THE CRIME REPORT
By John Kenny
By John Kenny
2092 words >>> EXCERPTED RCMP Gazette – 1958
“THE CRIME REPORT”
Communications form the nucleus of the modern police force
by John R. Kenny
[< The following (lightly edited) article was published in Volume 20 (1958) of the
This vast network weaves a tight web, binding together all law enforcement agencies in fighting crime. A web so fine, that even the so-called ‘arch criminal’ does not operate long before he, too, becomes entangled and finds himself trapped and encompassed by the law.
Today, the phrase ‘long arm of the law’ has real significance. Years ago the criminal saddled up ‘old faithful’ and ‘headed for the pass’; his counterpart of today takes the airliner out of Vancouver tonight and arrives next morning in Montreal.
This demonstrates why rapid and accurate communication of information is essential if we are to keep pace with the modern criminal. Police forces now use many different kinds of communication. In many cases immediate action is required – and we can’t wait for a crime report to reach the investigator at some distant point – so radio, telephone, telex or some other means of rapid communication is used to transmit the information.
Regardless of what rapid means of communication is employed in transmitting this urgent message, a crime report must follow. The crime report can truly be called the work horse of our communication system. Here the investigator records for the future, or for immediate action, all the information gathered as a result of his investigation.
The way in which investigators records this data in their report is of vital importance. It may mean the difference between a successful or unsuccessful investigation. Neglecting to include all vital information is unfair to the other investigator who must rely entirely on the contents of the report when initiating enquiries.
Over the years, the police officer reports on many routine matters, sometimes ‘cutting corners’ to include only the bare facts. This is all well and good as it cuts down the reading time and no doubt serves the purpose.
However, the same does not hold true when reporting on serious crimes. Here you must go into detail and there is no such thing as ‘reading between the lines’. All vital information must be reported as this report will be the permanent record.
A case that exemplifies this occurred some years ago in central Alberta. A German farmer, who had lived in Canada for many years, was working his field. A rifle ‘cracked’ and a bullet grazed his shoulder. The matter was reported and investigated. The police were unable to find who fired the shot or why an attempt had been made to kill this man. However, details were fully recorded in the crime report.
The following summer the farmer was working his field when he was again fired on but the bullet missed him completely this time. The investigators went to work but were unable to uncover the would be assailant. Investigational data was reported in detail.
The third summer the farmer didn’t even hear the crack of a rifle but, as he reported later, ‘It felt like someone hit me in the face with a sledge hammer”. His assailant ambushed him as he drove his team and disc down the road towards home. The shot gun blast struck him on the right side of the face and knocked him to the ground. The horses bolted for home, a quarter of a mile away, and his wife came running to his aid. By this time, the assailant had vanished into the bush leaving behind his carefully constructed ambush by the side of the road.
The local detachment and other investigators moved into this central Alberta village once again. The villagers were getting concerned as the case had been investigated the two preceding years and no arrest made. The previous investigators had carried out their work well, and indirectly formed part of the team conducting the latest inquiry.
The investigators working on this last episode carefully read previous reports in order to familiarize themselves with details to date. It was noted that a list had been prepared of all the hired men formerly employed by the farmer. One of these was named Pete ROKOWSKI, and had never been located.
The present investigation continued – check local farmers, strangers, check this, check that, etc. One member, scrutinizing the local hotel register, noticed the name Pete Rokowski. Reference was made to previous files and the name was similar to that of a man who had worked for the farmer some years ago.
The hotel manager was asked to produce his register for the previous two years and, on each of the occasions that the farmer had been shot at – Pete ROKOWSKI had signed the hotel guest register, yet his name never appeared otherwise. The missing link had been found and Rokowski was arrested a few days later in an Edmonton railway station as he went to board a train for Vancouver.
The policemen who solved this last shooting owed a great deal to previous investigators who had recorded, for future reference, all vital information concerning the two previous instances.
Another case was solved by three little words mentioned in a crime report. The policeman reading a false pretences file didn’t recognize the name in the heading but, when he came to the body of the report and read that the subject’s favourite saying was ‘let’s get mobile”, he went out and arrested John Arnold FERGUSON, a cheque artist, whom he knew used this expression.
Accuracy and detail are essential when reporting serious crimes. Accuracy is something we are all familiar with and is self-explanatory. Detail is something different. How much and what should we include in the crime report? This is something which must be left to the individual as only experience and common sense can guide them here.
These are all things that go to make up the good crime report. Peace officers should all be interested in submitting good crime reports and improving them as they gain experience. We might ask ourselves – What constitutes a good crime report? A good crime report is accurate, clear, concise as circumstances will allow and designed to suit the matter under investigation.
The architect and the author of the crime report have a parallel. Am architect designing a large hotel will spend a great deal of time planning it and will go into considerable detail, including details of the plumbing, !lighting, decorating etc. in plans so that the finished product will be a beautiful structure. Nothing must be left to chance. The same architect designing a one car garage will spend very little time on it but produce a building required to suit the purpose.
The same is true of the crime report. If your case is one of a serious nature and quite involved, then you, too, must go into detail, plan your report well and record all the information.
However, if you receive a report enquiring for a man in your district and he has moved to some other point, then say so and give the address. Don’t write a long report about the people you interviewed before you finally obtained the information. The other investigator is merely interested in locating the man and you could tell him this information in a few lines.
The volume of crime report writing, like the work of the Canadian peace officer, is increasing each year. The increase in population is one contributing factor, and the pace of modern living is another. This ever increasing volume of reports converges on headquarters to be perused and cleared to its ultimate destination. A crime report author who fills pages with unimportant material slows down one of our most vital means of communication.
Crime report readers can only peruse so much material a day. If half of what they read is the idle ramblings of an investigator trying to impress someone with the amount of work done on a case, then other mail waiting to be processed will be delayed.
Anyone can write a long verbose report but it takes some thought and planning to write a clear, concise one.
The following are a few suggestions that may help a writer produce a better report – one that will be clear, concise and easy to read.
Familiar Word: Use the familiar rather than the obscure word.
Avoid Jargon: There are many words with a local meaning or common to a trade such as fishing, lumbering, oil drilling, etc. People use words among themselves that are not always understood in other districts. Such words should be avoided and, if used, the writer should explain the word.
Tabulation and Indentation: Many things such as lists of photographs, witnesses, stolen property, cheques, etc. can be tabulated in reports. Indentation is another means of setting out material for quick reference. Descriptions of persons, statements, wording of charges and many other things also lend themselves readily to this means.
Indentation and tabulation serve two important purposes. They assist readers by letting them know this indentation or tabulation deals with one thing only, suggesting they may wish to read it then or leave it until later. In this way they can peruse the report more quickly.
Antiquated Phrases: There are still a few peace officers using antiquated phrases such as ‘beg to advise’, ultimo, proximo and idem. These are ‘taboo’ in the modern business world. Ours is the age of ‘A’ bombs, ‘H’ bombs and pending space travel. Keep up with the times and show it in your reports.
Photographs and Diagrams: ‘A picture is worth a thousand words’ is a quotation we hear every now and then. It is one the police readily accept as they realize the importance of the photograph. One might write a detailed description of a wanted person but it will never take the place of a photograph. Photographs, pictures cut out of catalogues or magazines of articles stolen or missing, or just a simple diagram by the investigator, will sometimes help in locating the property or subject.
Proper Christian Names: Police officers should seldom record a subject’s name showing only the initials and the surname – unless the person is well known in public life, a government department or business circles. It is better to record the full Christian name and even this can be inadequate at times.
Read any book or magazine article and you will find that authors seldom introduce a new character just by mentioning the name. Usually they go into some detail to describe the person so you will have a picture in your mind of the man or woman under discussion. Yet, some police officers, reporting on matters much more important than a magazine article, think nothing of saying they interviewed John JONES and then proceed to state what he said.
In some cases you should give a background sketch of the person and tell a little about them. In other cases you could introduce the name something like this:
Gordon Lloyd HUGHES (51), electrical engineer, Address …
Richard Arthur SMITH (24), FPS 218976, bartender, Address …
Ralph John JONES (18), high school student, Address …
In this way, your reader will have some idea of the person you are interviewing and be in a better position to assess their statements.
These are just a few of the things that may assist the writer. There are many others and the crime report writer should always be on the lookout for ways to improve reports.
Good crime reports speed the transmission of information and assist readers in processing material arriving at headquarters. They result in better and more thorough investigations by members handling the files and are a credit and reflection on the ability of the individual member who signs them.
The report you write today may find its way to the desk of a cabinet minister, an investigator in the field or an office clerk in a government department. Whether it is a well composed report, or bits of information jotted down in a chaotic fashion, will rest entirely with the peace officer. Although the people who read your report may never see or know you personally, they will judge you according to your work.