How to Do a Free Police Criminal Records Search

By Teo Spengler - Updated May 01, 2017

Whether you're looking for police reports or criminal court case records, you can often access them online for free with searches on state, county or city websites. In some jurisdictions, you'll have to make a visit to the police department or court in person.

Free Criminal Court Records

Court records are almost always presumed to be public records. If someone is arrested, charged with a crime and convicted, the record is open to the public. You can visit the court clerk's office and access the court files. It's also possible in many states to access criminal court records online. Texas, for example, makes all public criminal records available to any member of the public under the Texas Public Information Act. You don't have to give a reason for seeking the records. Visit the Texas Open Public Records website to access this search.

Note that you won't be able to access convictions where the judge has sealed the records of the case. Juvenile records may be sealed, as well as some minor first offenses. You can also use any of the private criminal background search firms that operate online. They usually use conviction databases gathered by private, for-profit companies that canvass courthouse conviction records. However, these are subject to errors and mismatching.

Free Police Criminal Records

Police criminal records include incident reports and arrest reports. The policies on releasing these differ among jurisdictions. Some police departments, like that of Dallas, Texas, make the reports available online. The San Francisco Police Department also provides a variety of police incident and arrest reports online. You can search by location, accessing a map of the city. You can also search by date or name. In locations that do not have online searches available, visit the police department to access police reports. It is always easier to find a report if you have an incident or report number.

Free Police Arrest Records

Since arrest records are generally public records, you can get access to them. While private firms abound on the internet that will do this search for a fee, you can usually find this information at no cost. Look first on the websites of the state, county or city you are interested in. Some of these websites have search features that you can use without paying a fee.

Smaller counties may not offer online searches. In that case, go to the court and review the information yourself. This is time consuming, but usually free.

About the Author

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. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.

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