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What Is a Police Report?

By Marlene Garcia
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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A police report is a written document prepared after a crime or accident is reported to law enforcement. Reports typically name the victim of a crime, witnesses who might have information needed to investigate the matter, the classification of the offense, and other pertinent data. Accident reports commonly include a diagram of the accident scene to determine who might be at fault.

Depending upon the nature of the incident, a police report may be a simple one-page document or may contain multiple pages. During the investigation phase, witnesses are commonly interviewed and their statements included in the police file. Results of drug or alcohol testing, along with findings from other forensic tests, usually appear in the report to assist prosecutors if a suspect is arrested and tried.

These reports are public documents in many regions, but limitations might be placed on the kind of information released. A police department might block out names of witnesses who might face harm if their identity is revealed, for example, and the names of undercover police officers are also typically kept secret to prevent criminals from identifying them. A police report involving a juvenile as a suspect is considered confidential in some areas.

During the investigation of an incident, police commonly withhold the document from public scrutiny. This procedure protects the reputation of innocent people if the evidence shows they were not involved in criminal activity. Personal identifying information in police records, such as Social Security numbers, are also commonly protected from public view. Once an investigation is closed, the report is generally available to victims and the public, although a fee might be charged for a copy.

In some regions, transcripts of emergency telephone calls and applications for restraining orders are defined as police reports. Jail records that identify people who have been arrested represent another form, along with a written record of incidents that occur within the jail. In instances where a death occurs, autopsy records may become part of the official report, but this practice varies by jurisdiction.

Victims of crime might be able to file a report online if the matter is minor and does not require immediate attention. Some police departments make this option available for insurance purposes when the odds of solving the crime are slim. This option might also apply to minor accidents involving damage on private property in some areas. Access to public police reports may also be available via the Internet, usually through a search using the case number.

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Discussion Comments
By aLFredo — On Sep 03, 2011

I have filed two police reports, both for stolen property, with each one being in a different city. In one city, maybe because the property had been stolen from inside of my house, the police came.

The other time, in a different city, the property was stolen out of my car and the police report was just taken over the phone. But I think now our city has police reports online, so if bad luck was to befall on my again, I would just file the police report online, though I must say it felt reassuring when the police officer came to my house.

Either way, not surprisingly, as I would imagine the police department was busy with much larger fish to fry, my property was never found. The saddest part was one of the items stolen was my laptop so I lost of the pictures on the hard drive.

And the scariest part was that the other piece of property that was stolen was my gps that had all of my friend's locations saved. Luckily nothing ever happened with it.

By SarahSon — On Sep 03, 2011

My son moved to Chicago and was there less than a week when he was robbed at gunpoint. He was by himself and on his way to get on the subway when two men ran up behind him.

Thankfully he was not hurt and they just got away with his wallet and cell phone. He went to the police station and the police filled out a report on the incident. He even looked at pictures of a few men to see if any of them looked familiar, but they were never caught.

I don't know how long they keep police reports like that on file. In a city the size of Chicago, I wonder how many police reports are filed in just one day.

By bagley79 — On Sep 03, 2011

When we had four teenagers at home who were all driving, we had our fair share of accidents and fender benders.

Sometimes my kids were at fault, and other times it was the fault of somebody else. Either way, they always had to wait for the police to show up and fill out their police report form.

The insurance companies would use this form to determine who was at fault so they know whose insurance company was responsible for the damages.

Sometimes you had to wait awhile for the police to show up, depending on what time of day it was. I always told my kids to make sure and call the police and not to leave until they had a copy of the police report for their records.

They didn't usually have to worry about that though, because I got there faster than the police did!

By Sara007 — On Sep 02, 2011

For those that know anyone who has domestic dispute issues, getting police reports are vital if your friend or loved one needs to file for a restraining order. Police reports help to show that there is a history of issues, and that the victim isn't just making things up to be malicious.

My good friend had a violent spouse and she faithfully kept all of the police reports she filed. Those reports helped her get a quick divorce, full-custody of her kids and a restraining order against her now ex-husband. Sometimes it may be hard to keep evidence of something you'd rather like to forget, but it can be necessary to do so.

By manykitties2 — On Sep 01, 2011

If you are ever in a car accident make sure you get a copy of the police report. It can be invaluable when it comes time to talk to your insurance company and collect any money owed.

Insurance companies are pretty well-known for being tight-fisted with their cash, so unless you can prove beyond a doubt that the crash was another person's fault you are going to end up out a lot of money.

When my car got rear ended a few years back we had a heck of a time proving that the accident wasn't our fault because we didn't have a police report to back things up. No one ever wants to be at fault, so the police are supposed to be there to provide a third-party statement that is unbiased.

By dfoster85 — On Aug 31, 2011

@robbie21 - Yeah, that is kind of pathetic. I think a lot of times people think they're going to pay it back and just want the credit, but then (because they're the sort of people who don't pay their bills, which is why they have bad credit) they don't pay after all.

I'm glad you were able to get everything straightened out. The police report requirement can be a problem with in-family identity theft, which is more common than people think. The mother of a friend of mine used her daughter's social security number to open new credit cards after she had trashed her own credit. By the time my friend graduated from college, her credit score was in the 400s. She couldn't even get an apartment without a cosigner.

But of course, she didn't want to file a police report because it was her *mom.* This was a major betrayal, obviously, but my friend loves her mom. The mom really meant to pay off the cards (blah, blah, blah). So she can't get her name cleared without getting her mom in big trouble and for now, she's just put a fraud alert on her credit and is working on improving it the hard way - by paying her own bills on time.

By robbie21 — On Aug 30, 2011

Sometimes a police report can be valuable even if nothing comes up the police investigation. I actually had my identity stolen a few years ago and some unpaid charges showed up on my credit report.

(Fortunately, she was hardly a professional thief. She used her own name and opened an account at Value City Furniture, where she bought four thousand dollars worth of furniture and didn't pay for it. Kind of pathetic, really.)

To get it off my credit, I had to assert quite vigorously that I had not made the charges. When contacted by the fraud department, the person claimed to be my cousin! It was so weird. I had to sign an affidavit and also had to file and submit a police report. I don't know if the police department did anything with the police report, but the collection agency used it to clear my name. (After about ten hours of phone calls and several failed attempts, naturally!)

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