7 steps of good report writing, part 1

The seven steps of good report writing include who, what, when, where, why, how and action taken; here's an inside look into each step and how to make the most of them

As we have just covered physical evidence and how it pertains to a disciplinary court line and even possible court cases, it’s just as important to consider the written report. The written report is going to include written documentation about observed behaviors, statements, and even deductions concerning an incident. In this column, we will explore the critical elements of the written report. For anyone who has taken a basic report writing class, this is going to look very familiar. We will expand on each of individual areas of report writing to ensure that what you write your report right.

What are the areas of the report that we will be concentrating on? They are: who, what, when, where, why, how, and action taken.

In any report, you will need to know the “who.”

Who should be included in this report? Obviously, you, as the reporting officer will be included, as will the inmate.

What witnesses should be included in the report? That will partially be dictated by the policy of the facility that you work at.

For example, if your facility wants you to mention every person that was present in the area at the time, then you should do that. However, when I mention witnesses, I am speaking of witnesses that are going to corroborate the facts that you have established in your report. If you are talking to an officer while facing them and you see Inmate Smith walk up to Inmate Jones and punch inmate Jones without provocation, would you mention that officer as a witness? I would.

The reason is that he or she would be able to corroborate that there were two inmates fighting. They would be able to assist in identification of the two. Where your testimony is critical is that you observed the entire event, from start to finish. If you are running a lockbox and an inmate says to you, “I’m going to kick your ass if you don’t run my door right now,” would you put an officer who responded to a call for assistance down as a witness? Probably not. He or she did not hear the statement that was considered threatening.

Next, we will cover the “what” of a report. This is the meat and potatoes of the report. This is what happened immediately before, during, and immediately after the incident. This documentation should be as clear as a video recording of the incident. You should leave no room for imagination.

This is especially true in cases where there is no evidence collected, or the evidence is purely your word against the inmate’s. Take this example: An inmate is sitting in his cell with what appears to be a sandwich bag full of tobacco in his hand. You direct him to come to the bars, put the baggie on the food port, and step back. You know what happens next. He takes the baggie to the toilet, empties the contents in the toilet, and flushes. You have no evidence to convict, right? Not exactly. You have your testimony.

At the facility where I worked, an inmate could still be written up for this because it’s presumed that the contraband was dangerous contraband; he wouldn’t have flushed something benign like a baggie of tea.  He has also disobeyed a direct order from you. The “what” in this report needs to be clear.

You need to describe his behaviors and your directives in chronological order. For example, “I directed Inmate Jones to surrender the baggie of brown, leafy substance. He took the baggie to the area of his toilet. I directed him not to dispose of the contraband or flush his toilet. He emptied the contents of the baggie and flushed the toilet.” That gives a pretty clear picture of what happened.

The “when” of the incident is just that: when incident occurred. What date and time did the incident occur on? You don’t have to be exact about this, but try to get the time within five minutes. Make sure that the date is right on the report. Why is this important? I’ll give you an example. I did a court line where an inmate stated that he was secured in his cell at the time of a fight. There was no way that he could be the perpetrator. What solidified his story is that he was inside his cell when the officers arrived to take him to segregation. The officer identified the inmate because he was very familiar with this inmate (the inmate was a problem in the unit).

However, the officer simply wrote, “on this day at this time I saw these two inmates fighting.” When I reviewed the video of the incident for the time shown, I did not see the fight. Why? Because the officer wrote a time that was about two hours off on the report. This was a simple thing to fix, but it took me some time to find the incident on video.

With the officer’s testimony that the inmate ran away when the officer directed the two inmates to stop fighting, and with the corrected time, it appears as though another officer let this inmate in his cell after the fight accidentally. The “when” of the incident is critical because it saves time to those who have to review the incident and prevents dismissals. 

Continued here.

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