How to Obtain Police Reports

Written by J. Hirby and Fact Checked by The Law Dictionary Staff  

Record keeping is one of the most important functions of law enforcement agencies across the United States. Police officers are trained to document their observations and actions whenever they are called upon to perform their duties, and they do so on police reports. These reports become official records, and they are carefully kept for the benefit of the public.

Police reports are generated just about every time a law enforcement officer responds to call. This includes motor vehicle accidents, arrests, investigations, and several other situations. Police reports are entered in criminal court proceedings, and they are also used by insurance companies when they investigate claims. Although police reports are rarely admitted in civil court cases, they can help attorneys in identifying witnesses and getting a better sense of how a situation developed into a lawsuit.

Requesting Police Reports

The process for obtaining police reports can be different across jurisdictions and agencies. Police reports are essentially government documents and thus part of the public record, but this does not necessarily mean that anyone can simply walk up to a precinct and ask for copies. The procedure for obtaining police reports is statutory and usually falls under the freedom of information law of each state. In most cases, crime victims and people involved in motor vehicle accidents are allowed to go to a police department, identify themselves and request copies of police reports.

Some jurisdictions allow attorneys to get police reports on behalf of their clients, but those who are not directly involved in the accident or incident may have to file a written request for public records. Just about all police departments offer the option of requesting and receiving reports in person. In some jurisdictions, police reports can be ordered online. The options to request police reports over the phone or to receive them by mail are becoming rare these days.

Police reports are usually kept on file at the station they were written for a few days or a few weeks before they are transferred to a central archive location. The fees for obtaining police reports soon after they are created are usually very reasonable; but, the fees tend to increase significantly after the reports are sent to a central records facility.

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