Police reports are paramount in documenting incidents, but before we get into the need for effective reports, another issue needs to be addressed, the importance of field notes.


Law enforcement officers may encounter a significant number of bizarre events or incidents during their shift. After dealing with these events, they will be required to pass on factual information to someone who was not present during the crisis. The officer must not only be able to observe the event accurately but to be able to articulate the event in words. More importantly, the officer must then be able to transfer those observations onto paper or into a computer. This process begins by taking extensive field notes. Later these field notes will be used to assist the officer in remembering the necessary details of the incident. Failing to take proper field notes can lead to errors in the report (Fawcett, n.d.). An officer’s notes may be defined only as “a quick and accurate method of recording that what you saw, did, and heard (Fawcett, n.d.).”

Field notes are a shorthand version of the police report. Patrol officers begin taking notes from the time they arrive on the scene until the call is complete. Without field notes, it only takes a small amount of time for significant facts to slip away from your memory. Trusting in your field notes is a great plan of action to fight against forgetting crucial facts of the case. It is easy to see that “field notes are more reliable than an officer’s memory (Swanson, Chamelin, & Territo, 2002).”

Notepads vs. notebooks

Patrol officers carry a small notepad in one of their pockets. This notepad is used for smaller type crimes such as misdemeanors, ordinance violations, or for documenting names of suspects that the officer encounters. A well-prepared officer or detective also keeps a legal sized notepad in his car. This legal pad or notebook is better able to fit more notes and gives the officer the ability to better organize and outline his thoughts and words. Another good reason for taking good field notes is that the officer may start getting multiple calls and be unable to stop and write his police report after each call. If the officer takes suitable notes, it will be easier to rightly divide the information so that it gets documented for the appropriate case.

“The officer cannot trust these facts and details to memory. The tendency to forget details and events with the passage of time is a well-known fact. Notes, properly made at the time, are seldom forgotten, will never change with the passage of time, and will ensure that accuracy and detail are not lost (Fawcett, n.d.).”

“Another advantage to detailed field notes is that the officer will lessen the need to re-contact the parties involved. Oftentimes, victims and witnesses get irritated and even upset when they are re-contacted by an unprepared officer who clearly did not acquire effective field notes the first time they dealt with them (Swanson, Chamelin, & Territo, 2002).”

When taking field notes also include alternate ways to contact the party involved. Try to collect other phone numbers, such as landlines, cell phones, work numbers. Attempt to gather email addresses, and other social media profiles, such as Facebook. Some people change their phone numbers frequently due to bill collectors calling them constantly. Some suspects quickly change their phone numbers after dealing with police, but they may keep their other social media accounts for years. Also, document where the person works and what they do for a living. “The occupation of a person may be of some importance to an investigation (Swanson, Chamelin, & Territo, 2002).”

Document the time of significant events

When interviewing a subject, write down (in your field notes) the time you started speaking to them and the time you stopped. If they say something that is vital to the case, put that statement in quotes and write it down exactly as they said it, so that you can later accurately quote them in your report. Documenting times is of particular importance in DUI (Driving under the influence) cases. Some states require the officer to observe the subject for a set time (e.g. twenty minutes) before administering certain tests, so these times must be documented in your notes and the offense report.


Some other good rules to follow concerning field notes are to make sure your handwriting is legible. Sometimes when you are trying to write things down quickly, your writing becomes messy or unreadable. Then when you go back to write your report, you are unable to read your notes. If you set a goal to make sure that others can read your notes, then it will be easier for you to read them as well.

Completeness and accuracy

Make sure your notes are complete and accurate. If you look at your notes later and cannot figure out or decipher what you meant, then you need to re-evaluate your note-taking process. Make sure there is enough detail to give other people a complete picture of what occurred. It is important to be accurate in your notes as well. If you write down the “facts” incorrectly then it affects the entire case. It will also be confusing to you when you sit down to create your original report, and things are not matching up.

Chronological order

Keep your notes in chronological order. If you jump around in your story, it will be harder to follow at a later date. If you are writing down a verbal statement and your victim suddenly remembers an earlier event, use arrows to show the chronological progress, or start a new page of notes to clarify the new information.


It is okay to abbreviate in your notes as long as you can remember later what the abbreviation means. Should you make errors in your notes, do not try and erase them or eliminate them, just draw a single line through the mistake, put your initials next to the line and move on. Avoid writing personal notes in your field notes. An example would be that you just remembered that you have to get the kids, after work, so you write “pick up kids” in your field notes. Doing this
is unprofessional and could be called into question at a later time. Also, do not put your opinions in your field notes. Remember to write down just the facts (Fawcett, n.d.).”


If you are the officer responsible for guarding a major crime scene, another part that could be considered field notes is the Crime Scene Log. The crime scene should be protected with the utmost integrity. Part of that responsibility falls upon the officer that is guarding the scene. That officer will catalog everyone that enters that scene and the time they enter and exit. Document their reason for entry. This process hopefully discourages non-essential personnel from entering the scene just to satisfy curiosity or to gawk. Another reason for the log is to protect the site from contamination or someone removing evidence. One problem that sometimes occurs is that a supervisor in charge of the investigation places a rookie officer in charge of documenting the crime scene log. Then ranking officers show up and tell the rookie things like, “Don’t put my name down, I’ll only be a minute,” or “I won’t touch anything.” This officer needs to be able to have the authority to prevent those people from entering. If they do enter, then record it, despite their request. The purpose of the log is to not only prevent sightseers from entering but that no matter who enters, there is a permanent record that stays with the case. In case there is some DNA or trace evidence that is left by an investigator, there will then an explanation for that rather than wasting time on investigating them as a suspect.


Another crucial piece of the investigative puzzle is the Crime Scene Sketch. The crime scene sketch is in the same category as field notes. This sketch details vital information that would otherwise not be conveyed with photos and field notes alone. The crime scene sketch becomes a permanent part of the case and provides an overall blueprint of the scene. It documents the layout of the evidence and how it relates to other data and factors of the incident. This sketch is an excellent addition to your case. In some situations, and according to some policies, it is required. A homicide case would be one of those cases where a crime scene sketch is necessary.
Field sketch or Rough sketch

The first on-scene sketch is called a rough sketch or a field sketch. Later when you can sit down and refine it with a computer or with drafting type equipment, it is known as the final sketch.

Both sketches need to be saved with the case file. (Click to compare a field sketch with a final sketch.)
Types of Crime Scene Sketches

∞ Overhead or bird’s eye view
∞ Cross projection or folded box view Ex: #1, Example #2
∞ Elevation or side view
∞ Perspective or 3D view

After the scene is completely photographed, create a hand-drawn bird’s eye view of the scene, to include the position of the bodies, any evidence that pertains to the case, and their locations in relationship to the area or room they were found. The bird’s eye view or overview sketch is the most common type of crime scene sketch.

Other types of sketches may be used to supplement the bird’s eye sketch. Click on the above hyperlinks for examples. Each has their advantages.

The 3D or perspective sketch is more complicated to draw but can offer a better understanding of the scene. Some investigators sketch it onto paper or onto a computer tablet device. This sketch is very valuable to the criminal investigation and the future court proceedings. It is a permanent record that works for hand in hand with the photographs and video recordings that are also part of the case. Its purpose is to accurately portray where the evidence was found and its correlation and distance to the victim and the surroundings.

Ways to measure the crime scene
¥ Rectangular coordinates or baseline
¥ Triangulation or Trilateration
¥ Stationary line

There are different ways to measure the evidence distance at the crime scene. The first method is called the Rectangular or baseline method. This method is normally used indoors and works by measuring at a 90-degree angle (or perpendicular) from a fixed straight wall to the item of evidence. Then measure from the adjacent wall doing the same thing, out to the item of evidence.

The next method is called triangulation or trilateration. In this method, you choose two fixed points and measure from each point to the item of evidence.

The next method is called the station line or stationary line. This approach is generally used outside or where the evidence is spread out over a large area. You first find two fixed points and extend the tape measure from one to the other. Then use another tape measure to measure perpendicular from the stationary line to the item of evidence.

You should take appropriate measurements and add them to your field sketch. Then using those measurements complete your final sketch. Label your field sketch, “not to scale.” If your final sketch is to scale, label it appropriately. Make sure you point north in the proper direction on both your field sketch and your final. Be sure and label your sketch, so you know later what each item represents.

Due to recent technological improvements, some larger departments and crime scene technicians have portable computer devices that take photos and scan the scene with lasers that measure the scene precisely.
After you have completed the required field notes and crime scene sketch, the report can now be started.


One of the most important, yet often ignored aspects of police work is report writing. Police shows on television make police work appear to always be fun and exciting. Chasing down bad guys, getting the suspect to confess and solving the crime within an hour, is not even close to the reality of being a police officer. There is very little attention given to writing police reports. In real life, a well-written police report is the key to documenting the incident. This report can assist the prosecutor in gaining a successful conviction. If the report has been poorly written, it can be used by the defense to suggest sloppy police work or disorganized thinking on the part of the investigating officer. Such defense attorney tactics cause juries to start considering whether an officer who is negligent in his or her writing might also be negligent in other facets of police work (Carandang, 2014).

“Poorly written reports hurt your credibility by making you appear less competent and professional. They can also undermine your goals. A poorly written report can cause you to lose a case in court, perhaps resulting in a criminal being set free to kill, rape, steal, or commit arson again (Levy, 2006).” With that being said, a well-written report can place a criminal in jail for the rest of their life. Which brings new meaning to the old saying, “The pen is mightier than the sword.”

When you think about the vital skills needed to be a good police officer or to perform their duties, most people do not believe that about report writing skills. Instead, they may think of skills such as competence with firearms defensive tactics, upper-body muscle, decision-making skills, and perhaps several other specialized tasks. On the other hand, the ability to prepare high- quality police reports is most likely not even considered (Carandang, 2014).

The truth of the matter is that police work requires a substantial amount of writing—something television shows and movies rarely emphasize during their faced-paced shootouts and police chase scenes. “Once the smoke clears, the screeching tires are silent, officers involved in such activities in the real world will be set with the task of writing up these incidents (Carandang, 2014).”

Police officers and investigators write reports every day. These reports will be referred to and studied many times throughout the course of the investigation, and even for years after that. The District attorneys will use them to prosecute the suspects. The defense lawyers will use them to pick apart your case. If the case becomes substantial enough, it may go to the Supreme Court, and certain aspects of your actions could end up as case law. Then your report will be reviewed over and over in classrooms, law school, and cited in court. In the Miranda vs. Arizona case, consider how the original reporting officers felt after their reports were reviewed over and over by the Supreme Court and later their suspect was released from prison. This case is still being referred to on a daily basis.

“These reports will be read by supervisors, police, prosecutors, defense counsels, judges, jurors, and more and more frequently the media. Police reports must be written clearly and concisely and contain a description of the necessary elements of the crime to permit a prosecutor to convince a judge or jury that the accused did, in fact, commit the crime (Carandang, 2014).” When writing a report, stay away from using police jargon (e.g. “After realizing I was dealing with a homicide case, I called the dicks out to assist.” Dicks is a slang term for detectives that was derived from the comic strip Dick Tracy.) Also, avoid legalese terms such as hot pursuit. “In the legal context, hot pursuit is considered the immediate and continuous pursuit of a fleeing suspect by law enforcement. While in hot pursuit, officers may be justified in entering, searching, or seizing property or persons without first having to obtain a warrant, which would otherwise be required under the Fourth Amendment (Taylor, 2014).”

Avoid police jargon

Unfortunately, many incident reports are filled with terminology that is unfamiliar to the general public. Often reports are ambiguous, contain inconsistencies and lack the precise details needed to describe the corpus delicti (the concrete evidence of a crime, such as a dead body) of the incident being reported (Carandang, 2014). Using language commonly known to the general public is important. If you have to use a word or term that is uncommon, then explain it briefly in parentheses, to clarify any doubt.

Spelling, grammar, and punctuation

It is a common practice for defense attorneys to display the officer’s police report on a large screen during court and then attack the officer’s credibility by pointing out all of the mistakes. There may be spelling errors, mistakes with grammar, and also problems with punctuation. The defense will use whatever method that is necessary to help their client even if it means making you look like a fool. “The strategy is to cast doubt on the witness’s competency and professionalism. ‘If the witness is this careless in writing his report, how can we trust that he was accurate, thorough, and attentive to detail when conducting his investigation (Levy, 2006)?’”

Chronological order

It is also necessary to document the case in chronological order. This is the order in which the incident happened. If you have the times available to you, put them in your report. If you handle a robbery at the local convenience store, and there is video surveillance of the incident, document the times from the video in a play by play order. For example:

∞   2100:01 hours, the suspect vehicle, a black Dodge minivan, drives into the parking lot and parks on the side of the building.
∞   2101:08 hours, a tall white male exits the van and puts on a ski mask and walks towards the front doors.
∞   2101:15 hours, the suspect enters the store and walks up to the counter.
∞   2102:02 hours, the suspect talks to the proprietor and pulls a black handgun from his rear waistband.
∞   2102:10 hours, he then points the gun at the victim and demands money.
∞   2102:21 hours, the victim opens the register and starts handing money to the suspect. During this time, the suspect reaches over the counter and grabs a carton of Marlboro cigarettes.
∞   2103:42 hours, the suspect exits the store with the cigarettes and the cash and runs to the get-a-way van.
∞   2104:13 hours, the suspect drives the van away from camera view towards the south.

Bullet style format

The above is a bullet style format that can be used in other parts of the report, such as, making a list of stolen items. Using a bullet style can help better organize the report and make it easier to read and more appealing to the eye. For example, a paragraph style would be as follows:

While on a domestic call, Sally told me that her husband James came home intoxicated, and they began arguing. She said she had dinner on the table, and James picked up a plate of food and threw it at her. Sally stated that James then went to the bedroom and passed out.

The bullet style of the above statement would be as follows:

The victim Sally told me the following while on a Domestic call:
¥   Her husband James came home intoxicated
¥   They began arguing
¥   James grabbed a plate of food from the dinner table and threw it at her
¥   James went to his bedroom and passed out

Just keep in mind that when using bullet style reporting, make sure not to leave important elements out of the report just to make the report look better.

Be descriptive

When documenting the incident, be very descriptive. Instead of writing that the “subject was acting crazy and attacked me,” describe, in detail, the subject’s actions. For example, the female had matted hair and dirty clothes. She was on her hands and knees, clawing the ground with her fingernails and rocking back and forth. When she looked up at me, her facial muscles were tense,
and her expressions showed anger. She was gritting her teeth and making strange growling sounds. She suddenly charged at me with her hands opened up as though she was trying to grab or claw me.

Document spontaneous or excited utterances

Also document any spontaneous statements of the victims, witnesses and suspects. Sometimes the suspect will blurt out a confession before you question them and this type of statement is extremely important to your case. In Domestic Violence cases, it is common for a victim to blurt out what happened to them before they start thinking about possible consequences of retaliation by the suspect. These statements must be written in your field notes and your report because the victim may later (even minutes later) recant.

Some departments have a policy that the original narrative should cover just the basics and not include a huge amount details, but a supplement should be created that restates the original information, but then goes into more extensive details. Either way, all the details need to be included in the reports.

Know the law and title the report accordingly

Another important aspect of crime reporting is to know the laws and accurately title the report as such. If the report is not properly titled, this can affect the charges that may be filed. Also, “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 (Devry, 2015).”

Just because the original call may have been dispatched as a “suspicious subject” does not mean you would title your report that way. You have to wait until you have determined what, if any, crimes were committed. Then you have to have a victim who is willing to pursue the case. For
example, a woman calls in that a man is peeping in her windows. Most venues do not have a crime called “Peeping Tom,” so you would have to use the crime that fits best. It could be a Disorderly Conduct, a Criminal Trespass or a Prowling violation. In one particular case, a man was found prowling around the home of an elderly woman. He was looking in her window and telling her that he wanted to have sex with her. She was very scared that he would break into her house and rape her, so she called the police. The man was found next to her house and ran away when he saw police approaching. He was quickly apprehended. He, of course, denied any wrongdoing, and there was not enough probable cause to charge him with a sexual assault charge. He was instead charged with Attempted Aggravated Assault. (refer to your State and City Ordinances for the most applicable violations.)

Read reports from experienced officers

A good practice for a rookie officer would be to read police reports from experienced officers who are known for writing good reports. See how they word and organize their reports. The more that you read good reports, the easier it will be to replicate those methods in your reports. Make sure it not only reads well but looks good on the page. If the entire report is crammed together in one paragraph, it makes for tedious reading. It is better to break the story up into plausible, easier to read sections.


want to use capitals for particular emphasis or to enter names into the templates that would be an acceptable practice but DO NOT USE ALL CAPS FOR THE NARRATIVE PORTION OF YOUR REPORT.


1. All reports should be in chronological order as mentioned earlier. The incident should be described in the order the events happened.
2. In the Narrative, use a person’s name if known. If the name is Unknown, use Suspect #1, or Suspect #2.
3. In cases involving property, list each item in the Property section. Groups of the same or similar items may be combined; but items of great value or that may be readily identifiable must be listed separately with specific descriptions provided, when available.
When referring to property in the Narrative, use general terms, i.e., “the jewelry was removed from the upper right dresser drawer in the victim’s bedroom,” NOT a diamond ring, emerald necklace, and bracelet were removed from the upper right dresser drawer in the victim’s bedroom.”
4. The total value of the property taken should be mentioned in the report Narrative.
5. If a juvenile is a subject of a report, the parent/guardian and school information must be obtained and reported in the Subjects Section of the report.
6. All subjects mentioned in the report Narrative must be listed in the Subjects Section of the report. All Subjects listed in the Subject section must be mentioned in the report Narrative.
7. All vehicles mentioned in the report Narrative must be listed in the Vehicle section of the report. All vehicles listed in the Vehicle Section must be mentioned in the Narrative.
8. If a subject is not a local resident (IE: tourist, transient), obtain local address information, i.e., motel name, phone number, room number. State when the subject is leaving the area and when the subject will be at a permanent address.
9. Officers should obtain secondary addresses and telephone numbers (even out-of-state) and social security numbers from victims and witnesses who may move before the trial. This will assist the prosecutor in locating them at that time.
10. All statements must have a synopsis in the narrative along with the person’s name making the statement.
11. Detailed descriptions of suspects and missing persons should be included in the principal’s list of the report. General descriptions of the suspects or missing person should be used in the narrative (i.e. race, sex, clothing) (APTAC, 2009)


There are many different types of police reports. Most reports help to identify the crime, investigate the case in-depth and prosecute the criminal. There are other types of reports that police use on a daily basis. We will start with the initial police report.

Original, offense or incident report

Most all police reports start out as an original report. Some departments call them Offense reports, and some call them Incident reports. Basically, it is the first form of official documentation generated that gets the criminal procedure started. An example would be that a person calls the police department to report a crime, such as a theft. An officer would then respond to the scene and gather the information needed for the report.

Face sheet

There are different parts of the original report. The first page is usually called the face sheet. This page has multiple blanks to be filled in by the officer writing the report. The officer would write in his name, case number, time, date and the name of the crime committed. The officer would continue by filling in the requested information on the victim’s, witnesses’ and the suspects. This information would include their address, phone numbers, date of birth, race and their gender. Depending on your department’s documenting system, there may be other blanks such as vehicle description, property description, weapon description, etc.
(Sample original face sheet ) Click on the link to the left for a sample offense face sheet.

The narrative

Now the face sheet is just the beginning of the original report. After that is completed, then the officer would continue to write the narrative portion of the report. In the narrative, the officer should document everything that pertains to the case that he or she witnessed. Using physical senses, of what was seen, heard, and if pertinent to the case, what was smelled (e.g. the decomposition of a dead body).

The following is an example of a standard Retail Theft incident report.


On 09-12-16 at about 0900 hours, I, Officer McAfee, was dispatched to Walsaver in reference to a shoplifter in their custody. On arrival, I exited my squad and brought with me, my department issued camera. On arrival, I met with John Free of Asset Protection.

John R. Free, DOB 02-03-89 (Asset Protection) 123 Walsaver Lane, Madison, Illinois 62060

Free stated that around 0830 hours, he observed a white female on video surveillance in the baby clothes aisle. Free said that the suspect (now known as Lacy Smith) selected multiple items of merchandise (baby clothes) and concealed them in her purse.

Lacy L. Smith, DOB 08-09-76
321 Jorgensen Street, Madison, IL 62060

Free stated that after Smith had concealed the items, she continued to walk around the store.
Free said that Smith then selected paper towels and toilet paper from the shelves and placed them into her shopping cart. Free said that he watched Smith proceed to the checkout lanes, pay for the toilet paper and paper towels, but not for the baby clothes. Free said that Smith then walked past all points of sale and into the lobby. Free then exited the security room, introduced himself to Smith and then escorted her to the security room. Free explained that in the meantime, he had contacted Mary Jones, a female manager to assist him in the office. Free further explained that once in the office, he recovered the stolen baby clothes from Smith’s purse and called the police.

Mary S. Jones, DOB 07-13-67 (Asst. Manager) 123 Walsaver Lane, Madison, Illinois 62060

I then read Smith her Miranda warning from my Miranda card kept in my front pocket. Smith stated that she understood her rights. I then asked Smith if the story that Free had just told me was true about her stealing and she nodded, “Yes,” then said, “I needed clothes for my baby.” I then asked Smith if she had any other stolen merchandise on her person or in her purse and she said, “No.” I then advised Smith that she was under arrest and that I was going to handcuff her. Smith then stood up, turned around and placed her hands behind her back. I then placed handcuffs on her and activated the double-lock switch so that the cuffs would not tighten on her. I then asked Smith to sit back down.

I then took photos of the recovered baby clothes and their respective price tags. At my request, Mary Jones took the baby clothes to the check-out lane and rung up the recovered items on the register for the exact prices of each item.

Items stolen:
(1) Black and white toddler dress = $ 12.54
(1) Pair of purple toddler shorts = $ 7.99
(1) Package of toddler socks = $ 11.84
(1) Pink pair of toddler pants = $ 6.71
Total value = $ 39.08

Jones then turned over to me a copy of the voided receipt. The clothes were turned back over for Free. I then escorted Smith to the back seat of my squad car and seat belted her in. I turned on the air conditioning for Smith and locked the squad car.

I then re-entered Walsaver and spoke with Free. Free then turned over to me a copy of his report and (3) copies of the video surveillance DVDs. I then retrieved my camera. I took all of these items to my squad car and placed them into my front seat. I then transported Smith to the police station for booking. Once at the station, Smith was booked and allowed to make a phone call (she made contact with her mother). Smith was then lodged in the female cell block.

I also typed a misdemeanor complaint for Retail Theft. Free later came to the station and signed the complaint against Smith.

It should be noted that dispatch ran a Criminal History on Smith through NCIC and Smith had one prior theft-related conviction. Due to the prior conviction, the charge now becomes a felony and there is no bond amount scheduled at this time. Smith was placed on felony hold.

PRIOR CONVICTION – Retail Theft – Madison County Sheriff’s Office – Case #13CM403123
– Guilty conviction on 06-12-13.

I then placed the appropriate items into Smith’s case file, which included the following:

1. A copy of the Walsaver receipt showing the price of each item
2. A copy of Free’s report
3. A copy of Smith’s criminal history
4. A copy of Smith’s booking sheet and booking photo
5. (2) DVD copies of the video surveillance (one for the State’s Attorney and one for the defense attorney) The 3rd DVD was logged as evidence.
6. The misdemeanor Retail Theft complaint
7. The photos were uploaded to the digital case file folder
8. A copy of my Miranda card

I logged the original DVD as evidence and placed into the DVD evidence bin. Before logging the video, I watched it and verified Free’s recollection of the incident.
This case will be forwarded to the Detective Division to apply for a felony warrant. CASE CLEARED BY ARREST

Example of the field notes in this case.

The following would be an example of the detective supplement in reference to the above Retail Theft:

On 09-13-16 at about 0830 hours, I, Detective McAfee, arrived at work and was informed that a suspect named Lacy Smith was in custody for felony Retail Theft. I then familiarized myself with the case so that I would be able to present it to the State’s Attorney’s Office. I made copies of the related reports. At my appointment, I presented the case to Assistant State’s Attorney, William Johnson. Johnson agreed to prosecute this case and charged Smith with Retail Theft (2nd subsequent) as a felony. Johnson turned over the paperwork to his secretary who typed out the felony warrant, which was then signed by Johnson.

I then presented that warrant to Judge Blackburn who signed the warrant and assigned a bail of
$25,000. Afterwards, I filed this warrant through the clerk’s office. I then took my copy back to the police station and informed Lacy Smith of the official charge and her bail amount. Smith was unable to make bail and was later transferred to the County Jail.

In your police report, you must always answer the following questions along with the other topics already covered. You must answer the who, what, when, where, how and why of the event. In relation to the above sample police report, answer the following questions?

∞ Who is the victim? Walsaver
∞ Who reported the crime? John Free
∞ Who is the suspect? Lacy Smith
∞ What happened? Lacy Smith stole baby clothes from Walsaver and was apprehended
∞ When did the incident occur? Around 0830 hours.
∞ Where did the crime occur? Walsaver
∞ How did this crime happen? Smith took merchandise, concealed it in her purse, purchased other items, but failed to pay for the clothes. She then exited the store and was caught.
∞ Why? Smith said she needed clothes for her baby.

NOTE: Additional case samples and reports will be located within the Course Resource Section for your review via download.

Probable cause

When a suspect is arrested, make sure that you have listed the probable cause for the arrest. The probable cause in the earlier case of Retail Theft is that the Loss Prevention Officer witnessed the suspect take merchandise from the shelf, conceal it in her purse and then exit the store without paying for it.

Adding to the probable cause, was that the crime was captured on video surveillance and the stolen items were recovered by loss prevention. It was unnecessary in this case to question the suspect, but the suspect’s confession also added to the probable cause.
Supplemental reports

Due to the fluid nature of a criminal investigation, the events that occur need to be documented as they progress. As time moves on, new evidence and new facts will begin to be introduced to the case. Just because the original report was created and finished, the case does not stop there, and it does not mean that updates to the case are set aside. Rather than try to amend the original case, which would cast a shadow of doubt on its legitimacy, there has to be a standard way to add-on or attach new elements to the case. The supplemental report settles this problem.

For instance, if a witness initially tells an officer that the suspect vehicle was a black Dodge Challenger that would be documented in the original report or a supplement. Later the witness re-contacts the first responding officer and explains that they were mistaken on the make and model and they have since realized that the car was actually a Chevy Camaro. The officer or investigator would then type up a new supplement report that they were contacted by the witness, who corrected their description of the suspect vehicle and the officer would include that new information. The courts understand that it is not uncommon for this to happen and as long as the officer adequately documents the update it should not be an issue. A suggestion for the officer in this case, would also be to pass this new information on to the officers involved in the investigation, so they are not looking for the wrong car.

There are multiple ways to do this depending on what officers, investigators, and agencies have been given the description of the Challenger instead of the Camaro. The officer could send a memorandum (via email) to all officers and agencies involved. The officer could also have dispatch send an update if the information was broadcast over a State-wide system such as IWIN (Illinois Wireless Information Network), LEADS (Law Enforcement Agencies Date System) or NCIC (National Crime Information Center) or another law enforcement only messaging system. A supplement report is a police report that documents any follow-up activities or investigative actions performed by the police in the criminal case. This supplemental report does not need to restate all of the facts from the original report, but it does need to contain some basics from the original report:
¥   The title of the original report (e.g. Armed Robbery)
¥   The case number
¥   The time and date that the new information was gathered
¥   The name of the person interviewed or the source of the information
¥   The location where the officer gained this new information
¥   The officers name and badge number

Some departments may require more information, but these are the minimum requirements needed for a supplement report. Any time an officer or an investigator does anything to advance the case, a supplement report needs to be created.

The following are some other examples of creating a supplement:

Adding reports from another agency
Adding a coroner report, such as autopsy results to the case file.

(Sample Coroner’s Report – Jon Benet Ramsey): Please click on the hyperlink to the left to view this report. To expand on the learning in this module, please download and refer to this sample case report as we proceed.

The supplement report to the above coroner’s report could read as follows:

On 12-28-96, I, Detective McAfee, received the attached report from the Coroner’s office relating to the autopsy of Jon Benet Ramsey.

The following findings are notable: Final Diagnosis:
1. Ligature strangulation
2. Craniocerebral injuries
3. Abrasion of right cheek
4. Abrasion/contusion, posterior right shoulder
5. Abrasions of left lower back and posterior left lower leg
6. Abrasion and vascular congestion of vaginal mucosa
7. Ligature of right wrist

Cause of death: Asphyxia by strangulation associated with craniocerebral trauma.

I then added this report to the case file. Please refer to the actual coroner’s report for the details. Detective McAfee #123

Notice that it is not necessary to retype everything in the autopsy report. Focus on the highlights and the most notable findings.

A supplement report documents any follow-up action taken by your department or by another agency that is assisting you.

(Sample crime lab report) Please click on the hyperlink to the left to view this report.

A supplemental report to receiving the above crime lab result could read as follows:

On 10-05-96, I, Detective McAfee, received the attached report from Criminalist Gary Lawrence at the Little Rock State Crime Lab. The evidence submitted was the kidney of Melissa Byers. It was tested to see if she was poisoned. The results of the analysis are as follows:
Examination of the kidney revealed no significant levels of arsenic, lead, mercury or any other heavy metals to be present.

I then added this report to the case file. Please refer to the actual document if further information is needed.
Detective McAfee #123

Anytime you receive a report from another agency, you must add it to the case file and document when it was received and highlight the findings in your supplemental report.

Police Canvass documentation

Another important part of documenting an investigation is executing and recording the neighborhood canvass. Many homicides investigations have made substantial breakthroughs, just by knocking on doors and locating prospective witnesses. This method of investigation is referred to as a canvass. The standard procedure is to assign detectives and patrol officers a certain area surrounding the crime scene that they need to cover. Each investigator should have a set of standardized questions to ask each person interviewed. Each investigator will document each address and whether or not contact was made. If contact was made, then they should record the names and identifiers of each witness and their responses to the questions. The investigator will then turn over all of their reports and statements to the lead investigator. This lead investigator will oversee this activity and then map out the results thus far. This supervisor should then determine what remaining addresses need to be covered and if any witnesses need to be re-interviewed. After the canvass is complete, the lead supervisor should complete a final synopsis of all the information gained and add it to the case file. Below is a sample neighborhood canvass form.

Sample neighborhood canvass form


A memorandum is another type of report that is used by police departments and other types of agencies. A memorandum is an in-house memo used to pass on information to other officers, managers, and civilians within the office. This memorandum can be used to inform officers of an interdepartmental situation that does not necessarily get added to the case file. A memo is also used to alert officers of a crime spree that is occurring in a particular part of town. It is used
to alert officers that a violent criminal is wanted or that a subject has made homicidal threats towards an officer, the department or towards a citizen in your venue. Another example of a memorandum would be to inform the administration that you or someone else damaged your squad car or your department camera, etc.

(Sample memo from Police Chief to Director of Finance): Please click on the hyperlink to view this memorandum example.

Miscellaneous or CAD report

A miscellaneous report is a short narrative documenting how you handled a call for service, but there was no crime committed or arrest made. Many departments used laptops or a Mobile Data Terminal (MDT) to enter this information into a computer-aided documenting system (CAD).

Template type report

A template type report is a special kind of report that serves a single purpose that is not used in every case. For instance, a traffic crash report utilizes a template format, and there are specific blanks that need to be filled in. A traffic crash could also be considered an original police report, but most template reports are used as a supplement to the original case.

Click on the following template samples to get a general idea of how these template reports look.

Traffic crash
Death scene checklist Juvenile referral

Later in this course, we will discuss different types of incident reports and how those cases are handled.


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