How to Read an Arrest Record

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If you are arrested, you are typically provided with a copy of your arrest record explaining why you were arrested and the facts surrounding the incident. Arrest records are often littered with abbreviations, alphanumerical codes and jargon that can be difficult for anyone other than law enforcement agents to understand. This can make it extremely difficult for you to read an arrest record, which would affect your ability to defend yourself.

Reading and Understanding an Arrest Record

Start reading at the top of the arrest record. You should find the basic information relating to the arrest, including your name, personal information, physical description and characteristics, and the time, date and location the arrest took place. The name of the arresting officer, any back-up officers, the police department that handled the arrest and similar information should be clearly stated underneath. Also take note of the case number, which you might need for future reference as the matter continues to be investigated.

Review common police codes, colloquially known as "ten-codes." Ten-codes are numerical abbreviations used by police officers, dispatchers and other emergency and law enforcement personnel to communicate quickly. They also appear on arrest records and reports. You can compare a list of ten-codes to the arrest record to better understand the record.

Obtain a copy of your state and local disposition codes. Disposition codes are lettered abbreviations for common terms, places and incidents that law enforcement officers often use when completing paperwork. You can request a list of your local disposition codes from your police department or the department that handled your arrest.

Go through a list of common police slang. Law enforcement relies heavily on not just codes and abbreviations, but slang terms as well. Arrest records are often full of slang terms and abbreviations, which can be incredibly confusing. Most jurisdictions rely upon the same or similar slang terms, regardless of what county or state they are in.

Contact the police department where the arrest record originated. When it doubt, you can always ask an officer from the department that handled the arrest for help. They will be able to explain any terms or abbreviations you do not recognize, and help you read and understand your arrest record.


  • When in doubt, you can always consult a criminal defense attorney to help you read and understand your arrest record, and explain the process of what happens next.


  • "Criminal Procedure From Arrest To Appeal:The Judicial Administration;" by Lester B. Orfield; 2002


About the Author

Carrie Ferland is a practicing civil litigation defense attorney in the Philadelphia Area. As an author, her work has been featured in various legal publications for over 10 years. Ferland is a 2000 graduate of Pennsylvania State University and completed her Juris Doctorate and Master of Business Administration with the Dickinson School of Law. She is currently pursuing a Doctor of Philosophy in English.