How to obtain a Police Report
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Updated on November 9, 2022
8 minute read
What is a Police Report?
A Police Report or incident report is typed documentation by a police officer that an event occurred. The event itself can be any number of incidents like a car accident, a break and entering, a missing person, shoplifting and even murder. In many cases the police department or your local police department is the keeper of the police report in which the officer completed.
Police Officers, among many things, are fact finders and they seek out facts about incidents, an accident report and events that they get sent to or come upon during their patrols. Incident reports are documentation by a police department of those incidents and events. Each report will have the incident number or report number on them, the Law Enforcement agency name, Police Officers ID number and his or her rank and name along with parties involved. The reports are in most cases held electronically by the records division at the police station.
A police report seeks to document much of the facts surrounding the incident including the address of the incident, the people involved, property taken or found, vehicles involved and facts of the incident which is called the narrative of the police report as well as the report number.
Depending on the police agencies technology police reports can vary in quality and completeness. Many police agencies do invest a good portion of their budget in technology so when you see a completed police report they are easy to read and follow.
The amount of police documentation of an incident or official accident report will be determined by the specific police agency handling the event and what their policies and procedures say along with what their standard operating procedures are. Some police agencies are severely lacking in manpower so officers are jumping from call to call. Incident reports or an accident reports completed at these agencies may be shorter and lack as many facts as a police agency that only fields several calls a day. Police officers at these slower agencies have more time to write a detailed police report.
Why do Police Officers write police reports?
Law enforcement agencies work under policies and procedures, rules and regulations as well as standard operating procedures. In order to stay in compliance with the agencies policies and procedures police officers write different kinds of police reports in order to document events that have occurred for the following reasons.
Create an electronic catalog to be kept by the agency and be able to be searched by name, address and or date. Officers need the reports in order to testify at a court hearing.
Police departments use the information to create statistical data where they analyze the data and deploy resources. This is also called a crime report.
Citizens and businesses through public records law are able to request police reports which means that police departments need personnel to search for and print or email police reports and accident reports to the requestor.
Insurance companies request reports to handle claims. Sometimes the insurance company will handle the request for the report and other times you will have to do that for the insurance company.
Police department's use the information in order to apply for law enforcement grants to better their services.
Can Police Reports be filed online?
Depending on the jurisdiction that you live in the police department may accept reports filed online using an online form for minor crimes and incidents like past larcenies, past hit and run motor vehicle accidents, identity thefts and fraud.
Departments that will accept citizen reports filed online are usually very busy police agencies. Small to medium agencies will have you meet with a police officer in order to file these types of police reports.
Are Incident Reports, Arrest Reports and Accident Reports public records?
Yes incident reports, arrest reports and accident reports all have been determined to be public records however, depending on your involvement in an incident or event you may not be able to get all the information that you are looking to receive by filing a public records request.
Are Police Reports admissible in court?
Yes they are until they are not. An officer’s police report is the main focus of court documents because it should contain all of the factual information the the police officer found. For instance a DUI case will rely heavily on the police officer’s testimony and he or she will be testifying as to the content of their completed police report.
According to state law private citizens have rights to public records. Those rights are governed and determined by state government. For instance some state governments require you to pay a fee for certain reports and some state governments have determined that there is no fee for police reports.
Are Police Reports hearsay?
Yes they can be hearsay but the following should clarify things a bit. A Police Officer's report is something the officer stated and in the case here wrote outside of the current court proceeding and the report is typically introduced to show that the events described in them actually happened.
If you have ever read a police report there is a lot of he said she said written down but that was the information told to the police officer at the time so yes police reports are hearsay but read the following reasons as an exception to the hearsay rule regarding police reports.
In the case of a police report, the officer wrote events down in the report so he would not forget them later. The officer does this obviously to make a record of the event or incident in the system and the report can be looked back on or added to. If the officer needs to go to trial, and he cannot remember something from his report, he is allowed to simply read the report into evidence as long as he thinks it is accurate.
Second, there is an exception for records kept in the ordinary course of business. A police officer’s regular practice in the business of policing is to observe crime and report it. Thus, an officer’s reports are often considered business records and therefore are allowed into evidence as an exception to the hearsay rule.
Can Police Reports be changed?
Police reports can be changed as long as there is new relevant facts or information uncovered. Information may become available that identifies a new suspect or clears one being looked at. It is important to understand that a police report is a collection of facts and also a timeline of events. Although the original narrative written by a police officer may not be changed there can certainly be an updated narrative explaining new facts and circumstances.
There is a myth out there that a police report can’t be changed once entered. This is not true. The report can be updated and some reports can be changed upon the police learning of more factual information. Learn how to correctly write or update a police report by clicking here. You may need to submit an online request form to have a police report changed.
An example of this is that an accident is completed based on the primary police officer’s investigation. The police officer was not able to speak with one of the operators due to them being transported to the hospital. Once that person is released from the hospital they request a copy of the report where they see an error in the crash diagram. This would be a case where the police officer would need to update the police report due to new factual information being received.
How to obtain a copy of a police report or police record?
You will need to file a public records request online, over the phone or in person with the agency that handled the incident. You should familiarize yourself with your states public records law to see where to file the request and if there is a fee associated with the request. This information will differ from state to state.
A simple google search of state of New York police public records request information will get you the information that you need to start with.
You should first start with logging on to the police agencies website who handled the event in which you were involved in. If for instance the City of Fall River Police in Massachusetts responded to the event then you should start with the Fall River Police website. Search the website for information on how to request a police report from them. If you cannot find the instructions to request police records information that you are looking for then you can call the agency directly and ask to speak with the records division. You may also go to the police department and seek information there. With this option you may need to fill out a form and show photo id. At least one of these options will produce the instructions for receiving a police report.
Once you find out if you can obtain copies of a police report using an online request form or you would need to go to the police department you will want to have the following information handy.
- Specific information regarding involved parties.
- Times and dates of the event.
- Specific information on any motor vehicles involved.
- A case number if known
- All the information on what occurred
You will leave your contact information in case records needs to get in touch with you. Upon receiving notification that the report is ready depending on what state you live in and their public information act you may have to pay a fee for copies. In some states report may be free if they are electronically produced. In some instances fees for public records will depend on the police department's own policies and procedures.
Why is the police report that I was given contain boxes or lines through some of the information?
This is called redacted information. State law dictates what information requires redaction from publicly accessible documents. When redacting or blacking out certain parts of police records, there is typically an employee who’s job it is to distinguish that information. The Police Department, like any other public agency, is responsible for complying with public disclosure and records laws.
When releasing police records such as accident reports, arrest reports and incident reports, the department redacts certain identifiable information such as names, addresses and social security numbers.
Public records or criminal reports can contain pieces of information about individuals and businesses that should be redacted before distribution. Depending on the type of report, these can include details surrounding the incident like dates and locations, or some of the more common pieces of information below.
COMMON TYPES OF REDACTED INFORMATION CAN INCLUDE:
- Drivers’ license numbers
- Birth dates
- Social security numbers
- Credit card numbers
- Names of minors
- Law enforcement names
- Defendant names
- Maiden names
What type of information is included in a report?
The location of the incident or event, the specific police department or police department's who responded and the date. The identifying information of all parties or people involved in the incident which includes their names, dates of birth, address, phone numbers, sometimes social security numbers, and their involvement.
Officers names and identifying numbers who responded to the incident will be included. The report reference number will be on the report. Depending on the type of police report there may be a drawing or diagram. Criminal charges or offenses will be listed.
If an officer completes an accident report the vehicle identifying information such as plate number, VIN and insurance company will be on the report. This will also be true if a vehicle was broken into or stolen or even involved in a crime or incident report.
The police officer or officers narratives will be contained in the police report. There may be a police supervisor name attached to the report as the person who reviewed and approved the report. Last, if evidence or property was gathered or seized that information may be listed on the report.
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