Police records contain information about police arrests and incident reports for future reference by law enforcement officers.
Police records are distinctly different from criminal records or jail records because they aren't filed through the court system. Therefore, they're mostly unavailable to the public.
Some police departments may offer online incident logs, warrant logs, and other information from their reports, usually in summary form. Incident logs are the most common police records.
Most police departments and sheriffs' offices are reluctant to release police records, even to reporters.
This is especially true for cases that are still under investigation, or when releasing the information might endanger those involved in the incident.
There are several main types of police records available from law enforcement agencies.
The first type of police record includes arrest and incident reports. Arrest reports include the basic information about an arrest including the names and physical descriptions of those arrested, as well as various details of the event.
These details may include the location, time, and any events that occurred during the arrest, such as whether someone resisted arrest or an officer used force. The time and date of booking, the number of charges made, and bail amount are also included in a police record.
Incident reports don’t involve arrests. They include accident reports, citizen reports of crimes, and 911 calls for assistance.
An incident report contains the time, location, and nature of the incident along with a detailed description of what happened, including the name and description of any person involved as well as any injuries or weapons found at the scene.
It's difficult for the public to obtain arrest reports and incident reports. Because the officers don’t charge the suspect with any crimes, these police records are usually not made part of court records. So, the public usually doesn't have access to them.
However, summary logs are also made about arrests and incident reports. These are often made available to the public, and they can be searched through online databases maintained by local police departments.
Even for these police records, some logs may be withheld if law enforcement officers believe that the information could endanger anyone involved in the case or hinder an ongoing investigation.
The second main type of police record includes search and arrest warrants. Search warrants contain the specific application for a search warrant filed with a judge, as well as an affidavit by the police officer showing probable cause for the search.
This type of police record also includes a description of the specific items the police are looking for, the judge’s approval of the search warrant, and a list of anything seized by officers during the search.
Since search warrants are court records and require a judge’s approval, they can be made public and may also include other information on the case.
However, you may need the search warrant file number to find the appropriate police record, which means asking either the relevant law enforcement officer or the prosecutor in the case for permission to access this type of police record.
Law enforcement officers may also request that search warrants in the police record remain sealed if they believe public access might endanger those involved in the case or hamper their investigation.
Law enforcement officers can also ask a judge's approval for arrest warrants, another form of police record which is also a court record, too.
An arrest warrant includes the name of the accused, details about the crime he or she is suspected of committing, the bail amount and the name of the judge and court that signed the warrant.
Arrest warrants are a form of police record that usually isn't available to the public, although there are some exceptions.
Complete police records usually aren't available to the public, although summary police logs are sometimes available instead.
News reporters have the right to ask for certain police records, including arrest and incident records, although law enforcement isn’t obligated to turn over any police records to them.
In many cases, police records are only made available to reporters after an investigation is over. In other cases, the police records are permanently sealed.
Still, because many police records are included within the related court records listing the charges against a defendant, news reporters and other members of the public can often find partial information by checking the court record.
That's the best way to look for the original arrest or incident report filed in the police record, instead of checking the publicly-available police logs.
In other cases, specific information about a person charged with and sentenced for a crime can be found by searching jail and prison records.
These public records databases are available free of charge and often contain much of the same information as the police record.
However, police records involving individuals not yet convicted or sentenced for a crime, such as current search and arrest warrants, won't be found in jail records.
As mentioned above, some police records like arrest logs and incident logs are nearly always available to the public.
These police records can usually be found on the website maintained by your local county sheriff’s office or police department.
Not every department makes its police records available online. But, in some cities, local newspapers also publish arrest records.
When performing an online search for a particular arrest or incident, it’s best to have as much information about the incident as possible to narrow down your police record search.
Knowing the names of those involved, the nature of the crime and the approximate time and location of the incident will make your police record search easier.
It’s important to remember that the arrest and incident logs made public usually don’t contain all the pertinent information and are mostly summarized from the original police records.
Without knowing all the details from a police report, you shouldn’t make any definite conclusions about what happened, and it’s usually best to wait until all court records are released.
If you’re able to obtain a copy of a police report, it will normally contain statute numbers that pertain to penal codes describing the nature of the crime.
You can find websites that list those penal statute numbers along with the corresponding crimes, which will help you decipher the police report.
The best way to find police reports and court records online is through this site, which contains comprehensive information about all public records.