Police departments create a variety of reports to document their activities, including accident reports, incident reports, crime statistics, internal disciplinary reports and personnel records. Most police departments will make some report information available to the public, either as a matter of department policy, or in response to applicable freedom of information laws, or other information-access requirements. However, the types of police reports available, the procedures for accessing information, and the fees involved (if any) vary widely from one police department to the next.
Identify the right jurisdiction. Many communities have overlapping police departments. In addition to local town or city police, there may be a police presence from state troopers, highway patrols, county sheriffs, park police, federal agents and so on.
The best source of information would be someone directly involved with the incident in question, who can tell you which police departments were involved. Newspaper accounts of the incident are also helpful in this respect.
Find out information policies. Most police departments of any substantial size have a website that includes information on departmental information access policies. Look for headings like Information Access, Freedom of Information, Police Reports, Public Requests, or similar topics, in order to find policies and procedures for accessing police reports.
Alternatively, you can call or visit the department directly to ask about the procedure for getting a copy of a police report.
Information access varies greatly from one jurisdiction to the next. For instance, the Los Angeles Police Department restricts access to crime reports to the victim or the victim's official representative. Copies of arrest records require submission of fingerprints. Requests for records from the New York City Police, on the other hand, can be made online, with very little restrictions.
Follow procedures. Requests for police reports or other information from police departments generally require specific procedures, such as making a request in writing, filling out a form, filing a Freedom of Information document. You may be required to include a specific report or document number, which is generally available directly from the officers who responded to the incident.
It's sometimes necessary to include identifying information, such as a copy of a driver's license, so be sure to be aware of these requirements as well. Procedures may also require payment of a fee, although this can sometimes be waived if the fee is not affordable, or if the request is in the public interest.
Be professional. Even when police departments are required to provide information, the individual officers and staff that you deal with can make the process easy or difficult. Keep a professional demeanor, as this will help smooth the process along.
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