Over the years, I have read thousands of reports. I have also had to go to the officer and ask further questions to gain some insight into details that were unclear. The purpose of a good report is two-fold, to provide full details and for a record.
First, it provides the reader insight into what occurred. You are the reader's eyes. He or she was not there and may know nothing of what occurred. The reader should be able to read the report and visualize the occurrence. No questions should arise to those details from start to finish. Details of the environment, the situation, the steps that were taken, individuals present, descriptions, witnesses and details of what they observed should be included. It is not enough to just describe the foundational aspects of a written report - who, what, when, where, why, and how. Details must describe the hidden components. As an investigating officer, you must probe to uncover such details, and then write them in the report. For example, if a witness tells you that the suspect had a gun in his pocket, and if you write this in the report, your report will come under scrutiny concerning this detail. You must, therefore, probe the witness to determine how he or she could tell this was a gun in the suspect's pocket. Perhaps the witness could see the handle. If so, state that. These type of details will help the reader gain a detailed understanding of what occurred.
Second, your report is a record of the events that occurred and you will have to defend what is written many times, perhaps years later. Therefore, it is vitally important that you include the most minor details of the events. I have observed many officers lose their credibility to the court, jury, judge, attorneys, p0eers, and witnesses by a report they could not explain - details written in the report that were contradictory in nature or were not complete. As an officer, administrator, or employee in a government position, you become subject to Section 1983 lawsuits for negligence. The reports you write will be scrutinized by those attorneys handling such suits. You will be asked about why you wrote something. You will have to explain what you did and why you did not do something. Years after the incident, you will not remember. Your report is your only defense. Therefore, it must be detailed and accurate.
Take nothing for granted. No detail is too small. Include what you see, hear, smell, feel, and say. Record your surroundings at the point of entry and probe your witness/victim for full details. The more you probe, the more he or she will remember, and the more you can include. Doing so may be the difference between a conviction and a dismissal. It may also mean the difference between a jury finding for the plaintiff or you in a lawsuit. So, be thorough.
Dr. Anthony Daniel