What Is the Purpose of a Police Report?

By Teo Spengler - Updated January 29, 2018
Hit and Run

You may think police officers spend most of their time driving around in cop cars with sirens flashing, chasing down criminals. But, like most of the rest of government employees, police are required to complete many forms and numerous different types of paperwork. One of those is the police report, a document that should contain accurate, detailed and informative information about a crime or incident in order to serve its different purposes.

Tip

Police reports serve as the starting point of a law enforcement investigation, but they also provide crime victims with a legal document to use as evidence for court hearings and insurance claims.

Starting Point for an Investigation

A police report is a document detailing a crime or a problematic incidence. Many times, it is the victim of the crime who reports what happened to the police, but sometimes it is a witness. Police officers generate a police report to start an investigation. This report may be used as the basis for further investigation, or it may be used by the prosecutor's office when a district attorney charges a suspect with the crime.

Much effective police work involves initiating some form of record. It may be anything from a single line entry about some minor event to a lengthy detailed investigative document describing a crime scene. The police officer's supervisors evaluate the officer's skills using written reports. An officer is charged with performing policing within the scope of the law, but must also accurately record information concerning what was done so that others who were not present can have all the facts.

Evidence for the Crime Victim

As anyone who has had their car broken into or vandalized knows, not every police report results in a suspect, let alone a conviction. But tracking down and prosecuting suspects is only one purpose of a police report. Even if a suspect is never found in a case, the victim requires some document showing what happened to process insurance claims and to present at court hearings. For example, if your car is hit by a hit-and-run driver, you'll need a police report to get the insurance company to pay for physical damage to the car and medical care for those inside the car.

Information for Communities

Police reports can also assist communities deter criminal activity. These reports can be used to track criminal activity trends in different areas of a city. If many reports detail house break-ins at night in a certain neighborhood, the police can warn the residents to install better security. They can also patrol the area more frequently at night.

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. 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.

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