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Writing Better Police Reports: Probable Cause


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Police officers often need to document "probable cause" in their reports - justification for taking action such as making a traffic stop, performing a search, or initiating some other action. This video will help you understand what probable cause is, why it's so important, and how you can incorporate it into your police reports.

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Writing Better Police Reports: Probable Cause

  1. 1. Writing Better Police Reports: Probable Cause by Jean Reynolds, Ph.D.
  2. 2. Writing Better Police Reports: Probable Cause by Jean Reynolds, Ph.D.
  3. 3. Law enforcement officers must have “probable cause” for conducting a traffic stop or making a search.
  4. 4. So what is “probable cause,” and how do you document it?
  5. 5. “Probable cause” means recording facts that justify your actions.
  6. 6. Fear, anger, a hunch, a suspicion…these aren’t enough.
  7. 7. The United States Constitution protects the rights of American citizens. That means…
  8. 8. …a judge may throw out your case if you didn’t provide probable cause.
  9. 9. Probable cause must be documented in every report.
  10. 10. If you were dispatched to a scene, “probable cause” will not be a problem. You were told to get involved.
  11. 11. But what if you were acting on your own?
  12. 12. You need to record facts that show you had “probable cause”: You heard a scream.
  13. 13. You saw… drug paraphernalia a broken window
  14. 14. A driver crossed a line twice.
  15. 15. Other examples include… •A man who’s running and looking over his shoulder •Light and movement in an abandoned building •A man tightly holding the wrist of a woman who’s struggling to get away
  16. 16. Vehicle searches require probable cause. Stopping a car for a driving violation isn’t sufficient.
  17. 17. Did you see the driver throw or hide something?
  18. 18. Sometimes behavior can provide probable cause…eyes that jump nervously from side to side.
  19. 19. …trembling hands, inconsistent answers to your questions.
  20. 20. When you write your report, be sure to include these details.
  21. 21. Documenting “probable cause” in a report demonstrates your professionalism…
  22. 22. And can result in a successful prosecution.
  23. 23. Ifyou’re looking for a low-cost, practical book…
  24. 24. Criminal Justice Report Writing is available from for just $19.95. View a free sample online.
  25. 25. An e-book edition is available from for only $9.99.
  26. 26. 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
  27. 27. And check out the free resources at