03/23/2013 02:12 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

LAPD Online Reports: Victims Will Soon Be Able To Details Of Low-Level Crimes

At the Los Angeles Police Academy, new officers are trained in how to write investigative reports.

But one day soon, you'll be able to write your own official LAPD report from your laptop or iPad, then print it out. No experience necessary.

It's part of an initiative the department has been working on for months, which gained steam Thursday when the City Council passed a motion telling the LAPD to introduce online reports.

Before you get too excited about playing detective, there are some ground rules.

The online reports are only for low-level crimes where there's no suspect present and no realistic chance of police gaining any usable evidence at the scene.

Think broken car window or lost purse, not home burglary or assault. And needless to say, violent and serious crimes will be treated the same as always.

Councilman Mitchell Englander, who sponsored the resolution and chairs the council's Public Safety Committee, said the move makes sense in an age when people do almost everything online.

"I mean, you can file your taxes (with) the federal government online now," he said.

And the new system isn't an invitation to write whatever you want or, ahem, share your thoughts with the LAPD.

Online reports will be submitted under penalty of perjury and will be reviewed by officers. If you write something odd, expect a phone call or a visit.

Englander, who is an LAPD reserve officer, said he approached the department about a year ago with the idea. He'd long known about the huge amount of time officers spend writing reports and the time citizens spend waiting for officers to arrive.

He heard the Cal State-Northridge police force uses online report filing, so he checked out the CSUN website and looked into the company it uses, Coplogic Inc., which serves hundreds of other police departments, including those in Pasadena and San Bernardino.

Englander said the LAPD's system, whether it's Coplogic's or another one, should save time for officers and the people they protect. He said online filing will cut down on mistakes that can creep in when handwritten reports from the field are entered into computers later.

It also could encourage people to report more crimes, said Lt. Tom Murrell, the adjutant to the department's chief information officer. Some victims of low-level crimes such as car break-ins don't want to wait for police to arrive or think it's a waste of an officer's time. So they don't report them.

"If it's an easy process, then they will," Murrell said.

And that will give police a better picture of where property crime is happening, allowing them to shift officers around to prevent it or catch offenders.

As it is, officers sometimes don't know about a wave of nonviolent crime in a neighborhood until they show up to take a report on one, then neighbors pipe up: Oh, yeah, that happened to me, too.

Many details of the system are unclear, including the cost and when it will launch, as the LAPD hasn't even put the system out for bids yet. It will be months before that happens, Murrell said.

Money hasn't been budgeted for the system. Englander said the upfront costs should be "minimal" and quickly paid for by the greater efficiency.

"Officers' time is very expensive," he said.

So are police reports: It now costs $23 to get a copy of an LAPD report, and it can take weeks to arrive. With online filing, you'll be able to print one out instantly for free.

There will be safeguards. The reports submitted online will all be reviewed and signed by supervisors, and some will go to detectives. That's just what happens with reports taken in the field by officers now.

If someone submits an online report for a serious crime, supervisors can send officers or detectives out to take a regular report or investigate.

If a report is gibberish, ambiguous or disturbing, police can call the person on the phone or send an officer out to clarify.

As for the likelihood of people writing bizarre or offensive things in a police report, Murrell said, "Oh, you never know. People will say whatever they want to say."

Police want reports to be taken seriously, of course, but Murrell said any "anomalies" will be outweighed by the benefits.

"We have that now, where people play games and just call 911," he said. ___



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