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.


  • 1. Writing Better Police Reports: Probable Cause by Jean Reynolds, Ph.D.
  • 2. Writing Better Police Reports: Probable Cause by Jean Reynolds, Ph.D.
  • 3. Law enforcement officers must have “probable cause” for conducting a traffic stop or making a search.
  • 4. So what is “probable cause,” and how do you document it?
  • 5. “Probable cause” means recording facts that justify your actions.
  • 6. Fear, anger, a hunch, a suspicion…these aren’t enough.
  • 7. The United States Constitution protects the rights of American citizens. That means…
  • 8. …a judge may throw out your case if you didn’t provide probable cause.
  • 9. Probable cause must be documented in every report.
  • 10. If you were dispatched to a scene, “probable cause” will not be a problem. You were told to get involved.
  • 11. But what if you were acting on your own?
  • 12. You need to record facts that show you had “probable cause”: You heard a scream.
  • 13. You saw… drug paraphernalia a broken window
  • 14. A driver crossed a line twice.
  • 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. Vehicle searches require probable cause. Stopping a car for a driving violation isn’t sufficient.
  • 17. Did you see the driver throw or hide something?
  • 18. Sometimes behavior can provide probable cause…eyes that jump nervously from side to side.
  • 19. …trembling hands, inconsistent answers to your questions.
  • 20. When you write your report, be sure to include these details.
  • 21. Documenting “probable cause” in a report demonstrates your professionalism…
  • 22. And can result in a successful prosecution.
  • 23. To learn more about report writing…
  • 24. The Criminal Justice Report Writing Guide for Officers is available from www.Amazon.com for $17.95. View a free sample online.
  • 25. An e-book edition is available from www.Smashwords.comfo r $11.99.
  • 26. A free Instructor’s Manual is available on request: Send an email to jreynoldswrite at aol.com.
  • 27. And check out the free resources at www.YourPoliceWrite.com.