“Failure to write a good report”

re*port (rɪˈpɔrt, -ˈpoʊrt); noun

  1.  a detailed account of an event, situation, etc., usually based on observation or inquiry.
  2.  an account prepared for the benefit of others.

Without a doubt, one of the primary reasons we get in trouble is the failure to write a good report – particularly when it involves a use of force – with or without a deployment of the police dog.

“The best K9 deployment can become the worst if the incident is not properly articulated in a detailed report.”

Here’s two paragraphs I’ve selected from an article by Lt. Curtis Cope (Retired, Huntington Beach PD) and Lt. Joe Callanan (Retired, Los Angeles Country Sheriff’s Department) that address the topic;

Having participated in thousands of civil lawsuits, criminal prosecutions and administrative reviews, your authors have observed a significant pattern of substandard report writing rather than actual police misconduct. It has been our collective experience that most use of force applications are indeed appropriate and even necessary to the prevailing arrest circumstances, but the critical factors necessary to the constitutional evaluation are frequently overlooked in the report writing process. This common failure undermines the officer’s ability to simply explain the reasonableness of the force application. 

The lack of a thorough and complete police report, one that includes the officer’s observations, perceptions and reasoning, is quite often the primary reason that “good police work” results in successful litigation against the officer and the agency. The point to be made here is that “good police work” can be obliterated in court if the arrest report fails to fully document the incident and satisfactorily explain the officer’s reasoning, judgment, conclusions, decision making and the action taken. More simply stated the court and/or the jury wants to know why the officer took a particular action.

“You are judged in this world by how well you bring things to an end.  A messy or incomplete conclusion can reverberate for years to come.” ~Robert Greene

Writing a good report involving an apprehension by your police dog – or any use of force – can be challenging and overwhelming if you don’t have the proper foundation, supervision and training. “Experience” can be a powerful influence in the learning process.  There is a certain style or structure for these reports that should be presented to identify an order of events, information, thoughts and justifications that are articulated in a clear and chronological sequence. However, in reality, this process should not be much different than any other use of force reporting.

It is just as important that the person(s) reviewing these reports be familiar and knowledgeable of the subject matter, procedures and deployment justifications with respect to their own policy, Graham and the Fourth Amendment.  Like a good FTO, the “reviewer” must also understand how to provide a proper critique or constructive criticism when necessary to improve future reports and perhaps influence better field performance and decision making.  If officers are allowed to continue writing inadequate reports because nobody knows the difference, they are bound to get in trouble even if it involves a good – or bad – incident.

Take care, be safe and write good reports…

Bill Lewis II

This “Reason” was originally shared on September 16, 2013