A police report is the summary of information prepared by a police officer who responds to a car accident or other incident. You can get your own police report from the local law enforcement office that prepared it or from your insurance company.
What Is a Police Report?
When police officers show up at an accident or other incident, they summarize the facts and their opinions in a written report called a police report. The types of reports include arrest reports and crime, or incident, reports. These incident reports usually detail police responses to citizen calls for assistance in situations like motor vehicle accidents.
Police reports are not part of the court records, and so they are not necessarily public documents. While you are entitled in most jurisdictions to obtain a copy of a police report involving yourself, you cannot count on getting police reports that involve other people. Exact laws and procedures vary among jurisdictions.
How to Get a Police Report About Yourself?
Most people see their first police report after they are involved in a motor vehicle accident. The investigating officer talks to witnesses and writes down information at the scene. Usually, the officer provides you with a receipt that contains the identification number of the report. That number makes it easy to order a copy of the police report from the local law enforcement agency that responded to the scene of the incident. You will likely have to pay an administrative fee for it. If you want it free, you can get a copy from your insurance company, assuming it obtains one.
If you were arrested and want the arrest report, request one from the main office of the police department that was involved in the arrest. Go to the agency's website or the city or county website for information about how to get one. You may find that parts of the report are not available to you. Some material is considered confidential, which may include informant's names, testimony, names of witnesses or undercover law enforcement officers. This is particularly true in criminal cases involving rape or sexual abuse.
You may not be able to obtain a report at all if the investigation is considered to be ongoing. But once it is completed, and charges are filed against you, your attorney can get the report from the district attorney's office or from the prosecutor.
Read More: Police Report Types
Can I Look Up a Police Report Online?
You can obtain some police incident reports online. But, according to the U.C. Berkeley Advanced Media Institute, very few criminal records are available on the internet. Your best bet is to call or visit the law enforcement agency that made the police report you want to look up. Have the identification number or the relevant time, place, date and names. Ask the agency whether the records are public and what is the fastest way of getting them.
An option for involved parties to obtain motor vehicle accident police reports is to use a service like eCrash, provided by the Lexis/Nexis website. It is an online accident report management system that makes it easy for law enforcement agencies to distribute accident reports. This is available online within 24 hours of the completion of the report.
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.