Two-day program teaches art of writing police reports


FARMINGTON — Some ninth-grade students spent part of their week investigating the deaths of two famously ill-fated fictional youths — with the aid of local law enforcement personnel.

Mocked-up versions of crime scenes were designed so students could investigate the untimely deaths of the namesake characters from William Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet."

Those freshmen at Piedra Vista High School participated in a two-day program in which they learned how the Farmington Police Department and San Juan County Sheriff's Office write police reports.

The students spent one class period learning about how officers write a police report and another class period investigating four crime scenes to determine how characters in the play died.

Kate Malone, a ninth-grade English teacher, said it's the second year she's hosted the program and the first year to include the entire freshman class.

Students were assigned this week to find evidence, conduct interviews with witnesses and take notes during the investigation to help write their report on each case.

"It's the application and the real-world usage of the things we are teaching them," Malone said about the program.

Malone shared with students fictionalized gossip columns she wrote for each of the five days the play covers. They were designed to help students become more familiar with the play to aid in their investigation.

Freshman Kyler Krakow said the program was something new and fun to try, and it gave students insight into how police officers work on a daily basis.

"It's really good, it's way better than sitting in class," Krakow said.

Handmade versions of the characters were at each of the crime scenes students investigated. Red cloth was draped on the characters to signify blood, and props, including a vial of an unknown substance, were left in the hand of one of the characters.

Students were given 10 minutes at each scene to conduct their investigation.

At the scene involving the deaths of Tybalt and Mercutio, actor Chuck Holmes portrayed a merchant who witnesses a street fight.

For this year's program, Malone sought out actors to volunteer as witnesses at some of the crime scenes. Holmes is an actor with Theater Ensemble Arts, a Farmington-based theater company. Holmes said he enjoyed interacting with the students and being able to perform a character he developed for the program.

While performing, Holmes saw how students worked together to ask him questions and share information they found with each other.

In the classroom next to the staged crime scenes, Farmington police Sgt. Richard Gibbons led students in a presentation about how officers write a report based on an investigation of a crime.

Gibbons spoke about the important elements of writing a report, including the amount of detail to include in each report, how to include interviews from suspects or witnesses and how to avoid the use of ambiguous and vague words in a report.

He stressed it is important for officers to be objective in writing their reports and write about the facts observed in the case in chronological order.

Malone said she enjoyed seeing the students become engaged in the program and hopes to make it an annual event at the high school. She plans to speak to the police and volunteers involved to refine the program for next year.

Joshua Kellogg covers crime, courts and social issues for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627 or via email at

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