It’s not often we kick off a school year with news as prominent as a double-homicide in the usually sleepy town of Sycamore. I’m reminded of an excellent post from former EIC Kelly Bauer of how to avoid the dreaded “cop speak.” She starts with the cop speak term, followed by the conversational replacement we could use. To learn more read Bauer’s post, which I’ve pasted below.
Male/female: man, woman (boy, girl for those underage)
Adult/minor/adolescent/infant: man, woman, teen, boy, girl, child, toddler, baby
Vehicle: car (or motorcycle, truck, etc. if that was the vehicle)
Weapon: gun, knife, etc.–whatever the weapon was
Located: found, saw, etc.
Narcotics: drugs (I do substitute more common terms for specific drugs, like meth instead of methamphetamine, but avoid slang terms and wouldn’t replace cocaine with coke, for example. It’s a best judgment kinda deal.)
Offender: man, woman, driver, thief, shooter, etc. (Be careful and remember libel laws when using a term like “shooter,” though.)
Approximately: about if it’s a rough/estimated time (or skip “approximately/about” if police say the exact time was 6 p.m. or 6:13 p.m., etc.)
Discharged a firearm: shot, fired shots, opened fire, etc.
Westbound/eastbound/southbound/northbound: Is this key? I usually cut it unless it’s somehow important to keep or would cause confusion to cut.
Illinois Route 38: This is Lincoln, right? I’d probably say “Lincoln Highway” since that’s a more recognizable name. Similarly, I switch I-94 to “Edens Expressway” (and usually “the Edens” after first reference) in Chicago.
Identity: I can usually swap this out for “name,” but this isn’t as much cop speak as other terms.
I also avoid terms like “indicated,” “unidentified” and shorten/clarify phrases. Here are a few examples:
-“The offender’s vehicle left the roadway and came to a stop”: The man drove off the road, stopped and shot himself.
-The offender’s identity will be withheld until it is confirmed and the appropriate notifications have been made:” Police have not yet released [or confirmed] the man’s name.
-“An emergency 911 call placed at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday from an office of the West Ridge Apartments indicated that the offender took a maintenance employee’s vehicle keys at gunpoint and drove off with the vehicle:” At 1:30 p.m., a worker at West Ridge Apartments told police a man stole an employee’s keys at gunpoint and drove off in the car.
I think the key is–as always–trying to write how people speak, but without becoming too casual or unprofessional. You guys are great at that; cop speak is just a weird thing.