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What Is a Police Report?

A police report is an official document created by a police officer to record, in writing, the work they perform. It typically recounts an event that the officer has witnessed, participated in, or heard about from a third party. It is a public record that can be accessed by those who need the information it contains.

This definition may technically answer the question, “What is a police report?” However, it doesn’t meaningfully tell you why these reports exist or how they affect you.

How a police report affects you depends on what type of interaction you are having with the police. It could serve as evidence that will help you, it could provide evidence against you, or it could include investigative notes about a crime performed against you.

If you are in a situation where you’re asking, “What is a police report?”—you should be consulting an attorney. Contact Morgan & Morgan today to schedule a free case evaluation and get pertinent answers to this question.

Types of Police Reports

There are as many types of police reports as there are ways that the police interact with the public. This is because police officers are required to maintain a record of the actions they take. These records allow other officials to monitor the progress of cases and ensure that important information they discover doesn’t get lost.

Administrative Reports

Administrative reports are the types of reports that the average person is least familiar with. An administrative report is an account of the behavior of police personnel. Typically, these reports are created when police are accused of behaving inappropriately.

When this happens, someone is assigned to investigate the behavior. In many ways, this investigation is similar to the type of work that police perform when someone reports a crime. The investigator is trying to find evidence that either proves or disproves the allegation.

Unlike the criminal justice process, an internal investigation rarely ends with a trial. Typically, the investigator provides evidence and an opinion to supervisors, who then decide whether the activities were appropriate. This information and the final decision are written in an administrative report.

If you believe that you have been harmed by the actions of police personnel, you or your attorney may need access to the contents of one of these reports. Your lawyer can use these findings as evidence in a civil lawsuit.

Accident Reports

This is probably the type of police report that people are most familiar with. If a police officer arrives at the scene of an accident, they will typically write an accident report. 

An accident report records:

  • The location of the accident
  • A description of the accident scene
  • The damage caused by the accident
  • The contact information for all parties involved in the accident
  • The officer’s opinion of what caused the crash and who is liable for it

Typically, anyone who is involved in an accident has the right to obtain a copy of this report. It is usually used as evidence by insurance companies when determining how much compensation they owe claimants. Additionally, your attorney will probably need this information if they want to fight the decision of an insurance company.

Domestic Violence Reports

A domestic violence report is similar to an accident report, except that it deals with cases of domestic abuse. Similar to how a police officer reports an accident, they will examine the scene and record details based on what they see and what witnesses tell them.

Typically, the information in this report is important if you have been a victim of domestic violence. Your attorney can use this information to request an order of protection from a judge or to file a lawsuit against the person who abused you.

This report usually won’t include significant medical information unless the victim was hospitalized. If you need medical information, you will usually need to speak to an attending doctor or hospital to get a medical report.

Crime Reports

If you report a crime to the police, the responding officer will perform an initial investigation and log your testimony. This report may then be passed along to a detective, who will follow up on the case and may eventually create a case report.

The crime report primarily exists as a record that an incident occurred. It may also be used to track crime rates in an area, start an investigation, or identify a suspect. Insurance companies usually require crime reports when paying compensation for stolen or damaged property.

As a victim of a crime, you have the right to get a copy of a crime report. Your attorney may need this report when helping you get compensation for a personal injury.

Traffic Reports

If you have ever been pulled over, you probably had to wait while the officer sat in their car with your license and insurance information. The reason you had to wait as long as you did was that the police officer was writing a traffic report in addition to creating a traffic ticket for you.

The ticket you receive is little more than a notification that you need to pay a fine or challenge the infraction in court. The traffic report is the record of the incident. That report will be filed with the court and can be called upon as evidence in a trial.

You may need a copy of that report for several reasons. If you intend to challenge the infraction, you will need to know exactly what the police officer claimed about the incident.

A copy of that report can also help you if your insurance company tries to use the ticket you received to increase your rates. There may be something incorrect in the report, or the insurance company may be misinterpreting it. 

Your attorney will likely use that information if they are helping you challenge any decision made by the insurance company.

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FAQ

Get answers to commonly asked questions about our legal services and learn how we may assist you with your case.

  • Who Can Access a Police Report?

    Arguably, anyone can access police reports because they are public records. However, some public records are easier to access than others. Police reports are typically more restricted.

    Anyone who is a principal actor in a police report can easily get a copy of it. Usually, you just have to contact the police precinct where the report was filed. Depending on the policies in your state, you may be able to get the first copy for free, or you may have to pay a small fee.

    If an attorney is representing you, they can get a copy of your report as well. Usually, your lawyer will have to pay more than you would to get it, so many times, they will ask you to make the request. Again, this process is different in every state.

    Other individuals can also get access to police reports, but that’s generally more complicated. It usually costs more, and there may be red tape. The reason for this red tape is to protect the rights, reputations, and safety of the people named in the police report.

    If someone isn’t a principal actor or an attorney, the main reason they want to access a police report is often for research purposes. Reporters or law students, for example, might try to get a copy of a police report.

  • How to Get a Police Report?

    You can get a police report in person, online, or by mail. If you are requesting it in person or by mail, you will typically need to contact the police precinct where the report was filed. However, in some states, traffic or accident reports can be requested from a central resource.

    If you are requesting a report online, you will usually go to a state government website. Some types of reports might not be accessible this way. 

    If you have questions about how to obtain a police report, the best way to get answers is to speak to your Morgan and Morgan lawyer.

  • What Is a Police Report Used for Outside a Courtroom?

    Police departments may use police reports for any number of reasons. But individuals typically only use them to prove that an incident occurred. Outside a courtroom, a police report could be used:

    • As part of a background check
    • To provide information to an insurance company
    • As supporting evidence for a news story or research paper
    • To explain to a boss or supervisor why you had to take time off work

    Police reports often contain confidential information. This means that you need to be careful about whom you share one with and how you use any information that you get access to.

  • What Do I Do if There Are Errors on a Police Report?

    One of the common reasons that clients ask, “What is a police report used for?” is that they have discovered that there is a police report that has false information about them. This can be unsettling because a mistaken police report can result in negative consequences.

    If you believe that a police report has false information about you, you should consult a Morgan & Morgan attorney immediately. We can petition the police department to correct the report quickly and to avoid acting on the erroneous information.

    In the worst-case scenario, we will petition the courts to force the police to change the report. Mistakes are usually made in good faith. But if an error is intentional, you will need a lawyer to protect you from having your rights violated.

  • Should I Get a Copy of Every Police Report That Applies to Me?

    No. For the most part, you don’t need to care about police reports that reference you. For example, if you get a speeding ticket, you probably just want to pay the ticket and move on. Nothing in the police report is likely to matter unless there’s a mistake.

    However, if you are the victim of a crime or eligible to receive compensation in a civil action, then you probably care about the police report. That evidence could be crucial to protecting your rights or getting you compensation. Your attorney should tell you if you need a copy and may even get it for you.

  • If You Are Wondering What Is a Police Report, Contact an Experienced Attorney Immediately

    As a rule of thumb, if you are concerned about a police report that references you, odds are that you need an attorney immediately. Contact Morgan & Morgan today to schedule a free case evaluation. We will gladly help you determine whether your police report concerns are merited.

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