I heartily disagree with people who complain about police officers and speed traps and such. I am thankful for law enforcement, and I despise speeders, tailgaters and obnoxious drivers. But I would like to teach policemen and dispatchers the fine points of clear, concise speaking and writing.
I read a plethora of police reports in the line of duty, and I hear scads of scanner chatter. In the course of all that law enforcement reading and listening, I regularly notice the unnecessary verbosity of police officers and dispatchers.
This fictitious sentence is representative of what I read: “The subject did exit his vehicle and did proceed to flee on foot from this officer, and this officer did pursue the subject on foot. This officer did tackle the subject, who did resist arrest by placing his hands in his pants pockets during this officer’s attempt to place handcuffs on the subject’s wrists.
First, why can’t police officers speak in the first person? Why not “I” instead of “this officer”? Second, the word “did” serves no purpose. Third — well, I’ll just rewrite the sentence using the tenets recommended by the Plain English Campaign: “He exited his car and ran from me, and I chased him and tackled him. He put his hands in his pockets when I tried to handcuff him.” Now, isn’t that nice and clear and simple?
On the scanner, they always say “public-service,” used as a verb, to mean call someone on a phone. Maybe this has a legitimate need, to distinguish phone calling from calling on a radio, but it seems the officer would understand in context whether it’s a phone call or a radio call. For example, an officer is not going to use his radio to contact a citizen about a complaint. He’ll either call on the phone or visit. I figure “public-service” is used out of habit, or to sound official.
Next, I would like dispatchers to properly pronouce “complainant.” They say “complaintant,” confusing it with “complaint.” A complainant, with only one “t,” is a person who makes a complaint.” I also find it interesting that all dispatchers pronounce “copy” when replying with a Bronx swing, and it comes out something like “cawpy.” Dispatcher training must include instructions on the pronunciation of “copy” — “Round the back of your mouth, and heavily emphasize the ‘k’ sound in the word.”
You too can talk like a cop — or should I say a law enforcement officer? It just takes some work. Use the third person, precede every verb with “did” and find ways to use three or four words where one will do. For example, Joe, a plumber, went to Lowe’s to buy some parts. Here’s his report to his boss in cop style:
“This plumber did find that the main water supply line to the house in question did have a leak. This plumber did assess the water supply line problem and did determine that a new supply line was needed. This plumber did public-service Lowe’s to verify that the store did stock the parts and pipe, and this plumber did drive to Lowe’s, did exit his vehicle and did buy the needed parts and pipe. This plumber did replace the pipe and did test the pipe. This plumber did resolve the complaint and did public-service the complaintant, who did arrive and did approve of the work.”
It’s not hard to do; it just takes some practice. So practice rounding your mouth to say “cawpy,” and find verbose ways to complicate simple sentences. Next week I’ll explain how you can learn to talk like a politician. And please come visit me in the Alliance city jail — just don’t speed or tailgate on your way.
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