The Policeman’s (Secret) Notebook:
Your Right To Find Out What A Police Officer Has Written About You In His Notebook
The police notebook/report book is the small pocketbook used by all police officers to maintain details of every incident they attend. The purpose of the book – according to the police – is twofold:
Firstly, to form a written record of all incidents to which the police have been called (including any action taken). Secondly, to refresh an officer’s memory if required to give evidence in court.
If the police have made an entry in their notebook that refers to you – your address, name, vehicle, contact phone number etc. – then you’re entitled to see what they’ve written.
Police notebooks are NOT the personal property of individual officers. When the end of a notebook is reached it is handed back to the force that issued it and stored within an archive. Usually these notebooks are retained for up to 10 years, sometimes indefinitely.
Obtaining a copy of entries in a policeman’s notebook could be vital if you’re thinking of making an official complaint against the police or if you believe that a false account has been entered into one.
It is police policy that all records of occurrences entered into a notebook must be comprehensive, accurate, credible, and made at the time – or as soon as practicable – after the incident occurs. This includes detailed rules on how the police should correct mistakes. For instance here are some of the strict guidelines that officers must abide by when using their notebooks:
No erasures: The police must not erase entries in their report book by any means, including Tippex, rubbing out or scribbling out. If an officer realises that he has written the wrong words then he can cross them out, but only so that the original crossed out words can be read. This correction must then be initialed.
No leaves torn out: Under no circumstances must an officer remove, tear out or alter leaves of any report book. It must remain intact exactly as it was manufactured.
No blank spaces: The police must never write up an account and leave a huge blank space, whereby they can add a little more ‘detail’ later. This includes blank spaces between words, lines or at the end of lines.No overwriting: Overwriting to alter or correct any word, letter or number is forbidden.
No writing between lines: A police officer must never write between lines of writing. There should be only one line of writing on each line of a report book page.
Record all conversation in direct speech: If an officer recounts a conversation then he must write it up as he remembers it being said. He mustn’t ‘censor’ the speech, correct it, put it in his own words or modify it. It’s fair to say that the police do not like to give up their notebooks readily for public scrutiny and will often go to great lengths to hide as much as they can. This usually means placing slips of paper over the sensitive entires before they are photocopied.
In official parlance this is known as redacting.
But don’t panic as this is perfectly lawful and applies to all data that is not the ‘focus’ of the person requesting it. One page of an officer’s notebook may contain personal data about many different people, and by law the police must not reveal that information to anyone else. Remember, under subject access you can only request information that relates to yourself, not others.
However, if you have good cause to believe that the police have unfairly redacted information, then you can make an appeal to have it revealed.