Writing a good police statement

However, they did find evidence for error transmission: almost half of the errors mentioned by one officer during the discussion were subsequently reported by at least one of his team members in the subsequent individual report. Another relevant issue to consider is whether police officers individually record their memories prior to collaboration or not. Interestingly, the error transmission effect described above did not occur at all in that condition: when officers had first written down their own memories and then overheard errors during the discussion, none of these errors were subsequently incorporated in their adjusted reports.

Thus, it seems that writing an individual report first protects against the social transmission of errors. That is, external information is less likely to be incorporated into memory if the person has already exerted effort to recall the event, because there is a greater chance that he will notice a discrepancy between his memory and the information presented to him by someone else.

Individual recall prior to collaboration may not only affect the transmission of errors, but also the amount of information reported during the collaborative recall. This is the rationale behind the varied retrieval attempts featuring in the Cognitive Interview for witnesses R. Thus, there is abundant evidence in the memory literature that an initial recall attempt increases memory output during a second recall attempt. The role of collaboration in repeated recall is, however, less apparent.


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Some studies in the collaborative recall literature show that an individual recall opportunity prior to collaboration does not increase memory output during collaboration i. In these studies, however, the experimental setup did not reflect what would happen in a police context.

That is, study participants were not allowed to consult a copy of their individual recall attempt during the collaboration, whereas police officers would be able to consult their own individual reports while conferring with colleagues. This should lessen the disruption in individual retrieval strategies typically seen during collaboration Basden et al. In summary, when individuals write a report about a witnessed incident together i. Whether collaborative inhibition and error pruning are observed, however, depends on the relationship between pair members and on the type of strategies they use while remembering together e.

Hope et al. Importantly, however, the opportunity to write an individual report prior to conferring protected against the social transmission of errors.

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The experimental design of the present study was quite different from the research conducted by Hope et al. Rather than examining the effect of collaboration on subsequent individual reports, we examined the effect of collaboration during the writing of the police report. That is, we compared the information provided by two police officers in one joint report collaborative with the information provided by two police officers in two individual reports nominal. That comparison is highly relevant in the Dutch police context in which this research was conducted, because police officers in The Netherlands regularly submit a single police report signed by two or more officers.

All of the surveyed experts informed us that police officers in their countries are legally required to submit individual police reports. Nevertheless, in practice, those guidelines are not always followed—sometimes, police officers do hand in a single report signed by multiple officers this was noted by police experts from Belgium, France, Iceland, and Lithuania. Moreover, even when police officers submit individual reports, they may confer with colleagues before writing the report this was noted by police experts in Cyprus and the United Kingdom.

Thus, the insights gained from the current study seem to be relevant for different legal systems. In the present study, we sought to answer four research questions.

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The primary goal was to explore how collaboration during recall affects the content of police reports. Our second research question was how the recording of individual memories prior to collaboration would affect the content of the collaborative report. Pairs of police officers either wrote the collaborative report immediately after the incident or only after they had first written individual police reports about the incident.

Based on previous findings Gabbert et al. Furthermore, we expected that the initial individual retrieval attempt, in combination with the opportunity to consult individual reports while conferring, would increase the amount of information reported in the subsequent collaborative report cf.

Burke et al. Third, we examined the influence of the relationship between the police officers who were recalling together. Based on the transactive memory literature e.

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Based on previous findings e. Based on previous research on eyewitness interviews Vredeveldt et al. Eighty-six police officers 75 males and 11 females participated in the study. All participants were employed by the Dutch National Police Force but were stationed in different Regional Units throughout the country. Participants had been working for the police for Officers indicated they wrote between 0 and 50 police reports per month, with an average of All participants were randomly divided into pairs.

Twelve pairs consisted of participants who did not know each other prior to participation and 30 pairs of participants who did know each other one pair did not complete the questionnaire. The participants in the latter group had known each other for between 1. All pairs were randomly assigned to experimental condition in a mixed design.


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The 23 pairs in the individual—collaborative IC condition first wrote an individual report and then a collaborative report. The 20 pairs in the collaborative—individual CI condition first wrote a collaborative report and then an individual report. Two pairs in the IC condition and two pairs in the CI condition were unable to finish their participation; they completed only the first police report.

This resulted in 46 individual and 20 collaborative reports at Time 1 and 36 individual and 21 collaborative reports at Time 2. There were no significant differences between experimental conditions in terms of gender, age, years working for the police, years of experience writing police reports, or the number of police reports written per month see Table 1.

Similarly, there were no significant differences in terms of the number of pair members that had known each other beforehand, how long they had known each other, how frequently they saw each other, or how large the difference in years of experience was between pair members see Table 1. The incident about which police officers were asked to report concerned a live training exercise that was part of their continuing education program. In collaboration with police trainers, we developed a specific case training exercise for this research project, involving a suspicious man in a car.

The police officers participated in the exercise in pairs. The training exercise was run by two police trainers: one who played the role of the police dispatcher providing information via a portable radio link walkie-talkie and one who played the role of the suspicious man in the car the suspect. At the start of the exercise, the trainer who later played the dispatcher provided each participant with a training gun, training pepper spray containing water , and handcuffs.

At least one of the officers in the pair also received a portable radio to communicate with the dispatcher. Participants were instructed to follow the instructions provided by the dispatcher and act upon that information as they saw fit. As the participant pair set off on the outdoor training grounds, they received the first message from the dispatcher: someone had reported a suspicious man in a car that had been parked in the same location for hours. The dispatcher explained where the car was spotted and the police pair walked toward that location.

Once the participants had provided the license plate number, the dispatcher told them that the owner had a few outstanding traffic fines, which did not require an arrest. The police officers walked up to the suspect to chat with him. Moreover, the suspect had been in a fight last week involving knives and baseball bats.

The police trainer who played the role of the suspect had received instructions to struggle and resist arrest a little, but not use any physical violence. Once the police officers had arrested the suspect, the exercise was finished. Although the script for the exercise was the same for all participating police pairs, its execution varied from case to case.

Data collection was spread out over 10 days in three training locations in The Netherlands, with different cars and different police trainers who played the role of the dispatcher and the driver-suspect with 11 different suspects in total.

Investigations

The progress of the training exercise also depended heavily on the decisions made by the police pair and their behavior. Some pairs arrested the suspect almost immediately, whereas other pairs engaged in a long conversation with the suspect before arresting him. Some pairs detected the knife and confiscated it, whereas other pairs did not detect the knife or did not act upon seeing it.

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The police trainer who played the suspect also reacted differently to police participants depending on their behavior: authoritative and physically confronting behavior tended to elicit more resistance from him i. In sum, because of the realistic nature of the incident and the training goals of the police trainers, each case was different.

To document what had happened during each case, we video-recorded each exercise with two cameras: one GoPro HERO action camera attached to the chest of one of the participants and one handheld camera wielded by a researcher who followed the participant pairs during the entire exercise. Another researcher audio-recorded the information provided by the dispatcher via the portable radio link. All of these recordings were later used to code the information in the police reports provided by each specific police pair. This research was incorporated in the continuing education training program for experienced operational police officers at large outdoor training grounds at one of three police training locations in The Netherlands Almere, Leusden, and Elst.

On each training day, groups of 10 to 30 officers arrived at the training location.

Writing Alone or Together: Police Officers’ Collaborative Reports of an Incident

Upon arrival, the police trainers informed them that researchers from a local university would be running a research study that day, in which the police officers could choose to participate in-between other training activities planned for the day e. Police officers were informed that participation in the research would involve taking part in a case training exercise in pairs, followed by writing two police reports about the exercise. They were informed that the exercise would be video-recorded so that the researchers could check what happened during the exercise and that the video recordings would not be accessed by anyone outside of the research team and would not be used to evaluate their performance.

Participants were informed that the goal of the study was to investigate different ways of writing police reports. Participants were not informed that the research concerned the role of collaboration between police officers, nor that they would be asked to write police reports in pairs. After being informed about the goals of the research, police officers were given the opportunity to ask questions.

Those who participated signed an informed consent form. Participants were not financially compensated for their participation. Participants were instructed not to talk to each other about the training exercise. For training purposes, however, they did receive some general feedback from the police trainer on how to handle situations like this. From an experimental point of view, this feedback was not ideal because, despite the fact that the trainer limited himself to general advice, the feedback may have affected how the participants remembered the exercise.

From a practical point of view, however, the police trainers considered the immediate feedback necessary to ensure optimal benefits for the participating police officers.