Avoiding 'cop talk' for journalists

NewImageDo you speak cop talk? It's that exaggeratedly wordy, frequently passive voice, descriptive-but-vague language that police officers sometimes use when describing a... situation. You can learn more about it here. Once you are aware of cop talk, it sounds fairly ridiculous, especially coming from someone who isn't a police officer. (In fact, I once knew a US marine turned IT guy who would frequently fall into cop talk when describing network security issues.) You'll sometimes hear cop talk from green journalists sometimes get caught up in "cop talk" when reporting on a crime. Newswriting For Radio has a nice lesson in "Avoiding 'Cop Talk'"...
Here's an example of "cop talk," a story only slightly modified from what was broadcast on a small-market station:

TWO MEN ARE UNDER ARREST FOR ROBBING A JEWELRY STORE. POLICE SAY THE MEN ENTERED THE VILLAGE PAWN SHOP AT 1407 MAIN STREET AT APPROXIMATELY 10:15 YESTERDAY MORNING. AFTER WAITING INSIDE THE STORE FOR A FEW MINUTES, ONE OF THE MEN DISPLAYED A GUN AND ORDERED TWO EMPLOYEES TO PLACE INTO A DUFFEL BAG ALL THE CASH FROM THE REGISTER AS WELL AS SEVERAL ITEMS OF JEWELRY. THERE WAS NO ONE ELSE IN THE STORE AT THE TIME. THE MEN LEFT THE STORE, AND ONE EMPLOYEE WAS ABLE TO SEE THE MEN DRIVE OFF IN A BLUE DODGE ARIES. THE EMPLOYEES NOTIFIED POLICE, AND AT APPROXIMATELY 11 O'CLOCK A VEHICLE MATCHING THE DESCRIPTION OF THE GETAWAY CAR WAS SPOTTED PARKED IN AN ALLEY IN BACK OF A HOUSE AT 684 WILLOW STREET. POLICE ENTERED THE HOUSE WHERE THEY FOUND TWO MEN, AN AMOUNT OF MONEY, AND ITEMS OF JEWELRY LATER IDENTIFIED AS HAVING BEEN TAKEN FROM THE STORE. A COMPUTER CHECK OF THE VEHICLE DETERMINED THAT IT WAS STOLEN. THE MEN WERE IDENTIFIED AS 34-YEAR-OLD MILES STANDISH OF MIDDLEVILLE AND 28-YEAR-OLD JOHN ALDEN OF SMALLTOWN. THE MEN WILL FACE A VARIETY OF CHARGES.

This script (which runs about 54 seconds) is far too long, with irrelevant details such as the make and model of the getaway car, while the identification of the suspects isn't revealed until the very end. It is obvious that the reporter merely repeated the words of a police officer or of a police press release. Here's a brief rewrite of the script (which now runs 31 seconds):

TWO MEN ARE BEHIND BARS THIS MORNING AFTER AN ARMED ROBBERY OF A MIDDLEVILLE PAWN SHOP. POLICE SAY 34-YEAR-OLD MILES STANDISH OF MIDDLEVILLE AND 28-YEAR-OLD JOHN ALDEN OF SMALLTOWN ROBBED THE VILLAGE PAWN SHOP ON MAIN STREET YESTERDAY, FORCING TWO WORKERS AT GUNPOINT TO STUFF A DUFFEL BAG WITH MONEY AND JEWELRY. THE SUSPECTS WERE LATER ARRESTED IN A HOUSE ON WILLOW STREET AFTER POLICE SAY THEY SPOTTED THE GETAWAY CAR BEHIND THE HOME AND ITEMS TAKEN IN THE HEIST WERE FOUND INSIDE THE HOUSE. STANDISH AND ALDEN ARE EXPECTED TO FACE A VARIETY OF CHARGES.

"Avoiding 'Cop Talk'" (Thanks, Jess Hemerly!)

(CC-licensed photo by Lukeroberts)

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