Police Reports

While aware that police reports are often required after traffic accidents for insurance purposes, many people do not realize that other police reports are available to the general public. The detailed reports can be helpful in preparing for related court proceedings or due diligence backgrounding; or, on a personal basis, to learn more about police activity in your neighborhood (see our previous blog post for more about using public records to choose a neighborhood). What You Can Learn From a Police Report

When a police officer responds to a call, he must then file an incident or offense report. While reports vary from city to city, the following items are typically included:

Police information

  • Incident/report number
  • Reporting agency, beat and district
  • Officers on the scene and their serial numbers
  • Signature of reporting officer and his supervisor
  • Where other copies of the report are filed

Dispatch information

  • Call source
  • Complainant (name, occupation and contact information)


  • Name
  • Home address and phone number
  • Business address and phone number
  • Physical characteristics (height, weight, eye color, hair color, clothing, etc.)

Description of the crime

  • Case number, case status and related cases
  • Type of crime
  • Means or motive
  • Location
  • Date and time
  • Details of loss
  • Weapons used
  • Number of people arrested
  • Vehicles involved
  • Witnesses present

Simple analysis questions about what was involved

  • Sick or injured people
  • Alarm sounded
  • Location type
  • Forced entry
  • Alcohol or drug related
  • Hate or sex crime
  • Juvenile crime
  • Domestic violence (injuries, previous injuries, related restraining orders)
  • Senior or child abuse
  • Gang related
  • Proximity to school zone or public housing

Narrative of incident (may be several accounts if more than one officer was involved)

  • Chronology of incident including approximate times
  • Information about people involved (date of birth, gender, race, physical appearance, relationship to the incident, etc.)

Photos of crime scene and evidence, if applicable

For an example, click on the PDF below to see a police report from the University of Florida Police Department about a peace disturbance during a question and answer session by Senator John Kerry in 2007.

How to Get a Police Report

Available at the city level, police reports can be requested at the local police department for a cost. The police department must release requested information unless this threatens an individual's privacy or safety, or the completion of an ongoing investigation. Protocol varies depending on location, but most police departments have public records request forms (such as this one from the San Francisco Police Department) that can be submitted in person, by mail, or by e-mail.