include essential physical information such as eye color, complexion, hair color, height, approximate age, race, clothing, scars, weight and tattoos.

Report Narrative

It is essential that the report narrative is well written, complete, concise, direct and accurate. Sometimes people may not be willing to volunteer information, therefore the police officer should be proactive in gathering information as well as interviews. The report should be written in chronological order using facts obtained from the investigation and interview. Details like contradictions may be relevant to the police report. Also, details such as verbal exchanges and conversations should all be included in the contemporaneous notes.

Additional Tips for Great Police Report Writing

Presented below are some tips for proper police note taking and report writing.

  • Having excellent, consistent shorthand is important for fast police note taking. During observations and interviews, you should jot down questions (notes to self) which come to your mind. These will help keep any follow-ups fresh as well as focused.
  • When taking notes at a crime scene, be sure to clearly identify who said or did what (suspects and witnesses). It can be helpful to note clothing descriptions and take pictures of individuals involved using your mobile phone.
  • Your written record should include notes about environmental conditions, time and sequence of events
  • Above all else, your notes should be written contemporaneously. Contemporaneous notes are essential for utilizing them within a court room setting.

When writing a police report, think about the people who might read your report: the insurance company, the victim, the victim advocate, the parole/probation officer. Also, researchers seeking data for grant funding, budgeting, crime prevention, planning, and several other academic endeavors might also read your report. The conclusions reached by these individuals might eventually become legislation and government policy.

Therefore, it is extremely important that you produce a good police report.


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