Obtaining Police Reports

As part of my project to monitor the most serious bicycle – vehicle collisions, I will be obtaining the Arizona Crash Report(ACR) for every bicyclist fatality in 2009.

See Manner and Fault in Bicyclist Traffic Fatalities: Arizona 2009

In other rantings, Arizona Crash Reports are still, erroneously, often referred to as Arizona Traffic Accident Reports (thus the acronym TAR). In any event these reports are key to ALISS and accurate statistical reporting.

Most cyclists have a keen interest in establishing fault in collisions; some thinking that the cyclist-victim is rarely at fault, others having exactly the opposite view. The truth, as usual, is somewhere in between.

What I really want to see is that collisions be investigated and reported thoroughly and that any appropriate charges or citations be brought against any negligent driver. (by either convention, practicality, or law: deceased people are not cited, regardless of fault)

Some cyclists have a belief there is a systemic bias against cyclists. I believe that “sunlight is the best disinfectant” and that transparency is key. To that end the only way is to look at each incident and make it available to any interested parties for scrutiny. As we shall see, the overall “quality” of reports varies dramatically; to the extent that certain law enforcement agencies routinely turn out poor quality reports one could make the case that that agency may have a bias, or is simply inept or in need of better procedures.

Reports are public records, and i would be happy to share them with anyone provided it is on a non-commercial basis (see below for Arizona Public records laws) — contact me for info.

Scanning

Best result was to scan 300dpi b/w document (1 bit) to tif file using my old (u1220) scanner. Each page image is about 1MB. Then used Acrobat pro 9 to assemble into a single pdf file; then run OCR with settings to make the smallest file. The ocr also straightens (and sometimes messes up graphics pages). The end result is around 2MByte for a 50 page report.

Obtaining

Crash reports are public records, and anyone is entitled to view and/or obtain copies of public records pursuant to §39-121, 121.01, 121.02 and 121.03). For non-commercial purposes (as here, traffic safety research), rates for copies vary by jurisdiction, as little as $5 per report. Many charge $0.25/page,  and postage. Reports tend to be about 50 pages. Un-involved persons are specifically prohibited from requesting or viewing crash reports, but only if their purpose is to solicit business, see  §28-667. This same statute stipulates that “involved parties” (people involved in the collision, their insurance carriers, their legal counsel, etc) are entitled to receive unredacted copies of reports — it most certainly does not prohibit distribution to uninvolved, non-commercial, parties (like, say for example, for researchers).

Victims (or the family) of certain crimes are entitled to one free copy of the completed report (§39-127).

Although many jurisdictions have online availability, as a general rule, reports involving fatalities are not available online. Usually a phone call to the jurisdiction is required; commonly, the records department person can look up the case  number, and number of pages for any given report.

Requests can then be sent (usually mailed, along with a fee) to the jurisdiction.

Cost of records

Our friends at the Arizona Republic continue to do important work on the public records front:

It can cost anywhere from 10 cents to $1 a page to copy a public record at Valley cities, police departments and other agencies.

The total cost is small when someone wants only a handful of copies. But if hundreds of pages are requested – and many agency reports can run that length – the cost can easily climb into hundreds of dollars.

Increasingly, Republic reporters are using portable scanners to copy large sets of public documents. The scanners load the images into a laptop computer.

Initially, journalists ran into resistance.

Last year, Arizona State University told a reporter she would have to pay 20 cents per page for using the newspaper’s scanner to copy a few hundred documents. She maintained that there should be no charge because using the scanner was equivalent to inspection of the public records and the university would incur no appreciable costs.

The state Public Records Law provides that “public records and other matters in the custody of any officer shall be open to inspection by any person at all times during office hours.”

Days later, ASU reversed its position and allowed copies to be scanned for free by the reporter.

Months later, Maricopa County also permitted a Republic reporter to spend two days making hundreds of copies without charge.

As technological advances continue to miniaturize copying and photographic devices, journalists and members of the public will find it easier to obtain copies of records at little or no cost.

City of Phoenix

The city of Phoenix is, as of this writing, hand-down, the most progressive city in Arizona for making traffic reports available inexpensively (free!) and timely (instantly, online). You must know or obtain the incident number and a last name of any of the involved parties. vist: bit.ly/AccidentInfo (which is or was same as phoenix.gov , which redirects here… and for completeness, the old link was in the  ci.phoenix.az.us) 602-534-1127. They are located just west of the airport.

Incident numbers since 2010(?) are 11 digit numbers, the first two are year (like 10 for 2010) followed by two zeros followed by a 7 digit number. (The old incident number is a nine-digit number, that looks like it begins with a two-digit year; followed by 7 digits.)When searching i had some difficulties with the last name being lower case; sometimes it worked but other times not, all upper-case seems to always work. Phoenix incident numbers, when known, are in the fatality grid.

The full Arizona Crash Report is then instantly downloadable. Copies of the “DR” (Departmental Report?), which would be only for more serious crashes, are available at 15 cents/page. Most things can be dealt with through fax or even email(!), i forgot to ask what forms of payment are acceptable.

Congratulations to the City of Phoenix, they are a model of efficiency and transparency in government.

I do have some minor gripes: their site insists on referring to “accident” reports; this is now (since at least 1/1/2009) officially incorrect. The term is “crash”, as in Arizona Crash Report.  See NHTSA campaign “Crashes are not Accidents“.

City of Tempe

I’ve not gotten any from them, but it looks like a relatively hard pull Tempe Police Records — “written” requests (no fax, no email) only, it’s not clear if checks are an acceptable form of payment (the form says “verifiable check”; what is a verifiable check? There doesn’t appear to be any online access.  The stated cost is $5 for up to 20 pages, and 25 cents per page over. It’s not clear if there is a fee for mailing.

City of Mesa

Overall experience was very good. Reports are inexpensive; I obtained two long (~50 pages each) for $5 each, and there was not a charge for mailing, though i did have to call to request they be mailed rather than picked up. Total turn time was under two weeks.

Visit the Mesa police records webpage (or here is a template ).

City of Tucson

This was very unusual. They take requests by email, promptly replied with a quote on number of pages and price (e.g. 50 pages at .25/page plus $5 postage). The will then print and mail the report along with an invoice so you can pay later.

Visit the Tucson Police Records webpage. (scroll down for email).

Pima County

This one is very difficult. You have to wonder if they are going out of their way to make it that way. As usual, fatal reports are not available online. So I called to get case number and number of pages. The person would not give me any information; I was told to send $5 (money order only) and the name/date/location of the incident. They would then find out how much it would cost, presumably more than $5, and they would somehow get back with me and I would then have to mail (another) money order for the balance, and then they would sent me the report. Phew.

Visit the Pima County Sheriff’s Record Maintenance Unit webpage.

Others

There are many juridictions using commercial services, some even seem to be using more than one, here are a couple, they tend to charge from $5 to 10 dollars per report:

For example Chandler is in both(?), the former is a very strict search, the latter is very very broad allowing for all sorts of searching, even by street. It should be noted that generally only the ACR (crash form itself) is available, and not a fill DR (Departmental report; typically only done for very serious collisisions).

Tricks

Some search fields take %% (two percent signs) as a wild-card; potentially useful if some info is missing or incomplete.

Driver License Records

This doesn’t exact fit with the topic of crash reports, but it’s a related concept —

Somewhat surprisingly,  anyone can legally get anyone’s full driving record from adot for a few bucks: $3 for 3 years, and $5 for 5 years.

The catch is, the code section that allows this would be as follows, so can only be used in aggregate data:

5. For use in research activities and for use in producing statistical reports if the personal information is not published, redisclosed or used to contact individuals” — 28-455

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3 thoughts on “Obtaining Police Reports”

  1. here’s another law that relates tangentially to public-records requests

    41-4172. Anti-identification procedures

    A governmental agency shall develop and establish commercially reasonable procedures to ensure that entity identifying information or personal identifying information that is collected or obtained by the governmental agency is secure and cannot be accessed, viewed or acquired unless authorized by law. Nothing in this article shall be construed to restrict, diminish or otherwise affect the provisions of title 39.

  2. Scottsdale PD charges a 5$ base fee, and I’m told they either put the report on a CD (PDF?) or email it. They print it if necessary, but charge additionally above 30 pages. They also provide the “docview” site for 9$ per report, and fatal reports seem to be unavailable.

    http://www.scottsdaleaz.gov/Police/about/adminbureau/records
    http://www.scottsdaleaz.gov/Assets/Public+Website/police/Records-request-form.pdf

    Their form also says:

    “I hereby certify that the requested records will not be used for a commercial purpose” which makes sense, but also
    “If Accident report, I further certify that I am an involved party, vehicle owner, or insurance company, attorney or private investigator representing an involved party or owner for the requested report”

    Where does that come from? It’s a public record, no? If someone isn’t an involved party, what are they doing wrong but requesting it?

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