Few government-generated documents are so packed with information as police reports. Police wedge all kinds of facts into a police report so that, if other police have to investigate the matter down the road, they have what they need to get started. Can you get your hands on a police report of interest? Maybe.
Public or Private Records
In many states, laws make most government information open to the public. Often, this includes police reports. For example, in Texas, the "Texas Public Information Act" (Government Code, Chapter 552) permits public access to most government records, as well as permitting the purchase of copies. However, not every state allows just anyone to get a copy of a police report. In some states, you have to have been involved in the accident or incident the police report covers to be entitled to a copy.
Even if you live in an open-access state, you may not be able to view an entire report. Names of informants, undercover police officers, witnesses and mandated child abuse reporters (such as teachers) can often be omitted. However, crime victims and anyone involved in an automobile accident will almost always be able to get a copy of the report involving them.
Obtaining a Police Report
If you file a police report, the officer taking the report often gives you a copy immediately. Many states allow members of the public to file online police reports for certain types of crimes like vehicle vandalism. Once the report is successfully filed, you will be able to print a copy.
Criminal defendants also have an absolute right to obtain copies of the police reports involving them once charges have been filed. They can request these from the prosecutor's office, but generally the attorney for the defendant obtains them.
If you are a third party unrelated to the incident that is the subject of the police report, you may not be able to get a copy of a police report until the matter is closed. You will also need to provide the case number and go to the clerk's office where the report was filed to get it.
Make your request for police report copies through the records division of the reporting agency. Check and see if online services are available. That way, you can get the report over the internet. Other agencies require you to appear in person and file a request for the information.
Read More: Information on Police Reports
Fees for Police Report Copies
Charges for a copy of a police report vary between states and even cities. Usually, it is a small fee for victims and a larger fee for third parties. For example, in New York City, the police report is free to victims. Third parties must pay $15. In Los Angeles, the fee is $30 for a traffic collision report or a crime report, but only $25 for an arrest summary. In San Antonio, accident reports are $6, incident reports are $.10 per page. While you may be able to walk in and obtain the police report the same day, when you request the police report by mail, expect a delay of at least a few weeks.
You can get a copy of a police report from the main or records office of the police department. Whether you have the right to a copy depends on your relationship to the report, whether it is open or closed and where you are located. Procedures for getting a copy vary among states.
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.