Tips for Interacting with Law Enforcement
Whether you are seeking information or trying to provide information, sometimes it is frustrating to interact with government agencies. The following tips are provided to help save you time and make your communication with law enforcement more fruitful:
- Search the online directory of Wisconsin Police Departments.
- Find contact information in the directory of Wisconsin Community Sheriff's Offices.
- If you want to request a record (such as a police report or a law enforcement referral to the prosecutor, etc.), call the department’s non-emergency general number. Most departments have a process that they will explain to you for requesting records. Some departments have special forms for you to fill out. The person in charge of determining what the department can legally release to you is called the “records custodian.” You should direct your requests for records to this person who will let you know why a record is withheld, should your request be denied.
- Knowing the case incident number or case number assigned by the law enforcement agency and the name of the investigator assigned to the case will help you track your case. You may want to use the case number to request documents related to the case or to identify who is assigned to the case if the case is transferred to another investigator. It is also information you can provide if you call to make a report related to the case.
- If you want to speak with someone about information that is being provided to the press by the department, call the general non-emergency number and ask to speak with the public information office or press relations office. Most agencies have protocol to guide procedures and decisions about what information is provided to the press and when it is provided. Knowing what the protocol is may help address your concerns or answer questions you may have about the release of information.
- Some law enforcement agencies have victim liaisons or victim services offices. It may be helpful to talk with staff in such offices so you have someone at the agency who can help you navigate the agency and agency procedures. If the agency you are working with does not have a victim liaison (most do not) you may find that a community victim advocate from a crime victim support agency is able to provide the same service, usually free of charge. Find victim service agencies in your area.
- Law enforcement is trained to approach an investigation with objectivity. That is, they must consider all possibilities in order to do a thorough investigation. This means they may keep some information about the crime private or refuse to share information until after they question or arrest a suspect. Though this can be frustrating, remember that their goal is to protect the case so that the investigation can be successful.
- You are entitled to ask for information about the case. Though it would be good practice, keep in mind that most agencies do not have a policy that requires investigators to call crime victims at regular intervals; most will not contact you unless they need information or have something new to report. Survivors of crime have reported that this gives the impression that their loved one’s case has been forgotten. It is more often just a reflection of the habits and protocol of the agency and/or investigator. You may find it helpful to tell the investigator how often you would like an update or plan to check in at certain intervals. Often, communication can be improved if victims and investigators have a conversation about what is expected and what is possible.