Police officers have the critical job of keeping order in society by enforcing the laws that have been put in place. Their investigation of a crime often starts with someone making a police report. If you have been the victim of a crime, have witnessed a crime, or have knowledge of ongoing criminal activity, and want to involve the police, there are some ways to make this process as smooth as possible.
An Overview of the Legal Process
A trip through the criminal justice system starts with:
- The commission of a crime by a suspect.
- The report of a crime by a complainant, who is either a witness or a victim
- At the discretion of the police, they may investigate and make an arrest
- The suspect will be arraigned, which means that formal charges will be brought against them, and they entering a Plea of Guilty or Not Guilty.
- The suspect, now referred to as a Defendant, will either be held, or released on bail, COR, (Conditions of Release), or ROR (Release on Own Recognizance) [the title may differ between jurisdictions- the concept is the defendant is released without bail, and promises to return to court on a future date].
- A Plea bargain will be accepted by both the prosecution and the defense, or the case will be taken to Jury trial, or a Bench trial, in which a Judge hears the evidence and makes a decision.
- The Defendant is sentenced to Probation, a fine, Community service, or Incarceration.
- After sentencing the Defendant is referred to as a Convict.
- After serving a segment of their time, the Convict may be eligible for parole. The alternative is they serve their entire sentence if they fail to make parole.
Why People Don’t Report Crime?
- Lack of motivation to report “... I don’t want to get involved”
- Sense of futility “… nothing will happen to whoever did this, they will never catch him anyway”
- Fear of retribution if a crime is reported.
- Witness intimidation by the suspect or their associates.
Have You Been the Victim of a Crime?
There is a difference between being victimized and being a victim. Don’t allow anyone to make you into a victim. If you have been robbed, assaulted, harassed, or worse, make a criminal complaint. Criminals thrive on people who don’ want to make police reports. Habitual offenders derisively refer to them as cop callers with disgust and outrage. Implying they should be free to engage in whatever criminal acts they wish without retribution.
Have You Witnessed a Crime?
Police count on witnesses. If you have witnessed a crime, remember there is a victim. Do your part to help protect them and to hold the offender accountable, and make the community safer, the more people get involved, and work with the law enforcement, the less criminals are free to operate with impunity and victimize people, and reduce quality of life in a community. When reporting a crime as a witness, the police will need as many details a possible. They will probably need to review your testimony with you several times, making certain you are being consistent. This may take only a few minutes, or a few hours, or they may have to follow up with you by phone or in person several times. To make this process more efficient, be prepared to give as much of this information as possible:
- How many suspects involved?
- For each suspect:
- Hair color and length
- Eye color
- Height and weight
- Tattoos or piercings
- What did they smell like?
- Clean shaven or beard?
- On foot or in vehicle?
- What they wear wearing- what type and color of shirt pants, hat, gloves, or jacket?
- What were they driving? Make and model of the car? Direction of travel?
- Did they have a weapon? What kind? Gun or knife?
- Where you and what were you doing when you saw them?
- If more than one suspect did they use names?
- Were they calm, or angry or nervous?
Do You Have Knowledge of Ongoing Criminal Activity?
Are you living next door to a place where multiple people of different ages live? Do they have frequent visitors who only stay a few minutes? Is the house run down, but the people inside flash wads of cash, wear lavish jewelry, and have designer label clothing and a late model, luxurious car or SUV? These are signs of a drug house. Get involved and shut them down.
Reporting Specific Types of Crime
- Burglary: prepare ahead of time. Take photos of valuables both for insurance purposes, and to identify items to the police. The police must be made aware if any firearms were stolen
- Robbery: similar to burglary, but you should also be able to describe as much as you can about the subjects. One difference between burglary vs. robbery is robbery is face to face, while you will only see the burglar if you surprise them in the act.
- Homicide: if it is a family member or friend, accept that you will be looked at as a suspect. Most homicides are perpetrated by a family member, friend, or associate.
- Rape: You will be asked to submit to a rape kit, which is a medical exam to gather evidence.
- Animal abuse
- A parole/probation violation
- Someone with a warrant
Filing a Police Report
Go to the local police station, and ask to speak to someone about whatever your situation is. The first contact you have will either be a civilian employee of the police department, or a uniformed patrol officer. They will refer you appropriately based on the nature of your initial complaint. Let them do their job. You don’t need to speak to a homicide detective and get a tactical team deployed if your roses were vandalized.
You can initiate the process this way, and again be referred to the correct person to deal with the nature of your complaint. You may need to come in and speak to someone in person at some point, or depending on the nature of the complaint, it may all be handled by phone.
In many departments a report can also be made on line.
Important points to consider:
- Tell the truth! Giving a false, malicious statement is a crime.
- Be accurate and detailed. If you leave things out, or don’t give accurate info, this will impede the investigation.
- Are your hands clean? Do you have any part in the report you are making? Is your report going to turn into a confession? Time to consult with an attorney.
Making the Report Anonymously
Your options to make an anonymous report are more or less limited to phone or by letter. Other considerations are:
- You may not be able to make an anonymous report
- It may not stay anonymous
- Ask why must it be anonymous?
What to expect?
- Nothing may be done. The police have discretionary powers as to what they investigate, and how vigorously they pursue an investigation. A Homicide vs a drunk teenager doing donuts in your roses will be investigated and followed up on to varying degrees, depending on availability of limited resources.
- You may get a resolution, but it can take time.
- Evidence may be held by the police for an extended period of time. You may not get it back in good condition.
- If you have to go to court, expect continuances. This is a normal part of the legal process in which your court date will be cancelled and re-scheduled.
Our criminal justice system is far from perfect. Knowing how to navigate it is an important part of getting resolution.