How to Look Up Old Police Reports

By Karina C. Hernandez - Updated May 31, 2017
Police station

Looking up a police report that's months or even decades old typically requires the same protocol as looking up recent reports. You can find it online, request it by mail or pick it up in person at the police station. Calling ahead to find out how long a records unit keeps reports is your best bet for finding a very old report. Police reports from the past may come in handy many years after an accident, incident or crime.

Time Limits May Apply

The availability of an old police report depends largely on the jurisdiction's minimum time for retaining records. For example, you may be able to obtain a report from North Carolina sheriff's offices for up to 20 years for solved cases and longer for unsolved cases, according to state record retention laws. The San Diego County Sheriff's Department keeps crime, arrest and accident reports for up to 10 years; however, reports involving homicides, missing persons and sex crimes are kept longer. According to PRI Management Group, a law enforcement consulting company, law enforcement agencies tend to retain records longer than required by law, and if a record still exists, it can be requested by the public.

Picking Up an Old Police Report

Law enforcement agencies allow you to pick up a copy of a police report at the station, usually at a records unit office or counter. Requesting a copy in person may require you to wait in lengthy lines. Call the records unit before visiting the police department to verify that the report is still available. Find out about the forms, fees and identification needed to obtain an old police report. Some law enforcement agencies release police reports only to the persons named in the report or their authorized representatives. If you are a third party, you may need to obtain a release, a waiver or a notarized authorization from the person involved in the case, granting you permission to obtain a copy.

Online and Mail Requests

Most law enforcement agencies process mail-in requests for police reports. Law enforcement in moderate to larger jurisdictions typically also give citizens the option of ordering and obtaining police reports online. Both methods may require you to pay a nominal fee, which may be waived if you are the party involved in the report. To find out whether the old report you seek is available online or by mail, confirm with the police department that processed the report by calling in advance.

About the Author

Karina C. Hernandez is a licensed real estate agent since 2004 in San Diego. She has written legal articles pertaining to housing and real estate for multiple internet channels over the past 10 years. She has a B.A. in English from UCLA.

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