Police investigations may seem secretive, but did you know you can get your hands on a copy of an official police report? Whether you’ve been in a car accident, you’ve witnessed a crime, or you simply want to know about an incident that happened in your jurisdiction, there are steps you can take to request access to police reports.
The exact process may vary by jurisdiction, but it is generally the same across the country. Agencies have different policies for releasing sensitive information that is in police reports, so be sure to check with your local police department to confirm how they handle requests. As you are researching, you may find the request titled a “Freedom of Information Request” or a “Public Access Request.” Different areas use varying language, but they both mean the same thing and are referring to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which makes it entirely legal for citizens to request certain government information.
Reports will include details of the incident, where it took place, who was involved, witnesses, and much more; essentially, it is anything that is even remotely relevant to the case. But keep in mind, you will not be able to receive a copy of a police report until after the police investigation has been closed.
So, how do you get a copy of this information? Check out the steps below.
How Do I Get A Copy of a Police Report?
Requesting a police report is simple. You can do this one of two ways: either in person or by mail. Many jurisdictions have certain policies outlining how Public Access Requests must be made, so don’t jump the gun before you know if they require you to send in a request or visit the agency in person. To find out how they handle requests, simply search the name of your local police department, followed by “Public Access Request.” The link for the Records division should be in one of your top search results, which is where you will find out if your jurisdiction takes requests by mail, in person, or both. Record the address of the agency so you know where to go, or where to send it in the mail.
Requesting a Police Report In Person
1. Gather the required materials.
Bring with you a form of identification like a driver’s license or passport. If you are making the request on behalf of someone else, you will need to have a notarized letter with you. Most agencies require a small request fee. If you were directly involved in the incident – whether as a victim, witness, or defendant – you may receive a verification slip from the authorities to let you know that a police report has been filed. Bring this slip with you to exchange for the police report.
2. Visit the Records and Identification Division of the police department.
The Records and Identification Division may have exclusive hours throughout the day that are not your typical business hours, so be sure to verify online. They will ask you for your information, as well as basic information about the case. Then, they will take your payment to cover the request fee.
3. Retrieve the copy of your police report.
In some areas, you may have to pick up a copy of the police report in person, but some agencies may mail it directly to you. Either way, expect to pay a per-page fee for the copy of the report. Reports typically cost a total of $50 to $150.
Requesting a Police Report by Mail
The process of requesting a copy of a police report by mail is a bit more involved. In many jurisdictions, you are required to make your Public Access Request via mail. Typically, the agency will provide a form online for you to fill out, but some places are fine with you writing a letter to ask for the police report.
1. Figure out where to send the Public Access Request form or letter.
Your local police department may have a specific address and addressee for police report requests listed on their website. If they don’t, simply address it to the Records and Identification Division, and use the general address listed online for the department.
2. Fill out the form or write the letter.
After you have found the location to send your request, you should be able to easily find out if they want you to send a request form or a letter. If the information is not readily available on the site, just call and ask which method they prefer. If it is available, filling out a request form is typically the easiest method because you won’t have to worry about leaving out information.
If you write a letter instead of filling out the form, be sure to include the following information:
- Case number (if you have it)
- Your Name, Birthdate, and Address
- The date and location of the incident
- Your role in the case (victim, witness, defendant, etc.)
- The officer’s name who filed the report
- What exactly you are requesting
If you are hoping to receive access to other official police documents, you may ask for them at this time. (Sometimes lawyers or insurance providers need additional information for a case, like photos, hospital records, interviews, officer notes, etc.) Keep in mind, if the information you are asking for is personal or sensitive information about another person involved in the case, the authorities may have to obtain their permission to give you those documents. In some cases, their policies won’t allow it.
3. Gather additional materials and send the form/letter.
Just like an in-person request, you will need to include a photo-copy of your identification and a check or money order to cover the request fee. Depending on the agency’s instructions and policies, you can either mail or fax the request.
4. Pay for the police report.
Once your request has been accepted, you should hear from the police department about how much you owe for the copy. Ask the department who to make a check out to and where to send it. Since you will pay per page, it is worth asking for an electronic copy of the report.
Who is able to Obtain a Police Report?
Victims Obtaining Reports
Victims of crimes have the right to police reports concerning their incidents, and they can usually obtain them directly from the department with which the police reports were filed. Usually, the victims are presented with copies of police reports immediately after they file them. However, if they need additional copies or end up losing their original copies, they can usually obtain additional ones by simply contacting the agencies that first issued the reports to them.
Defendants Obtaining Reports
Defendants also have rights to police reports that were filed against them since they have a right to know what they are accused of. Usually, defendants can obtain copies of police reports pertaining to them from the District Attorney’s offices that are prosecuting their cases. If the defendants have lawyers representing them, usually their lawyers will obtain copies of their clients’ police reports for them. When defendants make requests for copies of police reports, the D.A. usually has a fixed amount of time that it has before it has to turn over copies of the reports to the defendants. This is because defendants usually need their police reports in preparation for their defense.
Third Parties Obtaining Reports
Sometimes third parties who were not involved in the actions mentioned in police reports might want copies of them. In these instances, most states will only allow third parties to obtain copies of police reports if the matters enclosed within the reports have already been closed. However, some states may allow third parties to obtain copies of police reports even when the cases are pending. Generally, third parties must know the case number of the reports that they want and must go to the county clerk’s office where the police report was filed to obtain a copy of the reports. There is usually a fee for the reports to be printed as well.
The process of obtaining copies of police reports is slightly different for different groups of people. However, they typically are not difficult to obtain, no matter who wants them.
How Long Does it Take to Obtain a Police Report?
It typically only takes a few days to a week to get a copy of a police report if you were directly involved in the case. However, if you were not directly involved, or if you are an insurance agent, it will take longer because you have to send in a request and have it processed. This process can take up to a month or longer.
Why am I not able to Obtain a Police Report?
The most common reason why people cannot get a copy of a police report is because of an ongoing investigation. Once the case is closed, you should be able to obtain a copy.
If you believe you have been unfairly denied access to a police report, you may wish to have a lawyer speak to the authorities on your behalf. Juvenile records may sometimes be sealed or withheld to protect the privacy of the victim. Generally, though, the process to obtain a police report is relatively simple, depending upon who is trying to obtain the report.
How To Get A Police Report For A Car Accident
After you have been in a car accident, one of the first questions your insurance provider will ask you is “do you have a copy of the police report?” Obtaining accident reports is a similar process to the one above, but it is generally a bit easier because in most cases, there is no criminal investigation. If you are in a car accident, you will receive a slip with an incident number on it. To obtain your police report, simply visit the police department that the report was filed from and trade the sheet for the actual report. If you do not obtain your police report, your insurance company will have to request a copy via mail, and it will take a bit longer.
There are also resources online that house accident reports, like LexisNexis and Buycrash. However, the safest and quickest option to is visit your local Police Desk as soon as possible after the accident. Accident reports can be ready to pick-up as early as 24 hours after the accident, and up to a week. Another way to get a copy of a police report is through your local Department of Motor Vehicles.
Now that you know about how to get a copy of a police report, check out How To File a Police Report.