IRPs and Police Narratives

The police narrative is one of the most important documents considered at an IRP review because any omissions, errors or ambiguities can result in the revocation of the IRP. In my experience the quality of narrative can be variable depending on the training and experience of the officer.

A few years ago I provided a lecture to police officers undergoing training to improve and refresh their skills as impaired driving investigators. My work then required me to read hundreds of impaired driving investigation reports prepared by officers all over Western Canada, and I found there was a wide range in the detail and quality of the information recorded. So for my lecture I decided to describe some of the best police narratives I had read, and to describe strategies some officers use to write superior reports. One of the better strategies employed was to make what I called quantitative (rather than qualitative) descriptions of events witnessed by the officer. That is to say, the best police narratives convey mostly objective facts. It’s like a picture painted with words so that a judge or IRP adjudicator could “see” what the officer was describing, rather than feel what the officer was feeling.

For instance, if an officer happened to be following a suspected impaired driver and witnessed some poor driving, they could describe it in quantitative terms such as: “I observed a car weaving within the lane of travel and beyond it. Over a distance of 1 kilometer the two left wheels of the car went over the center line 3 times and the two right wheels went onto the shoulder 2 times.” This description doesn’t attempt to characterize the driving as bad or poor driving, but allows the judges or IRP adjudicators to make their own assessments on how well that person was driving.

Describing the same driving in a qualitative way, such as “very poor driving with the car going all over the road” could mean different things to different people. Was it going into the oncoming lane, or was it weaving slightly within the lane? Did it weave once, or weave several times? After all, there may be different reasons why a car might weave on the roadway, and a judge or IRP adjudicator will want to be satisfied it is caused by alcohol impairment and not by something else.

While reviewing IRP police narratives, I have often noticed “qualitative” reporting. Recently one narrative indicated “the driver had difficulty providing his license and registration”. The officer was making the point the driver was slow and confused by alcohol leading to delays producing the requested documents. But the imprecise description left me wondering how much delay was there? Could there be other reasons for the delay? I wondered how quickly I could produce my own license and registration if I was stopped and had to dig through my overcrowded glove compartment.

These “qualitative” descriptions of events in a police narrative, and subsequent “qualitative” testimony in the courtroom can be imprecise and sometimes misleading. I have noticed that defense counsel often reduces the impact of this type of evidence in the courts after a careful cross-examination and by providing alternative reasons for the observed behaviour that don’t include impairment. With no cross-examination permitted at the IRP review there is no opportunity to seek clarification from the officer.  But a driver or lawyer can propose alternative reasons for the observed behaviour, and this is made easier when police narrative uses “qualitative” rather than “quantitative” descriptions.

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