Writing professional security reports
This week we are going to look at the essential task of completing an incident report. It’s the part of the job that not many people like but it is nevertheless essential. I’ve been there at the end of a long night in a club when all you want is to get home to bed and the manager walks out with a stack of empty report forms to complete. I’ve been there after an arrest that’s gone violent and you need a report for the store manager asap. I’ve also been on the other side of that equation. I’ve gotten phone calls from irate customers the morning after an incident or a persons solicitor the day after an incident when I haven’t had reports. In both of those cases the absence of a report hasn’t looked professional but the quality of the report that does arrive is the real critical part. Reports can save you or cost you after incidents. One of my maxims in the security industry is ” even if what you did was correct you can still lose if it doesn’t look correct or you don’t record it correctly”. In this article I want to help you with that part. I’ve seen too many people cost jobs and money because of poorly written reports.
Quality of reports
The quality of incident reports vary greatly across the security industry and the quality of a report is often skewed by a view within the industry that reports are for the benefit of the employer and not the operative. It is true that good accurate reports are a huge benefit to the employer. However it is often forgotten that a well constructed incident report can provide both great protection and credibility for a security operative as well.
The quality of your reports are a direct reflection on the quality of your work and how you dealt with an incident. Good reports are:
- Structured- They have a beginning middle and end and they flow naturally. No slang, abbreviations or bad language.
- Factual- Full of hard facts. No opinions or guesses or tales of how great you are. Most importantly no lies.
- Concise- Contain all of the relevant material without rambling or writing essays.
Timing of the report
Before looking at content it’s important first to look at timing. This is essential if your are writing a report on an incident which involved high levels of adrenaline on the writers part (particularly violent incidents). I always advise security operatives not to begin writing a report for a minimum of 30 minutes after the incident. In the first 30 minutes the adrenaline levels in the body and brain leave us functioning in fight or flight mode. We are emotional, edgy and shaky and all of this will come across in the report. It’s great to gather basic details at the time such as time, location, descriptions, witness details etc in your notebook but I don’t advise beginning a structured report until you have regained control of the emotions. This is even more important if you are asked for a statement by Gardai immediately after an incident. Politely tell them that you are shaken and require 30 minutes to compose yourself before making a statement. They will understand in most cases. In others they won’t be pleased but such is life. The same goes for supervisors and managers asking you to complete a report. Your job could be at stake if you make an emotional non factual report in an impaired state so take this time to prepare yourself.
Some venues and companies use pro forma report templates where the security operatives fill in basic details in pre-sized boxes. These are good to a point but I always prefer to leave enough room to allow for a security operative to give a full statement of events. Some times this will require a second page to the report. It’s a good idea for security operatives to get used to writing full statement type reports instead of just filling in the blanks. The reason for this is if Garda statements or statements for insurance claims are required later they will need to be long form statements. These can be daunting if you aren’t used to the format and content. Also if you intend to move onto security management level then long form report writing is an essential skill. If you are looking for a decent (well I think so anyway) report template to use take a look at my one here.
This is my preferred outline. I find it works for all types of reports whether it’s an arrest, conflict, complaint, damage or accident. I find it easy to follow and remember. I always advise new security operatives to print it out, laminate it on a small card and put it inside their notebook as a guide when completing a report. The inserts I use are available to download here .
The report format is:
- I AM- Name and role
- ON- Day and date
- AT- Approximate time
- IN- Place of work and position
- I WAS- What you were doing prior to the incident.
- I SAW- Who you saw, descriptions of people, what you saw them do
- I DID- What you did, your actions and words. Did you need to use force? What type of force?
- THEY DID- How the other person reacted. Did they comply, run, fight? Their personal details if required.
- IT ENDED- How did the situation end. Were emergency services called? If so who attended? Which managers were present or who did you tell?
Finally and probably most importantly always remember to SIGN and DATE your report.
Your report is an oppurtunity to create a professional first impression of you and your employer. Whether that reader is a solicitor, HR manager, imsurance company, Garda or judge you want to create an impression of professionalism before they ever even meet you. Your first chance to do this is in the first line of your report (NAME & ROLE). Don’t say ” my name is Joe Bloggs and I work in security” or ” my name is Joe Bloggs and I’m a bouncer”. Nothing wrong with either in reality but the perception outside of the industry of those terms is poor. I start with something like ” my name is Joe Bloggs and I am a professional security operative employed by ABC Security”. Can you see the difference in first impressions?
Report Writing Tips
- Try not to use slang or abbreviations. Things like I saw two guys or two lads sounds sloppy.
- Use plain English. Don’t feel like you have to make yourself look clever by using fancy language or complicated terms. Nothing will make you look sillier than using fancy words and spelling them incorrectly.
- If you are writing what somebody said to your or what you said then write in verbatim . Don’t paraphrase or fill in the blanks. Put in some inverted commas and write exactly what was said. If they said “I’m going to break your legs you idiot” then that’s exactly you write. If you said “ I am arresting you for theft please return to the store with me” then that’s what you write.
- Work on your handwriting. Mine is terrible so I write my reports in block capitals. Looks more professional and everybody can read it.
- Be truthful. Your not superman and you can’t see, hear and remember everything. If you didn’t see it don’t write it down. Same goes for if you didn’t hear it . If you don’t remember then say “I don’t remember what he said next”. There’s no shame and nothing wrong with it.
- Don’t sacrifice accuracy for neatness. It’s better to be accurate in your reporting than neat. Of course both are better but accuracy is essential.
- Always read your report before you submit it. Make sure it reads correctly, make sure everything is included and make sure you can stand behind every statement you make.
- If you make a spelling or other mistake don’t scratch it out. Just put it in brackets, put a line through it and initial it
So in summary, reports are used as a tool to inform and protect both you and your employer. They don’t need to be essays or great works of art to be effective. They are about accountability but they are also an opportunity to show your skills as a professional.Every line you write has the potential to enhance your position or lose you your job (or your freedom in more serious cases). Remember as you write that the reader may not be on your side. Just keep it factual structured and professional and you will come across as a credible and reliable security operative.
PS If you want some examples of good reports you can download some below: