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Irrespective of whether you are working in a security officer job in Florida or in a security guard job in California, or in any other part of the world, the one thing you cannot escape is writing or generating an incident report.
Incident reporting – using the old paper and pen method, through a software on a computer or using a cell phone app – is an integral part of a security guard’s job.
In this article, we will cover the effective approach in writing a security guard incident report.
1. Be prepared
Carry a notepad and pen with you always. Write down any incidents or observations you make and actions you take. Your notebook is a mini, informal report that includes the same details as your formal report.
If you think it is difficult to write all the details while you are on duty, you can use abbreviations and informal descriptions in your notes, as long as you can clearly understand them when you need to transcribe it to your daily report or incident report.
Sometimes a previous record on your notebook may help you to identify suspicious activity at a later time.
For example, while you are working in a parking lot, you observed a car entering the lot and waiting for someone without shutting off the engine. When you approached them, they took off. If you jot down the car’s tag number on your notebook, the next time (the same day or another day) the car comes to the parking lot you can pay special attention to that car.
This notepad will be immensely helpful for you when you file your daily report or an incident report since your notepad will have all the details you need to file the reports accurately.
2. Start the incident report as soon as possible
As soon as the incident occurs, you should write down on your notepad the basic facts about an incident. Follow the company’s or employer’s policies regarding the timeframe by which you need to file the incident report and notify the company office regarding the incident within that timeframe.
3. Report the facts but no inferences
If you remember the basic security guard training, as a security guard your job is to observe and report. When writing your incident report also you need to keep this in mind. You observe an incident and then report it as you observed without making any inferences or conclusions about the incident.
When writing the details of the incident, write only the facts. Incident report is not a place for adding your opinions or inferences.
4. Always use professional language
You never know where your report can end up. But always write your incident report imagining that it may be used in a court of law. Also imagine a defense attorney reading your incident report and grilling you based on what is written in it.
The point is, always use very professional language on your report.
Depending on the employer and the technology they use, your report can be handwritten or entered on a computer. If it is handwritten, make sure it is very legible and wouldn’t need a handwriting expert to read it.
Even though it is OK to use abbreviations on your notepad, on your formal report don’t use any abbreviations other than what is very commonly used on ordinary language.
The examples of common abbreviations which are OK to use in an incident report include:
- Personal Pronouns: Mr, Ms,
- Suffixes for street or road names: Ave ( avenue), Blvd (boulevard), Ct (court), Ln (lane), Pl (place), Rd (road), St (street)
- Time Abbreviations: AM, PM
- Language Abbreviations: e.g. (example), etc. (etcetera), i.e. (that is)
- In USA, the two letter state abbreviations such as MD (Maryland) VA (Virginia) are also perfectly acceptable when writing an address
Do not use texting language and texting abbreviations. Remember you will be defending your incident report in a court of law and you don’t want to explain AD (awesome dude) or IIRC (if I recall/remember correctly) to a judge in a court room.
It is always a good practice to use proper punctuation and capitalization (especially when you use abbreviations which are acceptable).
Good spelling and grammar will also help you to make your report very professional.
5. Parts of a good incident report
Listed below are the six essential parts of an incident report
- Who: Details of individuals involved in the incident. You must use courteous and factual language when describing others even if you had a bad encounter with them. If you are able to collect contact information or a visual description of the persons then make sure that is included in the incident report.
- What: Factual description of the event. It is very helpful if you describe the event in a chronological manner. For example you can say the following:
At 11:05 AM, a black Toyota Camry car entered the parking lot. The driver didn’t park the car instead stopped it on the driving lane. One Caucasian male about 35 years of age got out of the car and went to the CVS pharmacy. The driver didn’t shut down the engine. At 11:08, I approached the vehicle….
- When: Always include the time the incident occurred as shown in the example above. If you didn’t capture the time accurately you can use a window of time when the incident occurred. For example you can say “between 11:00 and 11:30 AM”. But remember if you had your notepad with you and you noted down the time, then you will have an accurate record of the time of the incident.
- Where: The details such as the specific location (e.g.: the north east corner of the parking lot near the Safeway store), the scenery (near the tall oak tree) and the other details such as the weather (e.g.: it was lightly raining at that time) or lighting conditions (e.g.: it was a bright sunny day).
- Why: This section is optional. You definitely can skip this section unless you very clearly know the reason for that incident. For example, you are OK to write “the little kid ran into the road. The mother seeing this ran after the kid to pick him up”. The why for the mother’s action is very obvious here.
- How: This is also similar to the “Why” section. Often times you can skip this section unless you are very clearly know the how the incident occurred.
6. Use the incident report form or software as appropriate
Each security company or client has different requirements for reporting incidents and filing an incident report.
If you are using a paper form (a sample security guard incident reporting form can be downloaded here) or electronic form, follow the instructions that accompany the form. In some cases you’re responsible for filling out a form issued by your company. In other cases you’ll be asked to type a detailed report on a computer.
If you are not using a computer to enter your report, then make sure you write or print clearly instead of using cursive. Don’t make others figure out or guess what your letters or words are.
7. Incident reporting software and apps
Having a good software tool or a cell phone app to help you collecting the critical information can increase the quality of your report.
If your company is currently using written incident reports, talk to the owner (if it is a small company) or to your supervisor about the possibility of using software. Some of the tools are really sophisticated in that you can start the incident report using a cellphone app and then complete it using a computer once you get back to your station.
Most probably you may be carrying a phone with a camera, take as many photos or videos as you can. They provide additional objective facts which you may mis to notice while the incident is happening – for example the photo will capture what type of shirt a person is wearing, how they kept their hair and what type of earring or tattoo they have etc. If you are using a mobile phone app to enter your incident report, you can easily attach the photos or videos as attachments to your incident report.