In the first part of this article, we discussed what happens when you call the police. In this part, I’ll touch on where that information you give out goes, what detectives do, and what outcomes you can expect.
Officers frequently respond on calls that are civil in nature and are not criminal. Confusion on the definition of civil and criminal cases is common, so I’ll clarify. Some examples of civil matters are child custody issues, property disputes in cases of divorce or separation, and landlord/tenant disputes. These problems may be documented in a police report, but the officer will recommend you take the matter to civil court for a resolution. At the conclusion of the on-scene investigation, the officer you speak with will decide whether or not a crime was actually committed.
In cases where a crime has been committed, the officer will do an investigation and then write a report. The police report will have a case number assigned to it. This is the tracking number the police use for the investigation. You will need the case number for follow-up calls and to give to your insurance company. In the case of a traffic accident, the exchange forms will include the case number and other information for your insurance company.
The next decision the officer makes is whether to keep the case active or to close it. A case is left active if there is information that could lead to a suspect being prosecuted. It is closed if there is no suspect information or a suspect arrest has already been made. All police reports taken in my agency are assigned and reviewed by a detective, and the detective’s first priority are the active cases.
Detectives review each active case and prioritize it, keeping in mind the other active cases they are investigating. All the detectives in my agency have several active cases they are working on simultaneously. The detective will investigate your case further and may contact you if he or she needs more information. Questions like “How long will the case take to investigate?” or “When will I hear from a detective?” are hard to answer because there are many variables to take into account with each case. Also, the time an investigation takes will vary by police department and number of active cases at any given time.
The detective assigned to your case will work to uncover enough evidence to identify the person who committed the crime and screen charges against the suspect. I won’t bore you with legal definitions, but there are specific levels of proof required to make an arrest, bind a case over for trial, and ultimately have a defendant convicted of a crime. The detective presents the evidence to the prosecuting attorney in a meeting called a screening. The prosecutor reviews all the evidence and decides if charges will be filed or not. At this point, the detective turns the case over to the prosecutor’s office. The detective will assist the prosecutor if charges are filed, or close the case if the charges are declined.
Outcomes for police investigations can vary, even on closed cases. Closed cases may be reopened if more information becomes available that could lead to a suspect being identified and prosecuted. Active cases may be closed if the suspect cannot be identified or prosecuted. Ultimately, the goal of everyone involved in this process is to find out who committed the crime, have that person go before the court to answer for what they have done, and ultimately gain justice for the victims.
“What can I do to help?” is a question you might have after reading this. Providing the officer who responds to your call with all relevant information including your current address and a daytime phone number will help immensely, especially if the detective needs to contact you later regarding your case. Unfortunately, I’ve had to close cases because the victim would not return my calls or moved. A criminal case is unlikely to be prosecuted if the victim is not willing to testify — with the exception of domestic violence cases. I encourage you to contact the police department detective division with your case number and find out which detective is assigned to your case. The detective will be able to answer any questions you have on your case.
Like we discussed in the first article, calling the police and reporting the crime is the all-important first step. Police departments have protocols in place that outline how a crime is investigated and prosecuted, and the detectives responsible are eager to work with the victims to solve the crimes and achieve justice. By working with the police agency within their protocols, the system will work smoothly and effectively and justice will be served.
Julie Jorgensen is a sergeant with the West Valley City Police Department. She can be reached at [email protected]