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BJOC 1.4 - Basic Report Writing
Basic Report Writing Study Set for BJOC - Georgia - Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training Council - POST
Criminal Justice

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BJOC 1.4 - Basic Report Writing

Terminal Performance Objective (TPO):


Given the need for student comprehension, the student will explain how to properly complete incident reports and rule violations in accordance with the Basic Jail Officer Reference Textbook as well as satisfactorily write a report to record the who, what, when, where, why and how of a given situation

BJOC 1.4 - Basic Report Writing

Enabling Objectives (EO’s):



As a result of this instruction, the student will be able to:


1.4.1  Given a hypothetical situation, prepare a report pertaining to a jail incident which

          will be evaluated according to:


1.      Each include relevant fact,

2.      Overall completeness, and

3.      Errors in organization and structure.


1.4.2   Identify the benefits of ethical, and the consequences of unethical, decision  

           making and behavior as related to report writing.

Define report, the importance of a record, and the three items a report explains.

A report is a permanent written record which documents important facts concerning an incident that has been investigated, studied or observed.  A record is the most essential administrative and operational tool in any correctional organization.  A report explains an incident. It consists of (1) what you observe, (2) what you do, and (3) the action you take or cause to be taken.

How should a report be structured and why?

Reports must be structured simply and factual with only one interpretation. 

Identify the purposes of a report: 

There are three primary reasons for writing reports in the jail, with each referring to the way reports are used.  They are used as:

·        An administrative record

·        A disciplinary tool

·        A legal function

Describe the seven essentials required in a well written report. 

These seven questions, or essentials, that must be in a report are as follows:


·        Who:  Who is involved in the case? The answer to these questions should contain identifying information:  name, address, age, date of birth, race, sex, occupation, telephone numbers, and any other particular identifying information.  Includes anyone involved in the incident or has direct knowledge of or about the incident such as victims, witnesses, suspects, officers, and who reported it.


·        What:  Gives facts of the incident, not opinion.  It includes what happened, what offense was committed, what statements were made, what objects involved, what action was taken, what charges were made, etc.


·        Where:  Identifies the location of the incident, persons and objects. Where did the event occur?  Where is/was the victim when the event occurred? Where was the event discovered?  Where was the evidence obtained, marked and stored? Where were witnesses at the time of the event?  Where were the witnesses interviewed; the victim interviewed; the perpetrator interviewed? Give identifiable locations such as ‘’block in front of cell 25”.


·        How:  Gives an account of the event and its order of happening. Provides a chronological narrative of how the situation began, describing the scene, surrounding area and environment, etc.


·        Why:  Provides an account of the motive for the incident if it can be established; it includes facts, not opinions.


·        When:  Provides an account of the incident that establishes the time of occurrence or approximate time. Include the time of incident, time discovered, and time victims, suspects, witnesses interviewed.


·        Action Taken:  Provides information of action you took such as the final disposition; referred to whom; if handled informally; other reports completed; disposition of evidence; witnesses and victims; etc.


Describe the five requirements required in a well written report. 


The five requirements = the five “C’s”:

·        Courteous/Fair:  When writing a report, it must be objective, reporting all sides.  Do not make assumptions; write only the facts.  Avoid judgments, stereotypes and opinions.  The facts must be supported by testimony, evidence and personal observations.

·        Concise:  Get to the point and don’t editorialize.  Words that are unnecessary dilute the report and cause confusion.  Conciseness in a report means the officer must relate an event as it happened using minimal language. Make every sentence count and avoid repeating points.  Do not include unnecessary information that is not pertinent to the specific incident.


Eliminate wordiness.  Many phrases can be reduced to single words. 


Instead of Using:                                                           Use:

Due to the fact of………………………………….   because

In view of the fact…………………………………   since

Make note of………………………………………   note


·        Clarity / Clear:  When a report is clear it is written with clarity and simplicity which means there is only one interpretation, no matter who reads it.  In other words, keep the reader in mind. The writer must convey to the reader, all of the information known about an incident.  The words chosen for the report must be simple and direct.  Use straightforward sentences.

Use simple descriptive words and avoid exaggeration.  For example, if you stated, “The inmate attacked the officer causing bodily harm,” each person reading this sentence could visualize different actions and results.  If you stated, “The inmate used his fists to strike the officer in the head many times. The officer suffered two black eyes and a broken tooth,” there is no doubt what happened. Use specific words, names of people, numbers, titles, time, and gender – words that point to a specific person or thing

Legal terminology and technical terms should be avoided.  Legal terms cause a sentence to become formal and difficult to understand.  Technical terms are often not standardized.  Jails, like many occupations, have developed their own terminology.  The officer should only use those terms which have a common meaning.


·        Correct / Accurate:  Officers spend a large amount of time writing reports.  It is necessary for the report to be correct. First, you must give accurate information.  State actual words or phrases spoken; do not paraphrase or write in general terms. Words must be spelled correctly. Proper grammar should be used.


·        Complete:  The principle of completeness is directly related to the principle of accuracy:  it involves relevancy, totality, and form.  Ask yourself, is the information relevant – are all the facts included relevant to the case?  To achieve totality, did I include all relevant details of the investigation?  To achieve form, did I present the findings under appropriate headings as designated in the report?


Upon completing your report, ask yourself, can I visualize everything accurately that happened from beginning to end?  Did I include all essential information; write the report in first person; view the report as a third party? 


Describe a good set of investigative notes. 


A good set of investigative notes contains accurate details that the officer will include in the report later.  Taking written notes is a practical way both to record all relevant facts and to retain them for further use. The notes should include:

·        Time and date of incident

·        Names and IDs of all present

·        Where the incident occurred

·        A description of the incident including how it began and how it was resolved

·        Interview participants and note brief statements, using their own words

·        Be sure that all information relevant to the seven elements:  who, what, when, where, how, why, and action taken. 

·        Details on the search for evidence, items seized or found

The report format may differ from agency to agency, but it should contain three major sections that will cover the seven essentials.  Describe each. 

·        Introduction      

§  This is a brief description of the event and usually indicates the reason of the title of the report. This establishes the time and date or approximate time and date of the occurrence.  This automatically satisfies the when and where.


§  Example:  On 01-01-08 at approximately 4:30 p.m. I responded to tower operator Jail Officer Goodone Smith, #012, call for assistance due to damage being done to the facility by an inmate at the wall of the day room area of B-block directly underneath the inmate telephones.


·        Investigation

§  This is the section that indicates what you observe (see, smell, hear), what you do (take someone into custody, collect evidence, summon help, move inmate, call supervisor), what you cause to be done (instructions you give on tasks someone else is to do, request a criminal investigation, assistance you cause to have rendered, communication contacts or notifications you have someone make, or cause medical help to respond). This section is where you document what you determined happened, identify who was involved, document the time you responded, document any interviews conducted and refer it to the interview section. This section establishes the who, what, how, action taken, and most likely the why.


§  All of the investigation documentation falls into place when you make note or remember what you observe when you come on scene. At that point you are evaluating what you have. The next step is what you need to do. When you start ‘doing’, the same technique applies: make note or remember what you are doing and document it in the order it happens. When you cause things to be done you again remember and document this in the order you cause the things to be done. Remember these things will fit together when put in the order they happened.


§  The documentation in the order it occurred will also serve as a check on the way you handle an incident. When you reread your report it will indicate if your priorities in your investigation techniques are correct or not. This will aid you in future incidents you handle and will sharpen your techniques.


§  Example:  Upon arrival I observed Inmate Strongarm Sampson, #654, Cell-B1 and Inmate Slag Sleprock, #123, Cell B-2 using the inmate phones at scene. I observed the wall area directly under the phone Inmate Sampson was using. The paint had been scratched off in an area approximately 6” in diameter and Inmate Sampson had an ink pen in his hand with the end worn off. This area was observed to be in tact 30 minutes earlier while I was making a security round. I moved both inmates out of the block and to separate cells. I interviewed both inmates and tower operator; see interviews. I obtained sufficient information and wrote the appropriate rule violation on Inmate Sampson and turned it over to Sgt. Rick Jones, #001 for approval and handling. Balance of investigation limited to interviews.


·        Interviews

§  This is the section that interviews with participants, victims, witnesses, or anyone that is in the area of the incident are documented. The best method is to get a written statement from anyone deemed of any importance or interest in the incident. Sometimes some will talk to you but will not put anything in writing. If this is the case, document exactly what the person states to you. Interpretation of what someone says may have to be explained and that calls for personal input which is not considered nearly as reliable as a written statement in most cases. This section tends to validate your investigation in most cases and makes clear investigation details. This section can assist in making plain their statements are or are not the truth when compared to the investigation. Examples below show how to structure the writing of an interview.


§  Interview:  Inmate Strongarm Sampson, Booking #654, Cell B-1, stated that he knew nothing about the damage to the wall. The wear to the pen was due to it being old. He stated he could provide no further information.


§  Interview: Inmate Slag Sleprock, Booking #123, Cell B-2 stated that Inmate Strongarm Sampson did take his pen and scratch the paint off the wall under the telephone while he was using it. Inmate Sampson thought it was cool. He had no part in the incident and was there just to use the phone. He could provide no further information.


§  Interview: Jail Officer Goodone Smith, Unit #012, stated he was operating the tower on 01-01-08 and at 4:30 p.m. he observed Inmate Sampson scratching the paint off the wall with his ink pen at scene. He then called for a floor officer to respond to scene and I responded. Inmate Sampson stopped the damaging process as I entered the scene area. Inmate Sleprock was on the phone next to Inmate Sampson watching him damage the wall. The inmates were removed from scene and locked down in their cells.  D/O Smith could provide no further information.


As you can see by structuring the report in a similar format, you automatically start covering the seven elements that are essential to the report and must be covered. The others are covered in the investigation and the interview parts and in chronological order when you document it as you handled the incident. The interviews relate the facts as you gathered them and from whom. If the people are telling untrue versions of the facts your investigation and interviews will point the inconsistencies out in most cases. You do not put opinion in a report; you let the investigation and interviews speak so anyone reading it can draw their own conclusions.


When you read the above report it consists of only what you observe, what you do, and the action you took. Keep in mind if you are called to court and have to attest to the facts from your notes, be aware that the defense can obtain your notes. While testifying, you must know exactly where to look in your report if refreshing your memory is required. If you are asked what someone said, that would be in the interview. If you are asked what you did it would be in the investigation. If you needed refreshing on where an incident occurred it would be covered totally in the introduction. These parts are separated by spaces and labeled so quick reference is very easy.



A report is considered public information and is available to anyone that requests a copy.  What are the exceptions?


A report is considered public information and is available to anyone that requests a copy, with a few exceptions. 

·        Reports that are active and still under investigation are available to agency command staff and in some cases, co-workers.      

·        Anyone can obtain a copy of cleared reports that are no longer under active investigation and have been filed into records.  The open records act in the state of Georgia allows this.

·        There is one exception to open records requests and that is medical reports or records which are controlled by federal law. These reports cannot be released to anyone without written permission from the individual that is the subject of the report.


What are some examples of unethical behavior in report writing and the consequences? 


Falsification of a report – one written with embellishments, outright fabrications, or the omission of important information - is unethical and opens the door for liability.  Reports that are deliberately altered by intentionally adding false information or omitting important information are often done so to (1) make the officer look ‘better’, (2) minimize potential liability stemming from actions taken by the officer, or (3) reflect inexperience or incompetence in report writing.  These “reasons” are unacceptable.


Falsification of a report will most likely result in discipline such as suspension, termination, or criminal conviction, and definitely gives a black eye to jail officers.

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