How to Report a Threat to the Police

Not every police department in the U.S. follows the same procedural rules for reporting crimes, but most have similar criminal laws. Threats are indeed crimes, subject to certain conditions. The police should be told if you’ve been threatened, but how you would do that can vary by state and even from city to city.

TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)

Call the regular non-emergency police telephone number or pay a visit to the police station, unless you're in immediate danger.

When Is a Threat a Crime?

First, it’s important to distinguish between verbal and emotional abuse and an outright threat. Someone might yell at you and disparage you, but unless he specifically suggests that he’s going to cause harm to you personally, to a loved one like a child or to your property or even your pets, the act probably doesn’t rise to the level of a criminal threat offense. A threat must involve the fear of physical injury or damage. It can’t just be a warning that the person will try to get you fired or otherwise negatively interfere with your life and cause you problems. The perpetrator must also be physically able to do whatever it is that he’s threatening to do.

How to File a Police Report

Contact your police department if you believe that what’s happened to you constitutes a threat. This doesn’t necessarily mean calling 911. In most cases, it means calling the regular police department phone number or stopping by the police station in person to talk to an officer on duty. You can explain what’s happened and tell the officer that you want to make a report. In some jurisdictions, the police will write and submit the report for you. In others, you can do it yourself. In either case, make sure you keep a copy.

Some larger cities, have special non-emergency numbers where you can submit a report over the phone. And in some jurisdictions, you can go to your county’s criminal courthouse to file a complaint there rather than at the police department. Call ahead to check with the court clerk to find out if this is possible.

When to Take Immediate Action

Call 911 if you think you’re in immediate danger. If someone is standing at your door when he threatens you harm, this is an immediate threat and you would want to get help right away. Also call 911 if the threatening person has left but has actually struck you or otherwise harmed you or your property in some way; there’s a chance he could be promptly apprehended. The regular police phone line is for situations that are literally non-emergencies. If a crime is not currently in progress, you don’t need the police to come to your location right away. For example, when a crime is not likely to take place in the immediate future because the perpetrator is no longer on or near the premises.

Yes, it can be a fine line sometimes, so use your best judgment. If your ex says he’s going to get in his car and drive to your home to physically abuse you, that’s a gray area. You can call 911, but he may never arrive to carry out his threat. Sometimes the police will dispatch a unit, but at other times officers are needed to take care of immediate emergencies elsewhere. By the same token, you must protect yourself. Go to the home of a friend or family member or to a shelter and call the regular police number from there to find out what you should do next. If the police think it’s an emergency, they’ll send someone to you immediately.

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About the Author

Beverly Bird is a practicing paralegal who has been writing professionally on legal subjects for over 30 years. She specializes in family law and estate law and has mediated family custody issues.