Including answers to the building-block questions helps ensure that there are no gaps or missing pieces of information. When supervisors check over reports, they should be looking for completeness as well as correct grammar and spelling.
A report that states "The dude stole and I caught him" is going nowhere fast. The reader should be able to pick up a report and find answers to all the foundation questions. However, it should not be so long and packed with details that the reader must wade through the unimportant in order to find the nuggets of pertinent information.
In reviewing reports, supervisors also need to look for objectivity. An accurate report is one that is free of opinions, guesses and other non-factual information. Objectivity includes avoiding the use of emotionally charged words in favor of words with a neutral connotation.
A security officer would not be correct to say, for example, "I saw this lowlife come into the store." Rather, the report should include the information that led the officer to draw the conclusion that the person was not a pillar of society without using any derogatory or slang terms: "When the man entered the store, I saw that his clothing was torn and dirty and his hands and face were streaked with dirt."
By painting a picture of the incident for the reader, the report has a greater impact than when using negative, subjective language.
In the words of Dragnet star Jack Webb, incident reports should include "just the facts" -- but all the facts should be included.
About the author: Liz Martinez is the author of "The Retail Manager's Guide to Crime and Loss Prevention: Protecting Your Business from Theft, Fraud and Violence" (2004, Looseleaf Law), and is a retail security/loss prevention consultant and an instructor at Interboro Institute in New York City. She will be lecturing on "So You Want a Degree in Business Continuity, Security or Emergency Management? Here's How!" at the CPM West conference on business continuity in Las Vegas on May 25, 2005. She will also present retail business continuity case studies at the CPM East conference in November 2005. She can be reached through her website at www.retailmanagersguide.com.