Reporting a Crime
Some victims have valid concerns about reporting a crime, including:
- The possibility of not being believed
- Embarrassment about the details of the crime, especially sexual crimes
- Concern that nothing will be done
- Fear of retaliation (pay-back) by the offender
- Loss of a service provider if he/she is the offender (or loss of their friendship)
- Not being sure if what happened was a crime.
It is important to remember that these concerns are shared by many crime victims. It is difficult for most people to report a crime to law enforcement. Any crime victim or a service provider who is helping a crime victim to report a crime should keep these ideas in mind:
- It is true that crime victims who try to report a crime against them may not be believed. (It is often hard for victims to believe it happened to them, too!) A person trying to report a crime needs to be persistent. If a law enforcement officer does not believe the victim, ask to speak to his or her supervisor and make the report to that person. Don’t give up easily!
- Embarrassment about what happened during the crime is also common. Some people think that if they were victimized, they were foolish or weak or stupid, but that is not true. They were victimized by a person who committed a crime against them. That is not the victim’s fault! The victim may need to be reminded of this more than once.
- If the crime was a sexual assault, it may be a little easier to make the report if the victim can speak to a law enforcement officer of the same gender, or someone familiar with sexual assault who can help the victim to feel a little more comfortable. Ask if there is such an officer available.
- There is no guarantee that if a person reports a crime the law enforcement agency will actually “do anything” with the report. It may be that there is nothing the agency can do (for example, if they do not have enough evidence to find or arrest an offender). However, most law enforcement agencies take crime reports and investigations seriously, even though they may not always remember to let the victim know they are “doing something” on the case. It is also important to report all crimes so that law enforcement will have a more accurate count of the crimes that occurred in the area.
- Fear of retaliation (or payback) is real, especially for victims who are victimized by someone they know. When a crime report is made to a law enforcement agency, it is important to let the officer know that the victim is afraid that the offender will return to hurt him or her again. The victim, the victim’s family and service providers should work closely with the law enforcement agency to determine what kinds of protection can be provided for the victim in these cases.
- If the offender was a service provider, the victim will lose their services. Some service providers may be more easily replaced than others. It may be more difficult if the victim truly cared about the service provider and thought of that person as a “friend.” People who receive services from service providers may need to think in advance of how they would replace those workers in an emergency situation and have a “back-up plan.” Having a back-up plan in advance would help if the service provider had to be replaced for committing a crime.
- If a victim is not sure that what happened was wrong or if it was a crime, contacting a law enforcement agency may be the best way to find out. The law enforcement agency will be able to tell the victim whether a crime was committed or not.
- If the law enforcement officer determines that no crime took place, or for some other reason fails to write up a crime report, the victim or someone who is helping the victim should write down the officer’s name, badge number and details about the conversation. The officer may be absolutely correct. But if the officer is wrong, it will be helpful to have a record of the conversation. The victim (or the victim’s helper) should not give up based on a conversation with one officer. There are a variety of other professionals who can be contacted: another law enforcement officer, a supervisory officer, a victim advocate, etc.
- Offenders who commit crimes against people will not be brought to justice until their crimes are reported to law enforcement. If these crimes are not reported, offenders will be free to continue to re-victimize their victims, and find still more victims.
Steps to Report a Crime
Call 911 in an emergency. An emergency involves danger to a person’s safety or property. Ask for a law enforcement agency. In a city, the 911 operator will usually connect the call to a police department. Outside of a city, the call will usually be connected to a sheriff’s department.
Salinas PD’s non emergency number is 758-7321. Most law enforcement agencies also have a “non-emergency” number. This number is usually listed in the front of the phone book, or the information operator can provide it. Use the non-emergency number only if there is no danger at that time.
If a victim is not sure about whether to call law enforcement, he could ask someone he trusts to help him make the decision and perhaps help make the call.
Another option is to go to the nearest law enforcement agency to report the crime in person. Everyone should know where the nearest law enforcement agency is located. If a victim is not sure about going alone, she could ask someone she trusts to go with her.
A law enforcement officer will ask questions about the victim, the offender, and about what happened. If the victim is upset (see “The Trauma of Victimization”), he may have difficulty recalling details about what happened, or may not be able to clearly describe them. Tell the law enforcement officer that it may take extra time to explain what happened.
The officer will write down the facts on a report form, which will be used in investigating the crime. The victim has a right to have a copy of the report, although it may take a few days to type it up, and there may be a small fee. Once a report has been taken, the officer will begin an investigation, which may involve talking to other witnesses (if any), collecting evidence (proof), and looking for a suspected offender. An investigation may be concluded quickly, or it may take some time.
Many police or sheriff’s departments have a victim assistance program in their agencies. If not, they may work closely with a victim assistance program located in the community. Someone from a victim assistance program can help victims, witnesses and family members to report the crime and can provide support throughout the criminal investigation (while the officers are trying to figure out who committed the crime so they can make an arrest).
The officer may not mention that they have a Victim Assistance Program, so the victim may have to ask if they have one.
Ask the officer for information about crime victim rights. It is important that a crime victim (or a victim advocate) know what the victim rights laws are in that community, including the right to crime victim compensation.