Knowingly filing a false police report is a criminal offence in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, states the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Persons making false police reports may be prosecuted if the police and local prosecutor choose to pursue the matter. Filing a false police report is a misdemeanour in some jurisdictions and a felony in others. The penalty for filing a false police report varies by state.
False police reports waste the investigative resources of police agencies and beyond, subjecting a person making a false report to possible criminal prosecution and punishment. False reports can also result in potentially serious consequences for others. Innocent persons may be subjected to unwarranted police investigations and, even, arrest. Insurers may be defrauded in instances where false property crimes are reported with the intent of receiving payments from insurers for covered losses that never actually occurred.
Specific elements of what constitutes a false police report vary by state, but a comparison of the annotated criminal codes of several states reveals that there are commonalities. Using Indiana Code, Section 35-44-2-2, as a representative example, the offence of making a false report typically includes the act of knowingly giving a false report of the commission of a crime or giving false information in an official criminal investigation. Using the Texas Penal Code, Section 37.08, as another example, additional elements of the offence include that the report was given with the intent to deceive and the false statement is material to a criminal investigation.
In addition to false reports of the commission of a crime or giving false information in official criminal investigations, in many states, including Missouri, Texas and Indiana, giving a false report of a missing child or adult is also considered filing a false police report.
In the majority of the states and the District of Columbia, filing a false police report is classified as a misdemeanour offence. In Arkansas, California, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, New York, Ohio and Wyoming, filing a false police report can be either a misdemeanour or felony, depending on the specific circumstances. The laws of all jurisdictions in the U.S. provide penalties that include incarceration, fines or both for those convicted of filing a false police report. Time of incarceration and fine amounts vary by degree of offence and the specific jurisdiction.
Fear of being prosecuted for filing a false police report should not deter people from reporting suspected child abuse, domestic abuse or elder abuse. In the interest of preventing the abuse of helpless victims, most jurisdictions, including California, exempt reports of those types from the false police report statutes. As long as the report was made in good faith, the reporting person need not fear prosecution, even if the investigation finds the report to be unfounded.
According to the San Francisco Police Department, whether or not a person is prosecuted for the specific offence of filing a false police report under California Penal Code, Section 148.5, certain acts committed while filing a false police report may subject the person to prosecution under other provisions of the California Penal Code, which may come with more severe penalties. As examples, using a false name or the identity of another when making a police report or making a false police report for the purpose of collecting on an insurance claim can result in prosecution for commission of a felony.