Law

Are police arrest reports available to the public?

When police suspect that someone is guilty of a crime, they make an arrest.  Guilt can only be determined by a court of law. Simply stated an arrest record will show whether a person has ever been arrested. Again, an arrest does not indicate guilt.

Police and other law enforcement agencies investigating crimes compile several different records in criminal cases. These include:

  • Arrest and incident reports

  • Logs of arrests and responses to incidents by police
  • Search warrants and coroner’s office reports 

An arrest record is a report made after someone was detained by the police. An arrest record contains personal information and details about the suspected crime. An arrest record is not proof of a crime. Any American citizen can access public arrest records.

Suspicion and guilt are very different. Only a court can issue a guilty verdict.

Police records are not part of the court system, which declares the guilt, and documents like arrest reports or crime/incident reports kept at police departments are not presumed to be open to the public as court records are.

While police records are subject to state public records laws, many types of police records are specifically exempt from disclosure. There also are general exemptions that police can cite, such as that the release of the information would endanger someone’s life or undermine an investigation, to decline to provide copies of arrest or crime/incident reports.

A police department keeps an arrest log that has the names and addresses of people arrested by police officers, where they were arrested and other details about the circumstances of the arrests and the people arrested. These logs generally are presumed to be public.

Arrest records are open to the public, excluding cases that are active or pending. A few states restrict certain information found on an arrest record. Common occurrences for this include acquittal, expungement, and a lack of charges.

An arrest record may include information like:

  • Full name of the person arrested
  • Occupation
  • Date of birth
  • Sex
  • Physical description including the colour of eyes and hair, height and weight
  • Time and date of arrest
  • Time and date of booking
  • Location of the arrest
  • The factual circumstances surrounding the arrest
  • Amount of bail set
  • Time and manner of release or the location where the individual is currently being held

All charges the individual is being held upon, including any outstanding warrants from other jurisdictions and parole or probation holds. Arrest records, are sensitive documents, so viewing them usually comes with a fee involved.

There are typically three ways to look up arrest records: in person at a courthouse or county building, by request and online.

To access a public arrest record, there is always the old fashioned way method, when you can visit your local sheriff’s office or courthouse and request to see arrest records. The county clerk may ask for an administration fee, which isn’t exactly “free.”

If you know the particular record that you want to view, you can make a FOIA request by contacting the FBI. This usually costs a few dollars for one record. Again, not “free.”

As a result, police departments vary widely in how they respond to reporters’ requests for arrest reports. Some will routinely provide the reports but with sensitive information edited out. Some will provide most reports but withhold those that concern sensitive pending cases. Some will decline to release any police reports.

Reporters can ask for a copy of a police report, but if the police decline to provide it they probably are within their rights to do so.

Online arrest records will show if the arrest was drug or alcohol-related, a traffic-related incident, a business violation, for a violent crime, or from theft or robbery. 

A few police departments put their arrest logs online. You’ll need to check the website for a police department to see if the arrest log is available online.

Checking an online arrest record can be useful to look after:

  • Family members
  • New love interests
  • Friends
  • Classmates
  • Neighbours
  • Yourself

Although, there is the possibility of checking the arrest records online, very few or incomplete arrest records are available on the internet.

The number of Americans with an arrest record has risen sharply over the years. Nearly one-third of the adult working-age population has a criminal record. The number of Americans having arrest records and criminal records is equal to the number of Americans who own a college diploma. With as many arrests and criminal convictions as college degrees, it’s obvious why respecting the laws is important for the community, as warrant for the community, as well as for the economy.

SpyFly provides consumers affordable, immediate access to public record information. Federal laws prohibit businesses from using SpyFly’s service to make decisions about employment, insurance, consumer credit, tenant screening, or for any other purpose subject to the Fair Credit Reporting Act, 15 USC 1681 et seq.

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