Cops spend quite a bit of time writing up reports of all kinds. In fact, the City Council is preparing a bill that would make members of the NYPD file even more reports detailing even minor encounters with civilians.
Currently, the paperwork we have to complete for an arrest or accident is time-consuming and complicated. This is especially true for arrests. While accident reports may be obtained the next day, arrest reports can take a while because officers have to make sure they are filed properly. For this reason, a person may have to wait a few days for such a report to be ready, and then only the complaint number on the report is provided. But once available – either in person or online – it’s important to obtain any information that might help to support a legal claim, be it in defense of an arrest or to establish fault for an accident.
Police officers take care to ensure they are accurate and our supervisors review them as well. Still, errors can make their way into a report and sometimes they do.
2 Types of Mistakes Found in Police Reports
Generally speaking, errors in police reports fall into one of two categories: those that are factual and “facts” that might be disputed. Factual information, such as the day, time, or location of the incident; and incorrect names, addresses, vehicle make/model, or license plate numbers are easier to have corrected. If you are able to provide photographs of damage to the driver’s side of your car, but the police report indicates that the damage was on the passenger’s side, that, too, should be easily remedied.
Disputable facts are essentially opinions that are not likely to be changed in a police report. However, an experienced attorney will know how to challenge these so-called facts in court with contrary evidence, expert testimony, statements made by the parties involved or witnesses, or even through cross-examination of the officer at the scene.
It’s important to note that some information may seem factual, but is really only opinion. For example, if an officer did not actually witness an incident, he or she has to write up the report based on their interpretation of the facts presented by others and what they observe of the aftermath. What if the vehicles in a car accident moved off to a shoulder after the collision? Does the officer really know for certain who or what caused the accident? In fact, the police report will actually reflect this with language such as: “He said…” and “She said…”.
How to Amend a Report
It’s important to note that arrest and accident reports are two distinctly different things. While an accident report might be amended or challenged with the proper evidence, arrest reports really cannot be amended.
Because of the effort that goes into writing them, it’s not surprising that a police officer in New York may initially refuse to amend their accident report. In fact, they are not required to amend a report. However, if you find a factual error once you review it, you should first go to the police precinct and provide any documentation you might have to prove the error should be corrected. Even if you do so, your request might still be refused. Then you will have to file an MV-104 form.
Ideally, you should not complete and submit this document without consulting an attorney. This is especially true if the report pertains to an auto accident involving a potential personal injury case. If you are injured, but not in a car accident, and police are called to the scene to assist, the officer will complete what is known as an aided report. Just like car accident reports, if the aided report contains inaccuracies, it’s best to speak with an attorney before requesting changes.
According to New York State law, this form is not optional. It must be filed within 10 days of any auto accident where:
- a person is killed or injured, or
- property damage to one person (including yourself) exceeds $1,000.
If you fail to do so, the DMV may suspend your driver’s license until your report is received. Fortunately, if you hire an attorney, they can handle the filing on your behalf.
In my experience, arrest reports can only be amended or changed in any way by the New York District Attorney's office. This will be done to reduce the original charge because they feel it won't hold up in court, for example. However, since the individual has not been convicted of any crime(s) yet, they can request their arrest information (pending charges, complaint number) upon release on bond or desk appearance ticket. You will want an attorney to represent you to fight pending charge(s) stemming from an arrest.
Although we try our best to write thorough and accurate reports, we’re not perfect. In one case, Bouet v. City of New York, a pedestrian who was hit by a vehicle sued New York City and the officers who responded because the police report failed to include the owner/driver who struck her while trying to cross the street. As a result, Bouet couldn’t file a lawsuit against the at-fault party and was only able to collect $25,000 (by way of the state's MVAIC benefits). That’s why her attorney filed a lawsuit against the city and cops.
Unfortunately, the court ruled against Bouet, noting that New York’s Vehicle and Traffic Law only requires police departments to report accident information to the Commissioner of Motor Vehicles. This case shows that failure to properly report to the DMV doesn’t give a person the right to sue for failing to record information required by the DMV.
If you’re injured by another, I recommend that you document as much as you can on your own. If something gets missed or inaccurately reported by the police, you or your attorney will have a chance to ask that it be addressed in an amended report. If that request fails, you can at least file an MV-104 form. And if all else fails, you’ll want an attorney who can build a strong case to challenge its contents.