Police arrest and incident reports are essential to preparing criminal charges, because they make a record of a criminal investigation that is helpful for later prosecution. A well-written incident report uncovers the criminal investigation in a factual manner and is written to be understood by an outside observer. Good reports are factual and do not jump to conclusions. Useful incident reports detail important criminal law principles, such as eyewitness identification procedures, chain of custody in evidence collection and basis for arrests.
- Skill level:
- Moderately Challenging
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State the facts that led the police to respond, such as a call from 911 or an offence committed in the presence of a police officer.
State the facts and circumstances that gave the officer reasonable suspicion for the detention. Police are permitted to detain people for an investigation, but they must articulate the reasons for which they believe the individuals are involved in criminal activity.
State the probable cause for the arrest, including facts and evidence supporting the elements of the offence. For example, if the incident report is for a shoplifting offence, then state how the defendant was identified, the date of the offence, the property taken, how the value of the property was determined and how the intent to steal can be proven.
Eliminate acronyms and police jargon as much as possible. Elaborate on key information such as identity. For example, instead of stating "The defendant was the driver," write "Witness John Doe saw the defendant driving."
Correct typos and misspellings if you are responsible for writing the reports. If you dictate the reports, speak slowly and clearly into the microphone, and spell out any uncommon names or words, so that the transcriptionist will not have to guess.
Tips and warnings
- If you forgot to include information in your initial report, contact the detective assigned to your case, and ask if you may submit a supplement.
- Typos and wrong facts undermine the credibility of your report and may be used to impeach an officer's testimony in court. Seemingly small facts, such as time and date, matter a great deal in criminal investigations where minutes make a difference.
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