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How to Report a Crime

While the law can vary from state to state, victims and witnesses of crime can always report crime by calling 911 or non-emergency police for other crime and safety concerns. If you wish to remain anonymous, you can tell the dispatcher that you do not want to share your personal or contact information, but phone numbers can and may be traced.

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. Coming forward can be painful, and some may be wary of involvement in the criminal justice system or have concerns related to reporting the incident.

While it is true that some perpetrators elude justice through legal loopholes, a lack of evidence to successfully prosecute, or other barriers, there are at least three 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.
  • Reporting a crime will afford a victim support and victim compensation.
  • Seeing perpetrators prosecuted and convicted will likely provide a greater sense of justice for the victim, which can be helpful in the the healing process.

Ultimately, deciding whether and when to report a crime is a personal decision. It’s more likely that a survivor would regret not pursuing justice than trying to find justice through the court system – but it’s a long-term commitment that carries considerable stress with it.

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.

In the immediate aftermath of 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 can sometimes experience struggles and maybe have questions about how they feel and what they are going through. There are many hotlines and other local resources that can be helpful to find support and understanding while working through the healing process.

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