You rely on the police to keep your community safe, but the police also count on you to let them know of unsettling situations or crimes occurring in your neighborhood. The way to do that is by filing a police report, and the appropriate procedure depends both on your location and also on the problem you're reporting.
It's an Emergency
If it's a police emergency, you'll know it. A murder taking place outside your house is an emergency. It's also an emergency if you come home and find a burglar in your kitchen. In such dire situations and any other incidents that require police sirens and flashing red lights, call 911. Police officers will arrive at your house and take your statement, using it to prepare a police report.
The San Francisco Police Department advises that you ask yourself several questions. If the answer to any of them is yes, call 911.
- Is there an immediate threat to you or others?
- Is the crime still in progress or has it just occurred within the last two to three minutes?
- Does the suspect have a felony warrant, and you know where the suspect is?
- Can you identify the suspect or were a witness?
- Was there a weapon involved?
If you can't answer "yes" to any one of these questions, don't call 911. Instead, call the police's nonemergency number.
Not an Emergency: Report by Phone
If a situation is not an emergency, you don't want the police to drop everything and rush to your house to take a police report. Instead, phone the nonemergency number and explain the situation. In some cities, like Midland, Texas, you can file the report right over the phone for certain crimes, including auto burglary, theft, missing person, criminal mischief and violation of protective orders. For crimes requiring documentation, like forgery, you must go to the police station in person to make the report. In Omaha, Nebraska, the police encourage citizens to report nonemergency criminal activity over the phone by contacting the Omaha Police Telephone Response Squad. The line is staffed every day, all day, until 10:30 p.m.
Not an Emergency: In-Person Report
In some cities, like Mansfield, Texas, you must meet with the police to give a report. A police officer will come to your house in Mansfield to take a nonemergency police report. In Winter Park, Florida, you also have to meet with the police to make a police report for a nonemergency matter. Either go to the police department or have an officer come to your home to complete a sworn statement of what happened. In Sterling Heights, Michigan, you must go to the police department to file the report. It is open 24 hours a day.
Online Police Reports
Not every city is set up to allow you to file an online police report, but this is increasingly an option being offered. In many cities, you can only use internet reporting for certain types of crimes. In San Francisco, these include vehicle tampering, vehicle burglary, vandalism, graffiti, theft and harassing phone calls. When you use the online police report system, you can file a report immediately and also upload relevant photos. You'll get a temporary police report case number that you provide to your insurance company.
Read More: Examples of Police Reports
Exactly how you file a police report depends on what you are reporting. In an emergency, phone 911. In a less grave situation, call the police nonemergency number or visit the police station to file a report. For vandalism and other small matters, you can file a police report online.
Teo Spengler earned a J.D. from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an M.A. and an M.F.A in creative writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.