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Old 09-20-2018, 08:07 AM
Orville mogul Orville mogul is offline
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Why do cops speak like this?

Just saw this article this morning and noticed a few places where they quoted law enforcement officers (aka cops) using stilted cop-language.

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-45577071

For example:

Quote:
"Despite persistent and ongoing efforts, floodwater rose rapidly and the deputies were unable to open the doors to reach the individuals inside the van,"
Quote:
"At this time, the recovery effort is ongoing, and the transportation vehicle cannot be removed due to rising waters and dangerous conditions."
Quote:
"Just like you, we have questions we want answered. We are fully co-operating with the State Law Enforcement Division to support their investigation of this event."
'Individuals'? Why not 'dead people'?

'Transportation vehicle'? Why not 'van'?

'Event'? Why not 'shitty situation'?

It's not just this article. I have seen lots of interviews with US cops, and regardless of their age, rank, ethnicity or geography, they all seem to use this same stilted language. Where did this come from? Do they think it makes them seem smart and authoritative? Do they teach it at the academy?

(I'm not aiming to trash police officers. I appreciate for the most part what they do. I just wish they spoke like normal people.)
  #2  
Old 09-20-2018, 08:13 AM
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WOOKINPANUB WOOKINPANUB is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Orville mogul View Post
Just saw this article this morning and noticed a few places where they quoted law enforcement officers (aka cops) using stilted cop-language.

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-45577071

For example:







'Individuals'? Why not 'dead people'?

'Transportation vehicle'? Why not 'van'?

'Event'? Why not 'shitty situation'?

It's not just this article. I have seen lots of interviews with US cops, and regardless of their age, rank, ethnicity or geography, they all seem to use this same stilted language. Where did this come from? Do they think it makes them seem smart and authoritative? Do they teach it at the academy?

(I'm not aiming to trash police officers. I appreciate for the most part what they do. I just wish they spoke like normal people.)


Bolding mine

Of course. Why would someone in such a profession not want to appear intelligent and authoritative? That's the very nature of their job.

Are these serious questions?
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Old 09-20-2018, 08:20 AM
Horatius Horatius is offline
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Originally Posted by Orville mogul View Post
'Individuals'? Why not 'dead people'?

'Transportation vehicle'? Why not 'van'?

'Event'? Why not 'shitty situation'?


Turn it around. What kind of story would you be reading if the cop had said, "We couldn't get the dead people out of that van because it was a shitty situation"? I suspect more than a few commentators would be slagging them for being unprofessional and callous. " 'Dead people'? That was my aunt/grannie/sister, you bastard!"
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Old 09-20-2018, 08:28 AM
Stranger On A Train Stranger On A Train is offline
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Police officers are trained to use neutral, non-prejudicial language in reports and public communications so as to not create the impression of bias or implication, e.g. referring to someone as a “person of interest” rather than “potential suspect”. This is no different than an engineer explaining a structural failure using technical terminology or a physician describing an illness or injury in clinical language so that the meaning is clear and not subject to interpretation in multi-valued colloquial language. In casual conversation police officers use descriptive prose, profanity, et cetera just like anyone else, but when they are caught doing so on camera or audio it can often be made to seem that they are unprofessional, prejudicial, or just lacking in compassion or empathy when engaging in gallows humor with other police.

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Old 09-20-2018, 08:37 AM
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It's been a while since the academy, but when I went, yes, they did teach how to write a report. I may be over simplifying it, but it comes down to the fact that any report than an officer writes can end up in court. Lawyers pour over these reports and tear them apart. They look for anything they can use to put doubt in the jury's mind. So they drum it into you to be thorough and precise, remove any doubt about what you are writing about. So saying "van" may seem like the thing to do, but there is a lawyer out there that will question you on what kind of van. By saying "prisoner transport vehicle" it removes any doubt about what they were in and that they weren't strapped to the floor of a cargo van, etc.
As dumb as it sounds, this is the way it works sometimes.
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Old 09-20-2018, 08:49 AM
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My favorite example of police-speak is where they refer to those with whom they interact very politely. As in -

"We received a call about a disturbance at 1234 Main St. Upon entering the residence, we observed Mr. Smith standing over the six dead nuns with a bloody axe in his hands.

At this point, we took the gentleman into custody..."

Regards,
Shodan
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Old 09-20-2018, 09:05 AM
Orville mogul Orville mogul is offline
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It's been a while since the academy, but when I went, yes, they did teach how to write a report. I may be over simplifying it, but it comes down to the fact that any report than an officer writes can end up in court.
thanks. That makes a lot of sense
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Old 09-20-2018, 09:20 AM
EscAlaMike EscAlaMike is offline
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When it comes to government employees (and police officers are government employees), you have to understand that the #1 objective at all times is "AVOID LITIGATION". Everything cops (and all govt employees) do is for the sole purpose of avoiding a lawsuit. When you realize this, it all makes sense.
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Old 09-20-2018, 09:26 AM
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My anti-favorite is "traveling at a high rate of speed."

Last edited by Darren Garrison; 09-20-2018 at 09:29 AM.
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Old 09-20-2018, 09:29 AM
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Originally Posted by EscAlaMike View Post
When it comes to government employees (and police officers are government employees), you have to understand that the #1 objective at all times is "AVOID LITIGATION". Everything cops (and all govt employees) do is for the sole purpose of avoiding a lawsuit. When you realize this, it all makes sense.
This is overly simplistic at best, particularly given that in many cases law enforcement and federal employees acting in an official capacity are relatively protected against lawsuits at a personal level. The use of neutral language is to be precise in describing a situation and avoiding the appearance of prejudicial views or positions.

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Old 09-20-2018, 10:33 AM
Vinyl Turnip Vinyl Turnip is offline
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Similar thread from five years ago.
  #12  
Old 09-20-2018, 10:49 AM
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I always find it funny (annoying?) when they go overboard on the "alleged" thing. I get it, you didn't see it happen, he's only accused at this point, so he's the 'alleged shoplifter'. But I recently saw a news story where someone was 'allegedly arrested'. Well, no, they either were or they weren't, there isn't a question, now you're putting 'allegedly' before everything. I saw a cop once say a suspect allegedly did something, even though this was on live tv (Live PD) and we all saw it happen, and it was something that, again, there's no question about. IIRC, the suspect 'allegedly escaped from my car'. But, I guess, they can only accuse at that point.

Then, there's this one (not vouching for it, just ran across it on the internet one day).
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Old 09-20-2018, 10:54 AM
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Originally Posted by Emergency911 View Post
It's been a while since the academy, but when I went, yes, they did teach how to write a report. I may be over simplifying it, but it comes down to the fact that any report than an officer writes can end up in court. Lawyers pour over these reports and tear them apart. They look for anything they can use to put doubt in the jury's mind. So they drum it into you to be thorough and precise, remove any doubt about what you are writing about. So saying "van" may seem like the thing to do, but there is a lawyer out there that will question you on what kind of van. By saying "prisoner transport vehicle" it removes any doubt about what they were in and that they weren't strapped to the floor of a cargo van, etc.
As dumb as it sounds, this is the way it works sometimes.
This. The reports can & will be subpoenaed if there is any lawsuit or will also be pulled if there's any internal departmental investigation. No one has gotten in trouble for being overly verbose but have gotten hung out to dry for not putting in details of what they saw/did.

As for the OP's first quote ("Despite persistent and ongoing efforts, floodwater rose rapidly and the deputies were unable to open the doors to reach the individuals inside the van,") They were individuals at that time; they were not dead people until the floodwaters rose high enough to drown them, which was after the persistent & ongoing efforts to rescue them.

Prisoner transport vans (cages, locks, etc.) are different than police personal transport vans (more generic 15 passenger vans used to transport PD personal from their station to an event; a parade, concert, VIP speech, used to take kids on a PAL fieldtrip, etc.)
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Old 09-20-2018, 11:33 AM
Vinyl Turnip Vinyl Turnip is offline
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I'm afraid it's only going to get worse in the future.


Prison guard: Okay sir, now we will begin to proceed to obtain your IQ and aptitude test.

Joe: What for?

Prison guard: Okay sir, this is to figure out what your aptitude's good at, and get you a jail job while you're being a particular individual in jail.
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Old 09-20-2018, 12:25 PM
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Originally Posted by Vinyl Turnip View Post
I'm afraid it's only going to get worse in the future.


Prison guard: Okay sir, now we will begin to proceed to obtain your IQ and aptitude test.

Joe: What for?

Prison guard: Okay sir, this is to figure out what your aptitude's good at, and get you a jail job while you're being a particular individual in jail.
I was going to reference this very scene from Idiocracy. It’s satire obviously, but does demonstrate the idea. To be fair, I don’t think we should call it “cop speak”, because I see this in lots of other places. I think of it as a sort of hyper-officiousness and extreme, false politeness often masking contempt.

Can we coin a word for this?
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Old 09-20-2018, 12:48 PM
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I'm afraid it's only going to get worse in the future.


Prison guard: Okay sir, now we will begin to proceed to obtain your IQ and aptitude test.

Joe: What for?

Prison guard: Okay sir, this is to figure out what your aptitude's good at, and get you a jail job while you're being a particular individual in jail.
The future? It's already happened.

We don't call them prisons or jails. We call them correctional facilities.

And the people in them are not guards or prisoners. They're correction officers or inmates.

And inmates aren't given jobs. They're assigned to a program.

And the inmate whose program is mopping the floor isn't a janitor. He's a porter.

Reality has surpassed satire.

Last edited by Little Nemo; 09-20-2018 at 12:51 PM.
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Old 09-20-2018, 01:01 PM
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A lot of 'cop speak' also ends up in court records, so I suspect that they keep it uber professional for that reason too.
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Old 09-20-2018, 01:07 PM
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Remember, there's a legion of lawyers out there who are looking for the slightest excuse to confound the prosecution on behalf of their clients.

For example, if the reporting officer uses "dead person" instead of "individual" I, as a lawyer representing my client in a civil suit, could try to make a case that the police gave up on my client's wife because of the assumption she was dead when, in fact, an autopsy proved she drowned and was not killed in the accident itself.

You get the idea.

Last edited by Jasmine; 09-20-2018 at 01:08 PM.
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Old 09-20-2018, 01:29 PM
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It should probably be noted that the quotes in the OP aren't from cops, two are from the "sheriff's office" and the last one is from the Sheriff. All these statements likely had multiple (PR trained) proof readings before they were released to the media.
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Old 09-20-2018, 02:48 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Shodan View Post
My favorite example of police-speak is where they refer to those with whom they interact very politely. As in -

"We received a call about a disturbance at 1234 Main St. Upon entering the residence, we observed Mr. Smith standing over the six dead nuns with a bloody axe in his hands.

At this point, we took the gentleman into custody..."

Regards,
Shodan
More likely- "At this point we proceeded to take the gentleman..."
I wonder if anyone's ever actually said "We proceeded to proceed..."

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Originally Posted by Joey P View Post
I always find it funny (annoying?) when they go overboard on the "alleged" thing. I get it, you didn't see it happen, he's only accused at this point, so he's the 'alleged shoplifter'. But I recently saw a news story where someone was 'allegedly arrested'. Well, no, they either were or they weren't, there isn't a question, now you're putting 'allegedly' before everything. I saw a cop once say a suspect allegedly did something, even though this was on live tv (Live PD) and we all saw it happen, and it was something that, again, there's no question about. IIRC, the suspect 'allegedly escaped from my car'. But, I guess, they can only accuse at that point.
I once read a news story where they referred to "the alleged suspect."
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Old 09-20-2018, 04:59 PM
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I once read a news story where they referred to "the alleged suspect."
Former police reporter here. The misuse of "alleged" is well-known mistake made by reporters and editors, and has its own entry in the Associated Press stylebook. IIRC, it says "Use 'alleged' when the issue in doubt is the participants, not the occurrence itself," or something like that. So "alleged shooter" is saying, basically, "He might be the shooter," because you can't really say safely something like that until he's been convicted. (Possible litigation!)
However "alleged shooting" is a stupid mistake. Either someone got shot, or he didn't. This is not ALWAYS true though; there is such a thing as "alleged rape." In that case, two people had sex, but it's only rape, legally, if one of them is convicted of rape. Language in this case gets in the way, as it may not be entirely clear the dispute is not whether they had sex, but whether it was consensual.
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Old 09-20-2018, 05:13 PM
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The future? It's already happened.

We don't call them prisons or jails. We call them correctional facilities.

And the people in them are not guards or prisoners. They're correction officers or inmates.
Not "clients" yet, then?
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Old 09-20-2018, 11:15 PM
Noel Prosequi Noel Prosequi is offline
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There seems somewhere to be a list of archaic words that police use by default, but no-one else does. Police always "alight" from vehicles. Indeed, they are always "vehicles". They "proceed" to places. They "consume" food and "beverages". People in custody "flee". Police "operate" vehicles. They "utilise" things, even more than the general abuse of this word in the general community.


There is another aspect of police speak that, for mine, is weirder than the uber-formality being discussed above. It is the use of a species of perfect tense that is completely odd, and I don't know why police do it. A fake example is this:" The suspect has gone into the liquor store where he has robbed the shopkeeper and customers. He has then fled the store and has hijacked the car of a passer-by, before he has been captured." Exaggerated, but you recognise the style. What's wrong with the plain ol' past tense? He went into the store, where he robbed the clerk, and fled, etc?

Maybe it is intended to add a sense of racy immediacy to the narrative. Maybe the use of the perfect tense structure is thought to be more elevated in tone compared to the much more sensible use of past tense. But it is now so pervasive that it has infected police-beat reporting as well.

It is one of the things I have to beat out of law students who seem to think they are supposed to talk or write like that.

ISTM this is not just a habit from where I come from (Australia). I have seen it in the UK and US as well.
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Old 09-21-2018, 12:54 AM
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When loaded on top of the passive voice, it's an excellent tool for relieving the police of responsibility for their actions. Police officers never kill people, but occasionally they are present at officer-involved shootings that leave a suspect deceased. This seeps into media reports too, which makes it useful for determining if any actual reporting has been done or if you're just reading police propaganda.

Last edited by Lord Feldon; 09-21-2018 at 12:58 AM.
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Old 09-21-2018, 01:05 AM
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When loaded on top of the passive voice, it's an excellent tool for relieving the police of responsibility for their actions. Police officers never kill people, but occasionally they are present at officer-involved shootings that leave a suspect deceased. This seeps into media reports too, which makes it useful for determining if any actual reporting has been done or if you're just reading police propaganda.
No, definitely not. I use to review reports and anyone who tried to say something like "and then physical force was applied" would be told to rewrite it. We insisted on specific details. It had to be "and then I applied physical force to the inmate by holding his left forearm with my left hand and his left knee with my right hand."
  #26  
Old 09-21-2018, 04:39 AM
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Originally Posted by TreacherousCretin View Post
More likely- "At this point we proceeded to take the gentleman..."
Ahem! For British officers, 'proceeding' is the term for moving, as in, "We proceeded down Albemarle Street."
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Old 09-21-2018, 05:37 AM
Smapti Smapti is online now
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Of course. Why would someone in such a profession not want to appear intelligent and authoritative? That's the very nature of their job.
Precisely.

I wouldn't want to go see a doctor after hurting myself and have him tell me "Looks like your leg-bone's fucked 'cause you were being a dumbass."
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Old 09-21-2018, 06:17 AM
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Not "clients" yet, then?

No, they become "clients" when they are "under supervision".
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Old 09-21-2018, 06:25 AM
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Old 09-21-2018, 06:57 AM
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Originally Posted by TreacherousCretin View Post
More likely- "At this point we proceeded to take the gentleman..."
I wonder if anyone's ever actually said "We proceeded to proceed..."
"The Precession [of the Equinoxes] had preceded according to precedent..." -- Rudyard Kipling
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Old 09-21-2018, 07:42 AM
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Police officers are trained to use neutral, non-prejudicial language in reports and public communications so as to not create the impression of bias or implication, e.g. referring to someone as a “person of interest” rather than “potential suspect”. This is no different than an engineer explaining a structural failure using technical terminology or a physician describing an illness or injury in clinical language so that the meaning is clear and not subject to interpretation in multi-valued colloquial language. In casual conversation police officers use descriptive prose, profanity, et cetera just like anyone else, but when they are caught doing so on camera or audio it can often be made to seem that they are unprofessional, prejudicial, or just lacking in compassion or empathy when engaging in gallows humor with other police.

Stranger

Could not agree more. A properly trained LEO using professional jargon is a good thing. Jargon and precise descriptions are essential in doing the best possible job, whether building a bridge or describing a crime.
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Old 09-21-2018, 07:44 AM
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Precisely.

I wouldn't want to go see a doctor after hurting myself and have him tell me "Looks like your leg-bone's fucked 'cause you were being a dumbass."
But they also wouldn't say "It appears that you have sustained a greenstick fracture of the articular capsule of the distal femur due to the vigorous nature of your alleged activities. At this time I will apply a paste consisting of powdered gypsum and water to the limb in question to stabilize it while the healing process proceeds. Meanwhile, please consume this sucrose-based confection presented on a compressed-paper stick."

People trying to sound intelligent usually come off as people trying to sound intelligent.
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Old 09-21-2018, 11:19 AM
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There's also the matter of consistency, that every officer is singing off the same hymn-sheet as it were and not using their own individual style, words, phrasing and grammar.

Otherwise with kids these days we'd be receiving reports in text-speak.
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Old 09-21-2018, 11:47 AM
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Anyone else now have Long John Baldry's Don't Try To Lay No Boogie Woogie On The King Of Rock And Roll (1971) in their head?

Favorite policeman's line (full lyrics here):
"I was proceeding in a
Southernly direction, milord
When I heard strange sounds coming
From Wardour Place, milord"
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Old 09-21-2018, 01:26 PM
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Old 09-21-2018, 02:40 PM
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Ahem! For British officers, 'proceeding' is the term for moving, as in, "We proceeded down Albemarle Street."
Fair enough, "proceeded" is the verb for what they were doing. Using my American CopSpeak example "We proceeded to do something", wouldn't that be equivalent to your British cop saying "We proceeded to proceed down Albemarle Street"?

(I'm seriously asking a silly question.)
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Old 09-21-2018, 02:43 PM
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Former police reporter here. The misuse of "alleged" is well-known mistake made by reporters and editors, and has its own entry in the Associated Press stylebook. IIRC, it says "Use 'alleged' when the issue in doubt is the participants, not the occurrence itself," or something like that. So "alleged shooter" is saying, basically, "He might be the shooter," because you can't really say safely something like that until he's been convicted. (Possible litigation!)
However "alleged shooting" is a stupid mistake. Either someone got shot, or he didn't. This is not ALWAYS true though; there is such a thing as "alleged rape." In that case, two people had sex, but it's only rape, legally, if one of them is convicted of rape. Language in this case gets in the way, as it may not be entirely clear the dispute is not whether they had sex, but whether it was consensual.
Thank you for this. Am I correct in thinking that "alleged suspect" is therefore a stupid mistake when the subject is definitely a suspect?
  #38  
Old 09-21-2018, 02:56 PM
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(I'm seriously asking a silly question.)
A question to which I do not know the answer.
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Old 09-22-2018, 01:45 PM
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Re: Alleged. I wonder why they even bother. Someone I know was arrested and the arrest was publicised. Now everyone who doesn't know him is posting online convinced that he's criminal scum.
Yeah I know it's to avoid litigation, but still...

Last edited by furryman; 09-22-2018 at 01:48 PM.
  #40  
Old 09-22-2018, 03:06 PM
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A degree of pomposity in police-speak has been noted and mocked on this side of the Atlantic for a very long time, right back to Dogberry and other constables in Shakespeare.
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Old 09-23-2018, 08:31 AM
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Thank you for this. Am I correct in thinking that "alleged suspect" is therefore a stupid mistake when the subject is definitely a suspect?
That's another murky one. The police rarely come out and name suspects outright, but if they do it's perfectly fine to repeat it. At that point, it's not "alleged" any more. (A general rule is that it is ALWAYS safe to repeat officials statements by the police.) But the truth is calling someone an "alleged" anything if they've never been arrested, questioned or aren't on trial is risky. That's not to say it isn't done, however, because these are conventions of the profession that have no real force of law. Publications all have a different level of risk they're willing to tolerate. Better to just say things like"the police have questioned the dead woman's husband"--a factual statement--and let readers draw their own conclusions.
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Old 09-23-2018, 10:11 AM
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Originally Posted by furryman View Post
Re: Alleged. I wonder why they even bother. Someone I know was arrested and the arrest was publicised. Now everyone who doesn't know him is posting online convinced that he's criminal scum.
Yeah I know it's to avoid litigation, but still...
Because...
Quote:
Originally Posted by Lizard View Post
Better to just say things like"the police have questioned the dead woman's husband"--a factual statement--and let readers draw their own conclusions.
...then the readers who draw their own wrong conclusions, can't say it was the press and the public officials that told them he's criminal scum. It lays the responsibility for the outrage mob on the outrage mob.

And BTW a criminal defense lawyer friend points out that, conversely, this style helps him detect a weak case, if the report/testimony seem too perfectly scripted as to form but has deficiencies in substantive details that the witness can't elaborate upon on questioning.
  #43  
Old 09-23-2018, 10:19 AM
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Originally Posted by Noel Prosequi View Post
There seems somewhere to be a list of archaic words that police use by default, but no-one else does. Police always "alight" from vehicles. Indeed, they are always "vehicles". They "proceed" to places. They "consume" food and "beverages". People in custody "flee". Police "operate" vehicles. They "utilise" things, even more than the general abuse of this word in the general community.


There is another aspect of police speak that, for mine, is weirder than the uber-formality being discussed above. It is the use of a species of perfect tense that is completely odd, and I don't know why police do it. A fake example is this:" The suspect has gone into the liquor store where he has robbed the shopkeeper and customers. He has then fled the store and has hijacked the car of a passer-by, before he has been captured." Exaggerated, but you recognise the style. What's wrong with the plain ol' past tense? He went into the store, where he robbed the clerk, and fled, etc?

Maybe it is intended to add a sense of racy immediacy to the narrative. Maybe the use of the perfect tense structure is thought to be more elevated in tone compared to the much more sensible use of past tense. But it is now so pervasive that it has infected police-beat reporting as well.

It is one of the things I have to beat out of law students who seem to think they are supposed to talk or write like that.

ISTM this is not just a habit from where I come from (Australia). I have seen it in the UK and US as well.
There is some aspects of “I saw the old guy doing it so I will.” There are some bad habits that have been worked out of police writing over the year. In decades past reports used to be written in some form of third person. “This officer” or “The below signed officer” has been replaced with “I.”

Stilted and formal often prevents confusion. Pronouns are avoided. It’s better to begin 10 sentences in a row with “The suspect” than use pronouns that can lead to confusion as to who you are talking about. Or fake defense attorney confusion.

This is the first time I have ever typed the word “alight” in my life. I drive or walk I don’t proceed. “Flee” has a very specific meaning.
  #44  
Old 09-23-2018, 10:23 AM
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Originally Posted by JRDelirious View Post

And BTW a criminal defense lawyer friend points out that, conversely, this style helps him detect a weak case, if the report/testimony seem too perfectly scripted as to form but has deficiencies in substantive details that the witness can't elaborate upon on questioning.
If there is going to be a formal interview like would happen with a major case my reports are purposely lacking substantive details. There will always be differences between my paraphrasing of what someone told me and their own words in an interview. Any descepancies will be attacked by a defense attorney so I don’t give him any.
  #45  
Old 09-23-2018, 02:57 PM
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Originally Posted by Emergency911 View Post
It's been a while since the academy, but when I went, yes, they did teach how to write a report. I may be over simplifying it, but it comes down to the fact that any report than an officer writes can end up in court. Lawyers pour over these reports and tear them apart. They look for anything they can use to put doubt in the jury's mind. So they drum it into you to be thorough and precise, remove any doubt about what you are writing about. So saying "van" may seem like the thing to do, but there is a lawyer out there that will question you on what kind of van. By saying "prisoner transport vehicle" it removes any doubt about what they were in and that they weren't strapped to the floor of a cargo van, etc.
As dumb as it sounds, this is the way it works sometimes.

what did the lawyers "pour" over reports? or did you mean ;pore"?
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