Under state and federal Freedom of Information laws, police departments are required to make most of their activity reports and arrest records public. State police, county sheriffs, and towns, cities and villages maintain a blotter that anyone can view in person (national law enforcement agencies like the FBI do not disclose their activities, however). In the era of digital technology, departments are increasingly putting their reports online or accommodating requests for electronic records.
Contact the police department that would have the report. Provide details of the incident or arrest, including the date, place, names of those involved and the type of alleged criminal activity or complaint. They can tell you what records, if any, are available online, and where.
Ask someone at the police agency how that report can be obtained other than visiting the police department in person. Under state and federal sunshine law police agencies must share activity reports and arrest records if the matter does not contain sensitive information to a pending investigation. According to FOIAdvocates.com, the law says agencies must "make a reasonable effort" to provide those records in an electronic format.
Follow-up with the state Division of Criminal Justice Service or Department of Law Enforcement, which is a clearinghouse for reports. Most states have a shared database with police agencies so authorities can coordinate investigations and track crime trends. State agencies, in fact, are increasingly putting documents online to save time staff would otherwise spend on Freedom of Information requests. If the police report is not already included in a public state database, the state agency should accept a Freedom of Information request via email and respond with the requested information in the same manner.
- It may take several days or weeks for a state agency to put local police reports online.
- Newspapers publish arrests on their websites, but that record cannot considered an official police report.
- Some agencies, like the New York State Police, publish information on some arrests online, but that information is not a complete police report.
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