Evading accountability: The report

In law enforcement, report writing is essential. Not only does it provide information involving various situations, it also works as a legal document, which can be used within the court system. On the dark side of things, this simple report can actually work in getting an officer out of trouble. Though it sounds farfetched, it’s not. Today, I am going to reveal to everybody how that can work. This isn’t coming from researched information. instead, this is coming from first hand information resulting from my time working within the system.

When writing a report, especially in instances to which use of force is used, the way the report is written can help or hurt that officer. This fact is so important that departments devote an entire training course on how reports are to be written. Included within that training is how to avoid having that report come back on the officer. The best way to explain this is to simply provide you a scenario.

In this example, we have a victim who has been body slammed by an officer. The victim was compliant and unarmed. Now, if the officer was being honest, the report would read something like this:

On (date) I intercepted (Victim’s name,) regarding complaints of (situation.) The individual was complying to orders when officer (name) proceeded to use less than lethal force. In this force, the individual was slammed to the ground, at which time they were cuffed.

Now, the way the above report is written, will vary depending on the officer. However, this version of events isn’t what people generally see. As you can imagine, the above would place fault for any injuries onto the department, as well as the officer. This is why the police are trained on how to word their reports. For this reason, you will never see the above report. However, what you will see is this:

On (date) I intercepted (Victim’s name,) regarding complaints of (situation.) The individual wasn’t complying  to orders. at this point, officer (name) proceeded to assist (name) to the ground and cuffed.

Notice the wording. In a report, rather than stating that the individual was “body-slammed,” the police will simply state that they “assisted” a person to the ground. This may not sound like a big deal but in the courts, that could mean the difference between doing your job and being charged with assault. Should the victim sue the department, this report would again be used to protect the officers involved.

This tactic is used in virtually every encounter that involves police. It doesn’t just include them, however. Every division of law enforcement, including the correctional system, utilize this method of report writing. In situations where an officer does make a report implicating abuse from other officers, another system of misinformation is utilized. The “Blue Brotherhood,” which we will be writing about in the near future, cannot be violated without consequence. An officer who writes a report, placing fault on a department or another officer, is faced with two separate situations.

To begin with, the officer will not be able to submit their report. When attempting to do so, the department will simply refuse to accept it until they modify it. Once the report has been altered, using the “appropriate” words, it can then be submitted. However, this doesn’t change the fact that this officer had violated the blue code. From this point forward, they face a real possibility of being targeted by not only other officers, but by those in charge.

The departments are about covering themselves, even if that means covering up their tracks. Because investigations are conducted by “internal affairs,” the methods used for writing these reports are never questioned. As a result, there is no accountability. Furthermore, officers who generally violate policy, or even the law, face no consequences for doing so. For this, and many other reasons, the way to which these reports are written do matter. As I said, it can come back to haunt the officer if done incorrectly.

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