When you have witnessed a crime, it is understandable that you might feel some distress. Crime is a horrible thing to witness first-hand and seeing one on your doorstep or close to where you live can be a hard thing to process.
But it is important that if you do see a crime, no matter how minor, that you report it to the police. This will not only ensure that the victim of the crime sees justice but also that the perpetrator not only faces the consequences of their actions but will be unable to commit their crime again.
However, if you have witnessed a crime but have no idea how or what to report then you may feel just as stressed as when you first saw the crime itself. Unless you know how the criminal justice system works in America you won’t know what the appropriate way is to report a crime.
So, if you are wondering can I file a police report online, then you are in luck because this article will set out whether or not you can file a police report online or not.
Can I file a police report online?
To begin with, let’s tackle the first question, the main question you are concerned with – can you file a police report online?
The answer is yes, you can file a police report online whether with your local sheriff’s department or with your local state police office, whichever you think is best. It should be stressed that it is always best to contact your local county sheriff’s office simply because they will be able to deal with the matter far more effectively than any other agency because they will be able to start work on the case immediately.
It should also be stressed that there are some conditions relating to filing a police report online. For example, you as the reporter must fall within certain categories and the crime itself must equally fall within certain categories.
Firstly, if you are registering a crime online you need to be over the age of eighteen, know that the incident occurred within the jurisdiction of the county sheriff’s office, the incident was not an emergency and you have an email address to be contacted at for follow up questions. In some jurisdictions there are extra restrictions that are placed on whether you can report a crime online or not – for example, if there is evidence to be collected at the scene of crime, then you should phone your local law enforcement officials rather than attempting to file a police report online.
Similarly, some states request that if the incident involved a firearm or occurred on the highway then you should report it via a phone call rather than online as these factors will, in their assessment, mean the incident is more dangerous and will require more officers.
Now that we’ve covered what the conditions are related to filing a police report online, it’s time to focus on what crimes you should report online and which you shouldn’t.
Which crimes you can report online
As you might have guessed from the above paragraphs, it is important that if the incident is an emergency that you call 911 or contact your local sheriff’s department directly rather than attempt to file a report online. This is because the police will be able to respond to a more serious incident immediately whereas, although online filed reports are acted on swiftly, it may be a day or so before they are dealt with meaning that in life-or-death situations they aren’t the most reliable way to report a crime online.
There, the type of crimes that you can report online is somewhat limited. So, if you are thinking of reporting a crime online then you must keep in mind that these are the kind of crimes you should be reporting and not any others as if a situation is especially serious it needs to be dealt with quickly.
The crimes that you should report online are as follow:
Minor crashes are defined as follows. A minor crash is one in which a vehicle either hits a piece of private property and causes less than $1,500 worth of damage; a crash in which the driver of one vehicle hits another (known as a hit and run) in which no one is serious injured, and the driver flees the scene; a minor crash in which no one is injured. It is important to make sure that when you are filing a report of a crash online that you make clear that it was a nonfatal or a minor crash as the reviewing officer might believe that the incident was more serious than it actually was.
Minor Crashes can sometimes be hard to determine so if you end up phoning the police rather than filing the report online you shouldn’t feel bad as many people panic when they see a crash.
Credit Card Fraud
Credit Card Fraud related specifically to when your credit has either been stolen or if it has been cloned. It is important that you first report this to your bank before reporting it to the police, so that the credit card company can stop your money from being lost whilst the police investigate.
It is also important that you are sure the credit card fraud occurred within your county or local area; if the credit card fraud occurred when you were in another part of the country then the police in your area are unlikely to be able to apprehend the culprits successfully, therefore you should make sure that you know that the fraud occurred locally.
This is a very specific crime as it relates to someone attempting to gain money through impersonating a salesman or selling things that they do not own or have access to.
If you come across someone doing this then it is best to submit an online police report as soon as possible so that the authorities can start investigating.
Harassing Anonymous Phone Calls/Communications
Harassing phone calls aren’t anything new but they can be both annoying and threatening, particularly if the person receiving them is a vulnerable individual. Communication that is judged to be harassing includes unwanted sexual advances, disturbing “jokes”, intimidating language, obscene language or simply annoying and repetitive messages are all worth reporting because whilst they might seem minor initially, they can quickly escalate. This is why if you or a family member repeatedly get harassing communications you should immediately report it online to your local law enforcement officials.
It is important that you report this to your local sheriff’s department because, even if you have reason to believe that the person who is sending the communications might live outside your county or state, because you are receiving the communications in your county then it becomes your local police department’s responsibility to look into and resolve the matter, even if they have to work with law enforcement officials in another county or state.
The stealing of someone’s identity whether for the use of stealing money or for impersonating someone is of course a crime and should be treated as such.
If you believe that the person who has stolen your identity is operating outside the county or state then it is worth reporting it not just to your local police department but also to your credit card providers and any other identification services that you might use that you believe the individual who has stolen your identity or the identity of a loved one.
Theft of Personal Property from your Home or Person
If you believe that someone has stolen some of your property either from your house or person, then you should report this to your local police force. It is important to add some caveats to this, however. If you have been the subject of a burglary, then you should report the burglary and the stolen items via a more direct method such as ringing the police rather than submitting an online form.
Similarly, if the item that has been stolen is a firearm then you should report the theft to the Police Non-Emergency hotline rather than reporting it online because a firearm that has been stolen could easily end up causing a serious tragedy.
It is important to stress that you should only report theft of property using the online system if it is theft that is not the result of burglary, violence or any other such offence as they are more serious crimes and should be reported more directly to the police such as phoning or visiting a police station.
Theft from a vehicle
If an item has been stolen from a vehicle, then you can file an online police report. However, as with theft of your personal property from your house or person, if an incident involves violence (such as you were attacked in your car, and something stolen during the assault) then you should contact the police by phone.
Similarly, if your car or license plates were stolen you shouldn’t attempt to file a police report online but rather contact the police immediately via your phone or go into a local police station to report your vehicle stolen.
This is perhaps the hardest crime to define when filing an online police report as it is reliant more on your feelings and judgement than any other. What may seem suspicious to one individual may not to someone else. This is why you must make sure that if you are reporting something that you believe falls under Suspicious Circumstances that you do so whilst considering that what you may be reporting might be nothing at all.
It is also important that you make sure that, even if you haven’t any hard evidence that a crime has been committed, that you note down all the information that you have related to the police in report in order that they can judge whether or not the suspicious circumstances can be judged to indeed be suspicious and warrant investigation or not.
Vandalism is far easier to define and also easier to prove. Vandalism can include not just defacing a wall or house but knocking over a mailbox or throwing toilet paper at the outside of a house.
It is important when reporting vandalism that you attach pictures to your online police report so that the police can see the exact extent of the damage.
Vehicle tampering can include scratching a car or removing or damaging part of your car such as your windscreen wipers.
Now that we’ve explained exactly what kind of crimes can be reported online to the police, let’s move on to explaining the exact process of how you file a police report online.
How to file a police report online
Now that we’ve explained the kind of crimes you should and shouldn’t be reporting online, it’s time now to explain how to actually file a police report online.
The first thing is to search for your local county’s police department. See if there is an obvious place where you might find a police report, such as under file a police report. It might even be worth searching specifically for how to file a police report in your county.
Once you have found the online report page, click on which type of event or crime you are reporting. You also need to provide your name and email address so that you can be contacted to follow up on the police report. Once you have entered your name and email address, you can start writing your report in the area provided. Make sure to be as detailed, factual and clear as possible so that the police can understand what exactly you are reporting, when it happened and potentially why it happened.
After that you can submit your report and wait to be contacted by the police. You will be given a temporary crime number with your initial report though this will be replaced by an official police crime number if the report leads to an actual investigation.
Now let’s turn to what you can expect in terms of the outcome of your report.
How the police will deal with your report
The police usually take between twenty-four hours and two working business days to look at and review online crime reports; this is why you should never report a truly serious crime via this method. After that time, if the police believe that the matter is serious then they will mark the report as an official police report. If the matter is deemed not to be criminal and not warrant investigation, then the report will be marked as unofficial.
The police will then directly contact you so that they can tell you the outcome of your report. If your report is rejected, then that will be the end of the matter. If it is not, then the police will issue you with an official police report number and may wish to question your or ask you to provide further evidence via email or phone. If more investigation is needed, then an official enquiry will proceed from there.
Why it is important to know how to file an online police report
In a world in which crime is happening all around us, it is truly important that we all know how to protect not just ourselves and our families but our communities as well. This is why knowing how to file an online police report is crucial. Although the offences dealt with by online police reports are relatively minor in comparison to more serious crimes, this does not mean that you should consider them unworthy of reporting.
Someone will have been hurt in each of these instances and it is your duty, whether you were the person who was hurt or not, that you report it in order that the preparator be brought to justice.