What is a Police Report?
People file a police report with law enforcement for a wide variety of reasons. For example, domestic disputes, traffic accidents, burglaries, home invasions, fraud, theft, stalking, violence, and many other reasons. To file a report, citizens usually begin by calling 911, or their local police department’s non-emergency line, to report the incident.
Once a citizen reports an incident, dispatchers assign it to local officers in the area. The police officers travel to the appropriate location via car, motorcycle, or other police vehicles. Then, the officers evaluate the situation, make observations, interview witnesses, record data, and complete forms and reports required by their local police department.
Police officers also initiate the filing of a report to record the data and gather the details associated with criminal and civil incidents such as car accidents, burglaries, assaults, and robberies, just to name a few.
Officers gather and record a great deal of information and data on a police report. This is to help ensure thorough and accurate investigations and to support criminal proceedings if they become necessary. Also, background verification services may use them in background checks. The information contained in the typical police report may vary from county to county, but most capture very similar information.
What type of information and data is contained in a police report?
The following are types of data and information that may be included. Please note that there is no universal police report. Information will vary from department to department.
- Identifying information for all parties involved in the incident, including full name, address, phone number, date of birth, social security numbers, driver’s license numbers
- Date of the occurrence or incident
- Location of the occurrence or incident
- The officer’s name and ID number (sometimes referred to as badge number)
- The names of other officers who were present
- Diagrams or drawings of the scene
- The names of witnesses and their statements
- Reference number (if available)
The law enforcement case file may also contain motor vehicle information, as well as specific details of the incident and any evidence associated with the case.
Examples of police reports may include but are not limited to domestic disputes, traffic accidents, thefts, fraud, assault, burglaries, and stalking incidents. Other information that may be available includes crime surveys, crime statistics, calls for service, weather information, and traffic accident surveys.
Are Police Reports Public Records?
Many types of police records are exempt from public disclosure and are not public records. There are two main reasons why they aren’t publicly available. First, disclosing the information could undermine an ongoing investigation. Second, it could jeopardize someone’s privacy and safety. In some cases, departments will release certain information related to the report, such as to a reporter doing a story. However, they rarely release a full copy.
How to Get a Police Report
By law, certain police records and violation reports prepared and maintained by the Police Department are accessible to the general public.
If you need to get a copy of a police report, do this. First, begin by researching the requirements of the police department responsible for the jurisdiction in which the incident occurred. Then, follow the department’s exact protocol for requesting and receiving those records. Start by checking the police department’s website. Expand your search to the city website if you don’t find anything on the police department’s website.
Obtain and Fill Out Request Forms
Some departments may require that you complete a request form, sometimes called a request for public records. This may also be known as a request for open records. When you check the department website, look to see if you can download the request form from their site. If so, fill out the request form and submit it according to the directions.
Most request forms will require you to provide the first and last names of at least one of the involved parties. In addition, you’ll need the location, date, and time of the incident, and in some cases, the incident or case number.
Submitting the Request Form
You will either have to email the form, send it via regular mail, or submit it in person. A valid ID and payment of a nominal processing fee are usually required to obtain copies of the document. The originating agency may also require that you sign a written disclaimer stating the information in the document will not be used for solicitation purposes.
Important Notes Regarding Submitting Requests for Police Reports
- It may take a few days or more to obtain the official documents
- Charges for obtaining copies of the documents may vary by city or jurisdiction
- Very few departments allow access to records online
Access to these records varies greatly from one jurisdiction to another. In some areas, the information may be relatively easy to obtain. In other areas, the information may only be accessible to the parties involved in the incident or their agent (such as a lawyer).
It is also possible that the record of a specific incident is available, but the personally identifying information is hidden.
Freedom of Information Act Requests
The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press created a helpful website that helps users create, send, maintain, and share Freedom of Information requests. Registered users can submit requests at the federal and state level. Visit the IFOIA website for more information.
In addition, LexisNexis provides a nationwide search for accident reports. Just visit the site and complete the online form. You’ll need to provide the state, jurisdiction, and one of the following:
- Report Number
- Last Name and Date of Incident
- Last Name and Street
Access to Crime Data and Statistics
Some jurisdictions have regionalized their crime information into a joint database. Such information systems allow citizens to research crime statistics, view detailed crime maps, see who is currently in jail, search for arrest warrants, and retrieve information about sex offenders living or working in a given area. Much of this information is readily available via the Internet.
How to find police reports and arrest records across multiple jurisdictions
Conducting your investigation can become complicated if you need to do a background search on someone who has lived in multiple jurisdictions. To simplify things, an internet-based specialized investigation company can provide a comprehensive, multi-state search in one easy step. This allows you to search for multiple records from all over the country quickly and easily. And you can avoid the hassle of searching for individual records from various government entities.
BeenVerified has an online search form for public records. BeenVerified’s automated search aggregates from hundreds of databases and repositories. To search, just go to the online search form and enter the person’s first name, last name, and city. The form will search multiple public records databases and provide a list of potential matching names. Scroll through the list and select the person you’re searching for, then click Build Report.
Questions and More Information
If you have any questions about how to get a copy of your police report, please leave a comment below. Also, view more Law Enforcement Resources.