Best Practices for Law Enforcement Note Taking – and Why it Doesn’t Happen

One of the many duties of front line officers, whether they work in law enforcement, Bylaw, EMS, Fire, or private security, is the requirement to keep accurate and timely notes of their actions and their interactions with the public.

Most, if not all, law enforcement organizations have policies and procedures related to note taking. Many suggest that officers should keep sufficient notes of their activities and observations to assist them in giving satisfactory evidence in the prosecution of persons charged with offences and to give a satisfactory account of their daily activities.  Further, notes should be made throughout the officers’ shift in the form and format required by policy including being written in chronological order and written legibly to ensure that persons other than the author can read them.  The Canadian Police Knowledge Network (CPKN) accurately describes the vital role of proper note taking when it states that “notes play a critical role in judicial proceedings where there is a direct link between an officer’s notes, their report, and their testimony.”[1]

Given their obvious importance, officer notes should therefore follow best practices which are taught universally in Canada and beyond.  Notes must be independent, legible, created and stored in a manner which does not allow for alterations or deletions, and written at the time of the original incident or as soon as practicable afterwards.  Good notes provide accuracy, transparency, and accountability, and are a fundamental building block of an officer’s reputation as a true professional.

However, the public and the courts have come to recognize that in some cases officers fall short of these expectations.  Sometimes critical information is missing from notes, or they are  found to be either compromised in some way or missing altogether, which begs the question:

If these are the best practices for note taking then why aren’t they being followed?

The most likely answer is not officer misconduct. One possible explanation is that many police officers are “feeling overloaded, stressed and burned out.”[1]  That’s the conclusion reached in a survey conducted by Linda Duxbury, a professor in management and strategy at Carleton University.  The survey, which was released in 2021, “highlighted a policing culture where officers may be reluctant to ask for help or say no to additional work even if they’re already overloaded.”  The survey prompted Tom Stamatakis, president of the Canadian Police Association to state that “the current model is not sustainable. We’re asking people to do way too much,” and he warns that “officer fatigue could affect productivity and performance when interacting with the public .”[2]  Simply put, officers who feel overwhelmed by their workload or who are struggling to keep up with too many calls for service can get caught up in a process where they are creating less than ideal notes.  Officers often feel forced to cut corners on their notes and can do so by making notations that are brief, lacking in detail, or composed at a later date when the time to write them is more readily available.  Another potential factor is the reliance of law enforcement on video evidence, which can result in an officer not providing sufficient details in notes that accurately describe why they believed they had the grounds to make an arrest or to enter into a specific type of investigation, such as why they suspected that a driver might be impaired.

The best way to combat these trends is to turn to new technologies that empower officers by giving them more control over their work environment.  If officers can work faster and smarter they are more likely to complete their initial documentation in a professional and complete manner before moving on to their next call for service.   

The Intelligent Mobile Patrol eNotes system, developed by Digital Mobility Inc., offers this exact opportunity for agencies  seeking to increase officer efficiency while demonstrating that they understand and support their members.  When officers feel that investments are being made on their behalf to assist them in dealing with excessive workloads a department can expect to see heightened engagement and job satisfaction, which in turn can bolster morale and improve officer performance on the road.

Intelligent Mobile Patrol features cad import, speech to text, audio statements, drivers license scanning, case notes compilation, and more, all in a reliable and scalable cross platform system that allows for reduced duplication, time savings, and increased accuracy in real time to help officers get things done.

To learn more about how Intelligent Mobile Patrol can transform your workplace, please visit digitalmobilityinc.com.