How to Report a Crime
While the law can vary from state to state, victims of and witnesses to crime can always report crime by calling 911. In general, dial 911 for emergency situations and the local police station for non-emergencies. To locate a local police station, you can dial 411 for information, search the internet, or reference the local telephone directory. If you wish to remain anonymous, you can tell the dispatcher that you do not want to share your personal or contact information.
You can also report a crime anonymously by contacting Crime Stoppers.
In most cases a crime must be reported in order for: 1) the police to launch an investigation, 2) the district attorney to prosecute the crime, and 3) victims to be eligible for victim compensation and assistance. Only about one-half of violent crimes are ever reported to the police. For many victims, coming forward is simply too painful; others are wary of involvement in the criminal justice system; and many have security concerns related to reporting the incident.
While it is true that some perpetrators elude justice through technicalities in the law, a lack of evidence to successfully prosecute, or a number of other reasons, and that many offenders are released from prison with minimal time served for vicious crimes committed, there are at least two major reasons to pursue justice through the court system:
- Doing so is the only way to get violent criminals off the streets and away from other potential victims
- Seeing perpetrators prosecuted and convicted will likely help the victim to achieve a greater sense of justice, and might even help facilitate the healing process
Ultimately, deciding whether and when to report a crime is a personal decision. In general, survivors rarely regret at least trying to find justice through the court system. There are, on the other hand, many who regret not pursuing the apprehension and prosecution of their offender(s).
When calling to report a crime or incident, please be prepared to provide the following types of information:
- Your name (unless you wish to remain anonymous) and the phone number where you can be reached
- Your location
- A brief description of what occurred, including the time and location
- The number of suspects
- Whether and what kind of weapon(s) were involved
- The time and location that the suspect(s) were last seen
- A physical description of the suspect(s)-for example, gender, race, age, height, weight, hair color/length, clothing, facial hair, tattoos/scars, clothing, etc.
- Any other relevant details (e.g. description of a get-away car, any distinct odors, a suspect's accent or dialect, background noises, etc.)
- The location of the incident and/or a place where police can meet you to follow up
Victims may also want to connect with their victim advocate (typically a representative from the local district attorney's office, state attorney's office, or sheriff's office) who can help them learn more about support services in their area.
During the first 24 hours following a violent experience and beyond, it can be extremely difficult for victims to know what to do, where to go, or even how to begin coping with something so overwhelming. As victims return to work or school and resume their lives, they likely will have questions about how they feel and what they are going through. Please visit the Steps to Healing, Finding Support and Just Get Over It? sections of the Witness Justice Web site to learn more about some of the common struggles that survivors face and how victims can begin healing. You may also have questions about the Justice Systems or other questions. If you cannot find the information you need on our Web site, please contact us and we will do our best to provide you with the answers, information, support and/or referrals you need.
This web page was developed as part of National Crime Victims’ Rights Week 2006, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Justice, Office for Victims of Crime.