Crime happens every day, but the majority of it is not reported to the police. Per the Bureau of Justice Statistics, only 45 percent of violent crime victims report those incidents to the police. For property numbers, the figure is even lower: just 36 percent of people who fell victim to a property crime decide to report it. That suggests there’s a real disconnect between law enforcement and members of the public. It’s fair to wonder what good it does to even file a police report in some cases. At best, it can be a bureaucratic hassle. In other cases, talking to the police about what happened to you can be downright traumatic. Here are three points that should shed light on the actual purpose of police reports.
Reports Start a Valuable Paper Trail
When you file a police report, you’re either starting or continuing a paper trail. That paper trail can pay off down the road, even if the crime isn’t necessarily solved.
Reporting a stolen lawn mower might feel silly in the moment. But it could prove valuable down the line when police start searching for a neighborhood lawn mower bandit. When you file a police report, you’re either starting or continuing a paper trail. That paper trail can pay off down the road, even if the crime isn’t necessarily solved.
Let’s say a guy on the bus keeps yelling sexually explicit things at you. One day, he even grabs your butt. That may not feel like a reportable offense. If you’re a woman, you may think that you should just shut up and get over it, because it’s not that bad. But that qualifies as assault or battery in most jurisdictions, and it’s worth making a report in case that guy’s behavior escalates later.
Police records are not just used to try and convict people of a crime. They can also be used as evidence in other matters. Years later, someone who is thinking of hiring that guy might look up his police records and see that multiple women have reported he either harassed or assaulted them. Or maybe a woman he dates will run a background check on him and be able to get out of the relationship before moving in with this guy. A report can be useful information even without a conviction.
They Can Make You Feel Less Helpless
Being a victim of a crime can mess with you in a lot of ways. It can make you feel less safe. If someone mugs you on the way home one day, you may start thinking about all the other potential dangers that lurk around the corner. That’s a recipe for things like anxiety and PTSD.
Now, filing a police report isn’t going to make all those feelings go away. But it can give you a sense of empowerment back. It can remind you that you’re tougher than you think, for one. You’re not helpless, even though bad things can and do happen to people like you.
When you make a police report, you’re telling your story. And telling your story has value no matter what. It helps you process what happened to you.
To Solve a Crime
This may seem obvious, but many police reports do end up in an arrest and conviction. The crime clearance rates can seem low, especially for crimes like sexual assault. If someone raped or sexually assaulted you, you may be afraid that no one will believe you. Organizations like RAINN can help you decide whether or not to make a report. But it’s still your choice, and no one else can make it for you.
Society may benefit from your police report. That doesn’t mean that you alone should feel responsible for catching a serial thief or serial rapist or any other kind of criminal. But police can’t solve crimes if they don’t know about them first. There are some things you can’t control once you file a police report, but filing such a report is still your best chance at getting justice someday.