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Using Active Voice in Police Reports


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Modern police reports feature active voice (not passive voice). Learn how to identify active and passive voice sentences, and review the advantages of writing in active voice.

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Using Active Voice in Police Reports

  1. 1. Using Active Voice in Police Reports by Jean Reynolds, Ph.D.
  2. 2. Using Active Voice in Police Reports by Jean Reynolds, Ph.D.
  3. 3. Many traditions have shaped police practices over the years.
  4. 4. Some of those traditions are useful, and some aren’t.
  5. 5. Passive voice is one tradition that law enforcement would be better off without.
  6. 6. What is “passive voice,” how did it find its way into police reports, and why should you avoid using it?
  7. 7. Let’s start with a look at some active voice and passive voice sentences.
  8. 8. Active voice: I questioned Boaz about the argument. Passive voice: Boaz was questioned about the argument.
  9. 9. Active voice: Jerome stole the watch. Passive voice: The watch was stolen by Jerome.
  10. 10. Active voice: I requested medical help. Passive voice: Medical help was requested.
  11. 11. How did the “passive voice” tradition get started? Police officers used to believe that the word “I” was too subjective. Anyone who said “I” couldn’t be trusted.
  12. 12. You couldn’t say, “I saw a baseball bat under the sofa.” You had to say, “A baseball bat was seen under the sofa.”
  13. 13. Do you think that’s true? Is “I” a dangerous word?
  14. 14. Imagine you’re questioning two youths about a broken window. One says, “I didn’t break that window.” The other says, “That window wasn’t broken by me.” Who’s telling the truth? Can you tell?
  15. 15. Of course not. Now let’s think about a courtroom. The next time you’re in court for a hearing, listen carefully to the testimony. You’ll hear the word “I” over and over.
  16. 16. Does that automatically mean the witness is lying?
  17. 17. Of course not. It’s just not that easy to figure out who’s trustworthy and who isn’t.
  18. 18. Honesty and credibility are character traits, not verbal tricks.
  19. 19. But passive voice is still very common in police reports. So why should you avoid it?
  20. 20. Two reasons. 1. Passive voice sentences don’t state who did what. 2. Usage mistakes may creep in.
  21. 21. Here’s a passive-voice sentence with a problem: Flanagan was arrested.
  22. 22. Who arrested him? The sentence doesn’t say. Flanagan was arrested.
  23. 23. If you write the sentence in active voice, you solve the problem: I arrested Flanagan.
  24. 24. Let’s look at another example of passive voice: The teller was questioned.
  25. 25. Who questioned her? The sentence doesn’t say. The teller was questioned.
  26. 26. Passive voice can create problems during a court hearing. The teller was questioned. What if you can’t remember who questioned the teller?
  27. 27. Or what if you do remember…and the officer who did the interview isn’t in the courtroom? The teller was questioned. It’s embarrassing—and you could lose the case.
  28. 28. If you write the sentence in active voice, you solve the problem. Officer Figueroa questioned the teller.
  29. 29. There’s one more problem to think about: Usage errors. Passive voice sentences often require –ed endings. Busy officers sometimes forget those endings. The teller was question. INCORRECT The teller was questioned. CORRECT
  30. 30. One more caution: Don’t assume that every is or was sentence is passive voice. Farrell was eating breakfast when I knocked on the door. ACTIVE VOICE Farrell was driven to the meeting by a neighbor. PASSIVE VOICE
  31. 31. Let’s fix that passive-voice sentence: Farrell was driven to the meeting by a neighbor. PASSIVE VOICE A neighbor drove Farrell to the meeting. ACTIVE VOICE
  32. 32. Here’s a question for you: One of these sentences is written in passive voice. Can you figure out which one it is? Joe was living in Miami in 1954. The house was purchased in 1954.
  33. 33. Joe was living in Miami in 1954. ACTIVE VOICE The house was purchased in 1954. PASSIVE VOICE
  34. 34. Let’s fix that passive-voice sentence: The house was purchased in 1954. PASSIVE VOICE The Johnsons purchased the house in 1954. ACTIVE VOICE
  35. 35. You can learn more about passive voice at
  36. 36. All the resources there are FREE:
  37. 37. And if you’re looking for a low-cost, practical book…
  38. 38. Criminal Justice Report Writing is available from for just $19.95. View a free sample online.
  39. 39. An e-book edition is available from for only $9.99.
  40. 40. A discount price is available for class sets (minimum five books). A free Instructor’s Manual is available for instructors and administrators. Send an e-mail request from your official account to jreynoldswrite at