I previously mentioned that I wrote a lot as a kid. I forgot to mention that that was also one of the most common forms of punishment in my house. My dad got kicked around a lot as a kid, so, instead of carrying that on with us, he went the opposite direction. Never laid a hand on us, but he could yell and he could make us write. The first punitive essay I wrote was titled “Responsibility” and it started out with me leaving my sister locked out of the house and, somehow, transitioned in two short pages to me changing my ways and becoming an astronaut. What can I say, I was only 23 when I wrote it. Kidding, 19.
So, back on track. When I got to the academy, I wasn’t the Push-Up King, or the Quarter Mile Dragster, but I did have a firm grasp on comma placement and diagramming sentences. Normally, when combined with $4.95 and a coupon, you can trade all that for your own hot bowl of grocery-store soup. However, in a hypercompetitive environment in which (a) half your class has never strung more than a few half-assed sentences together and (b) everyone gets punished for individual failure, writing and study skills are more popular than Jesus. The jocks and Marines helped me with sprinting, I helped them write good big boy words.
I still teach report writing to new officers, and I’m always amazed. At what point do they pull humans aside, encourage them to forget most everything they know about originality, grammar rules and structure, and proper pronoun use? If I had a dollar every time I got to red-pen one of these gems:
–“I observed…” What?! No, you “saw” something. You stand at attention and “observe” a moment of silence; you “observe” Memorial Day and the Fourth of July; you “observe” society and make snarky comments from the Peanut Gallery
–“Myself and Officer SoAndSo…” Myself? Really? I don’t even remember the last time I used that word as an adult…before now, obviously
–“It should be noted…” This can best be paraphrased as, “I’m too lazy to edit my own chronological report, and just realized I forgot to document something important that transpired earlier in the story.”
In all fairness to the trainees, most of what I teach them doesn’t matter all that much. Few of them will go into Homicide (where commas really do save lives) and their reports, normally, rarely ever see the light of day. The jury doesn’t read it unless it gets entered into evidence, the prosecutor only skims over it unless it’s going to trial this week, and the defense only reads enough of it to try to find technicalities to justify filing motions for dismissal. Reporters and the public usually get heavily-redacted copies. So, who’s the report for, then? Them. The trainee, for when they become a grown-up cop and have to go testify in court. The jury probably won’t get to read their words, but whatever they write today will be the only thing to refresh their memory before testifying three years from now about their actions at a homicide scene. Hope they put that comma in the right place. Let’s eat grandma.