Tips for Writing to Law Enforcement
Animal Legal Defense Fund
Whether writing to a prosecutor, sheriff, investigator or judge, our input can have a small but significant effect on how cases are handled and laws are enforced. Phone calls, emails and postcards are all good communication tools, but most professionals agree that there is no
substitute for the most effective way of communicating: letters. Faxed
or mailed, letters go directly to the desk of the addressee and leave a
paper trail. The following tips will help you write a persuasive
- Use proper titles and salutations in your letters. For example,
when addressing judges, use “The Honorable Judge John Smith” in the
address and “Dear Judge Smith” as a salutation. For prosecutors, use
their full name, followed by their title; for example, “Mary Black,
Assistant County Attorney,” with a salutation of “Dear Ms. Black.”
Other law enforcement, such as chiefs of police, should be addressed as
“Chief John Doe, Office of Chief of Police,” with the salutation “Dear
- In the first paragraph, state who you are and the issue you are
writing about. If writing about a court case, include the case number
(if available), the defendant’s name(s), what the charges are and a
very brief description of the crime. Make sure your information is
- Realize that the recipient of your letter is busy, so keep letters
to one page. Choose several strong points and don’t let yourself get
sidetracked from them. Develop the points to support your argument, but be concise — too much information will be distracting and may weaken your credibility. For example, in a horse neglect case, you may want to focus on how the horses suffered for years, how the defendant has proven that she cannot care for any animals, and what you feel would be an appropriate and realistic sentence, taking into account the high recidivism rate among animal hoarders. For a violent case you may want to talk about the link between animal abuse and violence toward humans and the need for the defendant to be banned from having any future contact with animals.
- Tell the official exactly what you want to happen. For example, in a neglect case where animals were found in terrible condition, ask the
judge to ban the hoarder from owning, harboring or having any future
contact with animals, with periodic checks by animal control, and
mandatory psychiatric treatment. If an offender has proven to be
violent and is ordered to community service at an animal shelter, ask
the judge to rescind the order and find a more appropriate venue for
the service, citing the danger to both animals and shelter staff.
- Tell them why the issue matters to you. For example, mention how a particular case or issue affects you or your community (which, of
course, includes animal members), or how you have donated time or money to a humane society, or how an experience with an animal made a lasting impression on you or initiated your activism. If you live in the area of the crime, let the official know that the way the crime is dealt
with may affect your future voting preferences. If you live outside the
area, consider voicing your reluctance to visit that city or county,
should the outcome be negative or inappropriate.
- Remember that the recipient may have less knowledge of the issue
than you do, so write with confidence. If we want to be heard, we must come across as rational, educated and concerned, rather than enraged, naïve or upset. Angry letters work against what we are trying to accomplish with our communication and often put others on the
defensive. Never write in all capital letters.
- Thank them for taking the time to read your letter and ask for a
reply. Be sure to include your name and address on the letter (and the
envelope, if mailed).
- Check your spelling and always proof read for grammatical and
punctuation errors. Not only are well-written letters easier to read,
they may be taken more seriously than those full of mistakes.
- When judges come through with meaningful sentences, write to them
and thank them for their actions. If other law enforcement go beyond the call of duty, be sure to thank them for their efforts too.
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