What are some tricks or reminders you might use to help keep your writing more active?

What are some tricks or reminders you might use to help keep your writing more active?

Discussion Questions

1. What are some consequences that may result from a subjective report? 2. What are some situations, if any, in which the author can make conclusions in an

objective report? (Example: Expert witness) How is this different from being subjective?

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3. Are there any situations in which a subjective report is appropriate to be used in an investigation, administrative case, private investigation’s report, or a probation report?

Using Active Voice in Police Reports

Key Lesson Objectives:

• Understand the importance of clear, concise writing • Develop basic report writing skills • Demonstrate the ability to write incident reports using active voice


Introduction Police officers and security personnel write reports for many types of events, from non-­‐ emergencies to violent crimes such as homicides. Whenever an officer is dispatched to a scene, a clear, concise, accurate incident report must be completed and filed, because the report may be used as evidence in the future. If used as evidence, lawyers, judges and juries will review the officer’s writing as part of a case. Therefore, the report must be immediately accessible and easy for civilians to understand. Many CJ students are uncomfortable with writing; after all, they are looking for a career in criminal justice or security, not journalism or publishing. Frequently, these students write long, expressive sentences with a high word count because they think it makes them look “smarter.” This is usually not the case; in fact, longer sentences that mix verb tenses and use unnecessary vocabulary are simply harder to follow and make the writer’s point vague and awkward. This is especially true in police reports. No matter what type of incident is reported, whether criminal or civil, it is essential that report writers use active voice. The use of active voice helps to make a report clear and concise, which is beneficial in the long run.

Reports that use proper, active verb tenses and that clearly describe subjects and actions lead to less confusion during the investigations process and ultimately at trial. Use of active verbs is called using “active voice.” Once you get into the habit of using active voice in your writing, it will become second nature to use it in your reports.

As writers, when we use active voice, we make the subject (in the case of police reports, a person) the main actor in the situation. This means we make the subject the focus of the sentence. In short, active voice tells you “who” did “what.” In a police report, this subject (“who”) may be the officer, suspect, victim or witness. The verb (“what”) is often, but not always, in the present tense, and indicates some form of action or movement. For instance, the following sentences use active voice. The subject is underlined, and the action is italicized.

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• “The witness saw the accident.” • “The victim answered all our questions.” • “Mr. Jones drove the car that night.” • “I spoke with the witnesses and took their contact information.”


Passive voice can make a sentence longer, but that does not necessarily make the sentence better. In fact, passive voice makes a sentence weaker, because the subject is acted upon, putting more importance on the act than the person. In fact, in some cases, the subject of the sentence is not even revealed, as in “Two kids were seen spray painting the wall of the city library.”

An easy way to recognize use of passive voice is to look at the content of the sentence itself. Instead of using verbs that denote some sort of action, passive voice usually use some form of “to be,” such as “are,” “is” “was” or “were.” Compare the following statements, as written in passive voice, to the ones written above. Again, the subject is underlined, and the action is italicized.

• “It was stated by the witness that she saw the accident.” • “Questions were answered by the conscious victim.” • “The car was driven by Mr. Jones that night.” • “The witnesses were spoken to and their contact information was taken by


Sometimes the passive voice is unavoidable; for instance, you may take a quote from a witness who is speaking in passive voice, and you must directly relate what she said without changing her words. However, use the active voice whenever it is within your control. When compiling your incident report, remember that less is more. Try to analyze your writing for situations where the active voice is more appropriate for your purposes than the passive voice.

Sentences using active and passive voice are listed below.

Examples of Active Voice Examples of Passive Voice “I interviewed Mr. Smith” “Mr. Jones was interviewed by me.” “Laura obtains statements quite easily.” “Statements are obtained quite easily by

Laura.” “He cooperated fully with our investigation.”

“He was cooperative with our investigation.”

“The suspect denies any wrongdoing.” “Wrongdoing is denied by the suspect.” “The officers canvassed the neighboring houses for information.”

“The neighboring houses were canvassed by officers seeking information.”

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You and your partner are dispatched to the scene of a purse snatching. During the course of your initial investigation, you interview the victim, who was crossing the street at the time her purse was snatched, and three witnesses to the event. One of those witnesses tripped the suspect as he tried to get away with the victim’s purse. The suspect was knocked unconscious and is still on the scene, and conscious, upon your arrival.

While filing your case, you come across your partner’s report. It reads as follows:

My partner and I were dispatched to the scene of a purse snatching. 8:00 p.m. was our arrival time at the scene on Mulberry Street. A middle-­aged man was observed on the ground; a large bruise was forming on his forehead. Three people were comforting an elderly woman on the ground; the contents of her purse were scattered on the sidewalk. The middle-­aged man was assessed by me; the other individuals were interviewed by my partner. The following events were recounted by the victim and corroborated by witnesses.

The elderly woman was taking a walk when the middle-­aged man grabbed her purse and began to run away. He was tripped by one of the witnesses, a teenage boy who was nearby. The actions were observed by the other two witnesses, sisters who were aware of other purse snatchings in the area. The elderly woman was comforted by the women, while 911 was called to the scene by the teenage boy.

The suspect was disoriented, and said he could not recall any of the events that were communicated by the other individuals. It was stated by the suspect that he did not know about any such crimes in the neighborhood. His residence is in another neighborhood; there was no reason provided for his presence on Mulberry Street.

An ambulance was called to attend to both the victim, who seemed to be in shock, and the suspect. The paramedics released the victim, who was fully alert and aware. An assessment was made of the suspect, who was then transported to the emergency room for care. Upon his release from the ER, the suspect was arrested by myself and my partner, and taken into custody.

Rewrite this report so that it uses more active language, but the integrity and meaning of the report does not change.

Discussion Questions 1. Why might using passive voice be a hard habit to break? 2. Can you think of any situations, other than direct quotes, where using passive voice

might be unavoidable?

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3. What are some tricks or reminders you might use to help keep your writing more active?

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