Laws and police procedures vary from city to city and state
to state. The information given here is of a general nature
and is not intended in any way to replace the procedures and
recommendations of your law enforcement agency. Refer to
your law enforcement agency if there is any doubt as to the
procedures to be followed.
HELP THE POLICE HELP YOU
1. Keep an inventory of all valuables including descriptions
and serial numbers and photographs.
2. Mark TV, VCR, computers, etc., with your driver's license
number preceded or followed by your two-letter state
abbreviation. (or use whatever ID number your department
suggests such as social security number). A driver's
license number is probably best. A police officer a
thousand miles away finding your TV in the trunk of a car
will have your name in a matter of minutes using the
driver's license number. If you have reported the theft
to your department, the description and ANY serial number
will be entered into the National Crime Information Center
computer. If you don't know the item is missing and have
not reported it, then the driver's license number becomes
more valuable. The police in any state can teletype your
police department and have them contact you about any
CALLS FOR SERVICE
1. Know the telephone number for your police department. Not
just 911 but the regular number for routine business.
2. Use 911 only for emergencies involving imminent danger to
life and/or property. Most agencies do not have unlimited
personnel to answer 911 calls. If several people are
using 911 to report their cat in the tree or their
neighbor's loud music, then your real emergency will have
to wait until a line comes open.
3. Don't get upset when you call to report an incident or
inquire about a case and are switched to several different
people. The larger the agency, the more specialized it
is. Your call may be routed to the division handling your
type of problem or question such as traffic, juvenile,
detectives, burglary, and the list goes on. You may have
to talk to several people before finding the officer
actually assigned to your case, or to take your report.
4. Don't request that an officer come to your house if the
report you wish to give can be handled over the phone. If
there is nothing for the officer to see at your home or
other location, then give the report over the phone. Many
agencies have hired and trained civilian employees to give
information and take simple reports over the phone.
If your car has just been stolen, give the information by
phone as quickly as possible using 911. Officers on the
street can be notified immediately and the information
entered into the national computer. Demanding to see an
officer in person will only delay this process and who's
to say the officer wont pass your car on the way to your
house to see what kind of car you own! It has happened!
This goes for burglary and other crimes where an officer
will need to know what he's looking for. Always give all
the information you can on the phone. Even though an
officer must come to your home to make a burglary
report, he may be able to spot your stolen blue and purple
"fratastatic wobulator" while he's enroute if you gave the
dispatcher that information.
DOCUMENT ALL CALLS
5. If you have a problem important enough to call the police
for, insist that a report be made, and ask for the case or
report number. Refer to this number when inquiring about
your case. If you want to take action against your
neighbors for their loud parties or barking dogs, you'll
be in a better position to do so if all your calls to the
police concerning these matters are documented. This goes
for other types of "problem" cases also.
6. Don't expect police to make arrests for minor offenses
that are not occurring when they arrive. Police must
usually observe any minor violations in order to make an
arrest. Reports must be written, witnesses interviewed ,
evidence reviewed and warrants obtained. Felonies may be
a different matter. If you point to a fleeing suspect and
say "he just robbed me" or "he just broke into my house",
there will probably be an arrest made if the suspect can
7. Police generally have no authority in "civil" matters such
as landlord/tenant disputes, property line disputes,
breaches of contract, employer/ employee disputes over pay
and other matters, and similar disputes. The police will
respond to prevent violence if necessary, and will inform
involved parties of their need to consult attorneys, small
claims court, etc.
INFORMATION USUALLY RELEASED TO THE PUBLIC
1. Details of a crime, including the location, date and time.
2. The name of the victim.
3. The facts surrounding an arrest such as any resistance
encountered, and if any weapons were involved.
4. Identifying facts about a suspect. (except name until
5. A general description of evidence.
6. Names of investigating and/or arresting officers.
7. The nature of the charges to be filed and the court they
will be filed in.
INFORMATION NOT USUALLY RELEASED TO THE PUBLIC
1. Names of witnesses.
2. Information about confessions and statements, etc.
3. Lab results.
4. Criminal history information
5. Names of juveniles.
6. Names of persons killed or injured until next-of-kin have
7. Any information that, if released, would jeopardize an
TIPS TO REMEMBER
1. Mark all valuables when practical with an engraving tool.
(your police agency may have a program allowing you to
borrow one) Know the license number and have the Vehicle
Identification Number recorded for your vehicles.
2. Secure your property.
3. Document all calls for police service by having a report made.
4. Get good descriptions of suspects and vehicles.
5. Consult your police agency or district attorney and find
out what your rights are concerning family violence and
crime victim compensation.
6. When you withhold information about a crime, you're not
hurting the police; only the crime victim!