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Should Maryland Counties Allow Online Filing of Police Reports?

1280072_keyboard-1.jpgCrime victims in Baltimore County are now able to file police reports online, instead of reporting the crime to an officer in person. Baltimore County police say the online system will have various benefits for victims of minor crimes and for the police department. Crime victims will be able to quickly generate reports for incidents such as theft and destruction of property, which insurance companies typically require before a claim can be filed. The Baltimore County police will also be able to conserve resources by not dispatching officers to minor crime scenes. Other reports that may now be filed online in Baltimore County include hit and run car accidents, lost property, and abandoned motor vehicles.

The online filing system, which was on display for the first time in late February, does not accept reports for violent crimes such as assault and battery, sex crimes, gun crimes, or drug crimes. The online system also has a 30 minute delay; crime victims must wait until 30 minutes after the incident occurred to file a police report online. The delay was put in place to encourage crime victims to use 911 in the case of an emergency, and in the cases where police may still have a chance to apprehend a suspect. Upon initiating an online report, the Baltimore County system requires crime victims to answer a series of questions to determine whether the incident is eligible for online reporting. Certain factors may prohibit an online report from being filed such as if the stolen property is valued at $15,000 or more.

Baltimore County is not the only jurisdiction in Maryland that currently allows the filing of online police reports. Ann Arundel County allows police reports for vandalism, identity theft, trespassing, theft of property up to $5,000, noise violations, loitering, and disorderly conduct to be filed online. Howard County has an online crime reporting system similar to Ann Arundel’s system, but also adds crimes involving animals, and crimes involving solicitation. Baltimore City is currently in the process of discussing a resolution to allow online reporting as well.

Baltimore, Howard, and Ann Arundel counties appear to be setting a trend that other jurisdictions in Maryland are likely to follow. While it is hard to argue that online crime reporting alleviates overburdened police forces, there is the possibility that online reporting will have negative effects as well. One of the advantages of requiring a crime victim to make an in person police report is that face to face contact with an officer acts as a deterrent to making false or inaccurate reports. The Baltimore County online reporting form does contain a disclaimer that misuse will result in prosecution, but it is certainly easier to falsify a report with a few strokes of the keyboard, than it is to lie face to face to police officer. Police officers are also trained in evidence gathering, and for the most part are taught to ask follow up questions in any criminal investigation. Online reporting merely asks basic questions about the incident.

The possible negative effects of online reporting may not be known for at least a couple years, but it is logical to conclude that false reporting in these so called minor criminal cases could rise immediately. The impact on wrongly accused defendants, or on insurance companies could even outweigh the government interest in freeing up resources for their police departments. For now though, it appears that online reporting is here to stay in Baltimore County, and may soon be available in Baltimore City as well.

The Herbst Firm is a Maryland criminal defense firm and that specializes in Baltimore City and Baltimore County criminal defense. If you should need the services of a Maryland Criminal Defense Lawyer please call 410-207-2598 for a free consultation.

References:

Baltimore Co. residents can now report some crimes online, baltimoresun.com, February 25, 2012.

File a Police Report Online, baltimorecountymd.gov.