Ask A Cop: All About Witness Statements

Please welcome our newest Ask A Cop contributor: Senior Sergeant Megan Dalton from Auckland Central Police! This month we’ve asked Megan for her views on witness statements—an essential element of good crime reporting.

Do you have a question for the police? Send it to us and it may feature in future columns.

‍Megan Dalton, New Zealand Police

Q: Hi Megan! How do Police use witness statements to investigate crimes?

Witness statements are direct evidence for Police. They provide the facts at issue without any inference, directly from a witness who actually saw or heard the offence being committed, or provide peripheral information.

Police use statements when investigating crimes:

- To help decide if they have enough evidence against a suspect and

- As a basis for the evidence that Police will rely on in court to prove (beyond reasonable doubt) that a person who has been charged with a crime has committed that offence.

- Witness Statements are the principle means of a witness refreshing their memory of an incident before they give evidence in court about it, hence it is important that any statements are accurate and sufficiently detailed to assist the witness recall all important and relevant details.

- On occasions where a witness is unavailable to give evidence in court, the Witness Statement can be produced as direct evidence of what took place, so it is important that it is sufficiently detailed and whenever possible includes details identifying the Suspect/Offender (by name, date of birth, connection to CCTV footage handed to police, etc).

Q: What makes a good witness statement?

A good witness statement should be detailed and cover the following points in as much detail as possible.

Start off with a general summary:

What did you see? Go through what you saw or heard in chronological order. This includes any conversations you had with the offender or that you heard them have with others.

Include the four Ws—who, what, when, where:

Who was involved? Have you seen them before? Do you know their name? If so how?

What did they take? Give a detailed description of what property was stolen and what the retail value is for it.

When did the offence take place? Date and time, as accurately as possible.

Where did the offence take place? Be specific about where they were seen and their actions as they moved between locations within the store.

Demonstrate accuracy:

Detailed description of suspect(s). Include sex, height, build, ethnicity, clothing, and any distinguishing features. This could be from seeing them in person or by reviewing CCTV footage. Please state whether you saw them in person or by reviewing CCTV.

How long did you view/follow them? How far away from them were you? This helps verify the accuracy of the information you’ve provided, particularly if you were able to view them for some time and from a reasonably close distance.

Confirmation that the offender left the store without making any attempt to pay for the stolen items. Did they pass through the checkout or avoid it altogether? This information helps demonstrate for the court that there was intent to steal.

Include additional evidence:

Photos and CCTV video and how this was downloaded/collected and by whom.

Description and registration number of any vehicle the offenders arrived or left the scene in.

[Editor’s Note: Most of Megan’s recommendations above can be completed automatically using the Auror incident form. Just be sure to fill out things like product details, offender features, and information about their MO in the form as you go. Don’t forget to add your video and image files in the evidence locker! Further details can be found on the Auror Helpcentre.]

Q: Any tips or tricks that you could recommend for people that may not have done this before?

This is your chance to pretend what you witnessed is a scene in a movie. Really take the time to set the scene and make it as vivid as possible —time, date, any other people present, what the offender was wearing, their demeanour, etc. Think of all the small details that together paint a full and complete picture.

At the end, ask yourself: Have I given enough information so that someone who knows nothing about what happened will get a clear and accurate picture without having to ask a lot of questions?