What Is a Police Blotter?

The Criminal & The Blotter

Communities, borne from like-minded people, establish rules for their citizens. Those who ignore or sidestep in-group expectations may be called “outcasts.” Further, when a society’s rules are ignored or broken, these sidestepping individuals are often given a new designation: “criminals.” Every few seconds, another criminal commits an action that may result in jail time, imprisonment, fines, and the loss of rights. Last year, for example, saw more than 700,000 violent-crime incidents—and nearly a third of victims did not file reports.

Keeping accurate records of the crimes committed within a day is daunting. After each incident, authorities return to their headquarters and write an incident report; the goal is to provide a paper trail of events for possible prosecution later. Initially, officers wrote their incident reports on paper to be added to the incident ledger that day. Officers who wrote these reports did so with quills and inkwells, and the ledgers were nicknamed "blotters"; they were messy and looked similar to the throw-away ink blotters needed to write with a quill and inkwell accurately. 

Today, there is little patience for the "calligraphy" initially practiced by the authorities. However, despite the loss of quills and inkwells, daily crime ledgers are still used—called "police blotters."

police blotter meaning

Police Blotter Definition

A police blotter, to paraphrase from above, is a record of arrests, incidents, and events that have occurred that day. Police blotters are updated as the events unfold, so they are essential for justice and press purposes. They can contain many reports, including the four most common: arrest, incident, crime, or accident.

It’s worth noting, as well, that there are different types of police blotters too; for example, there is the “pink police blotter,” which is typically written without identifying information of the victim. Pink police blotters are reserved for crimes committed against women and children.

What Kind of Incidents are Reported in this Record?

Officers may put any crime or scenario into the blotter, but in many circumstances, information is redacted. Nearly all low-level incidents are reported within 24 hours of the events. However, crimes considered particularly heinous or sensitive may take up to a week to report to the blotter.

The goal of this delay is not to "hide" information from the public but rather to protect those involved with the crime. Certain aspects of a crime may precede the public's right to know, such as when the victim is underage or if they may become revictimized by others. Additionally, authorities may hide locations and tactical information to protect the investigation and victims, including in cases related to DWI vs DUI incidents.

Despite possible redactions, the public can gain a lot of information from reading the local police blotter. Crimes can range from the simplest to the most deadly:

  • Arrests, attempted arrests, or escapes (delayed)
  • Traffic incidents, crashes, or fatalities (delayed)
  • Assault, sexual (delayed), or physical (sometimes called “battery”)
  • Disturbances or suspicious circumstances in the area
  • Homicide (delayed), suicide (delayed), or death
  • Robbery (delayed), burglary (delayed), or theft

Some precincts may choose to reveal the charges that relate to the crime, for example:

  • Arrest for domestic battery/battery to a prisoner
  • Strong-arm robbery with intimidation, without a deadly weapon
  • Arrest for possession of drug paraphernalia and driving an unlicensed vehicle
  • Arrest for assault with a deadly weapon/attempted battery
  • Non-violent robbery with theft of over $500

Are Police Blotters Private or Public Records?

Police blotters are generally public records, but contingencies are attached to them. For example, one way a civilian can use a police blotter is by keeping the relative community up to date on events; however, if the release of the information may hinder the power of authorities—they may choose not to release all the information they hold. Nearly every state has particular rules that are in place to give the authorities an upper hand when publishing their blotters. Additionally, information that may result in victim targeting is sometimes hidden, as with pink police blotters.

Police blotters can be considered a skeleton record of the events that happened to the given officer that day. Thus, because they are limited, police may not be required to maintain them; many precincts now use automated report fillers. These automatic fillers give basic information about the incident and the responding officer. Officers may choose not to update these records unless special circumstances arise. Additionally, they are not considered formal statements, and press access to filled versions is granted under mutual conditions. 

How can a Police Blotter Affect Your Reputation?

Any interaction with the authorities may result in your name being put into the blotter. Police records are updated routinely, but the blotter does not update things like dropped charges, reductions in charges, or convictions. On the one hand, a lack of continuous information like convictions can be helpful to the criminal; however, this lack of updating information can spell disaster for the innocently accused.

If wrongly or mistakenly arrested, your name will go into the police blotter; unless found innocent of charges and expunged, the charges will stay connected to your name. Employers, landlords, and the general public may see these charges attached to you, not the investigation results. Another problem to worry about is the crimes or charges placed on you decades ago. Even in cases of complete innocence, unless the charges are expunged, they will remain accessible to the public.

Expungement of a criminal record is an undertaking best undergone with judicial guidance. It requires specific elements and timetables that are easier to follow and complete with professional assistance. Expungement depends not only on the crime but on the state and the outcomes of a trial and sentencing.

Keep Your Name Out of Police Records and Blotters

If your name goes into authority records, it will affect more than just your free time. Avoiding criminal behavior is the best way to avoid a deadly tailspin for your reputation and prospects. All reporting done by the authorities has a chance of falling into the public eye, even if the crimes happened decades ago.