Koehler & Isaacs-Writing the Use of Force or Use of Force Witness Report

By: Steven Isaacs

 General Counsel to NYC COBA

                During the course of your career, as a Correction Officer, you are called upon to write reports about incidents or occurrences related to your employment with the Department. One of the most important reports, if not the most important report you may have to write is a Use of Force Report or a Use of Force Witness Report. This article provides advice on to how to best write either of those reports.

                First, before you begin to write your report, make sure you are physically and mentally able to do so. Your health and safety are always the priority.  If as a result of the Use of Force you are injured, you should seek treatment pursuant to the Directive. A Use of Force or Witness Report is your official version of what occurred and will be reviewed by the Department for truthfulness and accuracy.  If you are unable to complete a report as soon as practicable after an incident because of an injury, the Directive permits you time to do so. You do not want to be rushed into writing your report unless you have a clear mind and can, to the best of your ability, recall the facts that led to your actions or observations.

If you are able to write your report following a Use of Force, you must follow the Department’s procedures set forth in the Use of Force Directive. Whenever you are writing either of these reports, you should have a copy of the Directive with you. The Directive is your guide to what you need to describe in your report. There is no reason you should not have your copy of the Directive with you as you write your report and refer to as needed to make sure you are complying with the Directive. Your report is your opportunity to explain the facts and circumstances, from your perspective, as to why using force was necessary.

One of the issues we have repeatedly seen in regards to Use of Force or Witness Reports is that Officers often report certain actions that they themselves are unsure of.  One of the reasons for this is that Uses of Force are often quick, stressful, and dangerous.  These are not optimal circumstances for complete and accurate recollection.  As you know, most, if not all of the Department’s facilities have cameras that record Uses of Force. Your report will be compared to the video for truthfulness and accuracy. If you are not sure of all of your actions, it is ok to write that. As long as you are providing a truthful and accurate report, you should only report those actions you are sure of.  After your initial report is submitted, the Directive and the Department’s Orders allow you to ask to review video footage of the Use of Force and provide a supplemental report to add to or correct any inaccuracies in your initial report. You will not be able to change your initial report. If your facility does not allow you to review the video after you have requested to do so, you should still write a supplemental report indicating you requested to review the video and provide a supplemental report but your request was denied. This will help us address issues in regards to your report if it is later called into question.

As always, please feel free to call our firm at 917-551-1300 and ask to speak with any of the attorneys in our Criminal/Disciplinary Practice and they will be happy to answer any questions on this subject that you may have.