Arrest Records in Pennsylvania

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Pennsylvania is one of the largest states in the U.S. by population: its 12.8 million residents make it the 5th most populated and 9th most densely populated state in the U.S. Although it is home to some cities with high levels of crime, the state’s 2018 violent crime rate of 3.06 per 1,000 is below the nationwide rate.

McKeesport is the most dangerous city in Pennsylvania: its 2018 violent crime rate was nearly five times higher than the statewide rate. Pennsylvania experiences a relatively low frequency of arrests: in 2018 it had the 12th lowest arrest rate in the United States.

Pennsylvania Arrest and Crime Statistics

  • In 2018, Pennsylvania recorded 345,822 arrests, as reported by 1,375 law enforcement agencies in the state. About 9.6% of these arrests were of minors under the age of 18. 
  • The leading identified cause of arrest in Pennsylvania was drug abuse violations, which accounted for nearly 62K arrests. 
  • Pennsylvania has the 45th ranked rate of registered sex offenders per capita, with 172 offenders per 100K.  

Sources: FBI: 2018 Crime in the United States, National Center for Missing and Exploited Children

What is a public arrest record?

An arrest record is a report produced by a law enforcement entity after the arrest or apprehension of an individual which contains the details of the incident, the individual’s personal information, and occasionally includes additional information about the individual’s criminal record.

An arrest record is often a key document in a criminal case and may play a significant role in an ensuing trial. The arrest record may remain in the public record for a long time regardless of whether the suspect is ultimately convicted of the crime(s) for which they were initially arrested. This means that it can be accessed by the general public.  

What is included in a public arrest record?

  • Description of the incident: An arrest record will include a chronological account of the alleged crime produced by the arresting officer that may utilize information provided by first-hand witnesses and/or victims of the alleged crime. 
  • Date and location of the arrest
  • Physical description: The height, weight, hair color, sex, and race of the arrested person, along with other distinguishing characteristics such as tattoos, scars, or birthmarks. 
  • Personal information: The name, age, date of birth, phone number, address, social security number, and other contact information of the arrested individual, as well as any other names the person may go by. 
  • Photographs
  • Fingerprints
  • Criminal charges filed
  • Classification of the crime: Whether the alleged crime is a felony or a misdemeanor.
  • Bail
  • Court date
  • Police interrogation details

What are the types of charges that may appear on an arrest record?

Generally, charges are classified into three main categories:

  • Infraction – An infraction is a minor violation of the law that is regulated at the state level. Punishment for an infraction is typically a fine or a written warning, rather than a jail or prison sentence. Examples of infractions include minor traffic violations, public nuisance offenses, and littering. 
  • Misdemeanor – A misdemeanor is a crime that is more serious than an infraction, but less severe than a felony, and generally punishable by a term of imprisonment of less than a year, or a term of probation. An individual convicted of a misdemeanor is more likely to serve time in a county or local jail than a federal or state prison. Examples of misdemeanors include driving under the influence, most drug abuse violations, and petty theft.
  • Felony – A felony is the most serious type of crime and generally results in a term of imprisonment of more than one year in a state or federal prison. Having a felony on one’s record may result in limitations of employment and the acquisition of specialty licenses. Examples of felonies include rape, murder, and arson.  

Who can access arrest records?

As in most other states, arrest records (also known as arrest reports) are public records in Pennsylvania and can be accessed by anyone upon request to a law enforcement agency, and may come up during a routine background check. 

Other examples of Pennsylvania public records include:

  • vital records such as birth and death certificates
  • marriage licenses
  • mugshots
  • court records
  • voting records
  • property records 

Where are physical copies of arrest records kept in Pennsylvania?

Arrest records are typically held by the law enforcement agency responsible for the arrest, usually a local police department or county sheriff’s office. They also may be kept in the archive of a state government agency, or circuit court.

The central repository for criminal history records is managed by the Pennsylvania State Police

Why can’t I access an arrest record in Pennsylvania?

There are a number of reasons why you may not be able to access an arrest record. Although the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requires federal agencies to release arrest records and other public records, records that fall under certain exemptions can be withheld from the public.

The FOIA includes nine exemptions that allow agencies to withhold documents, such as arrest records, and not release them to the public. They are:

  1. The information is classified to protect natural security. 
  2. The information focuses on the internal rules and practices of the agency.
  3. Another federal law prohibits the release of the information.
  4. The information includes confidential trade secrets and/or commercial and financial information. 
  5. The information includes privileged, confidential communicative exchanges between two agencies. 
  6. The information could pose a danger to another person’s privacy if released.
  7. The information is reserved for law enforcement purposes in a court case or an investigation or could reveal a confidential source. 
  8. The information includes confidential information about financial institution supervision. 
  9. The information includes geographical information about wells.

Additionally, some state laws limit the availability of arrest records due to the fact that they are perceived as one-sided documents that do not include the arrested person’s account of the incident. 

What is the difference between an arrest record and a criminal record?

Compared to an arrest record, a criminal record is a more thorough document that details an individual’s entire criminal history, including arrest warrants, arrests, third party complaints, convictions, and even dropped cases. 

What is the difference between an arrest record and an arrest warrant?

An arrest warrant is a document issued by a judge or magistrate that grants law enforcement the authority to arrest an individual suspected of a crime or to search and seize the individual’s property, whereas an arrest record is a document of an arrest that is only created after an arrest or apprehension has already occurred.  

In order for a judge or magistrate to issue an arrest warrant, they must conclude that there is probable cause for an arrest. Probable cause must be backed by sworn testimony or an affidavit that provides sufficient information supporting the need for an arrest. An arrest warrant must also specify one individual that should be arrested, rather than a group of individuals or a rough description of a suspect. 

How many Americans have been arrested?

While crime has steadily dropped in the United States over the past several decades, arrests have gone up, particularly for younger age groups. Typically, law enforcement makes around 10 million arrests each year. Here are some key statistics on arrests in the United States:

  • In 2018, around 10.3 million arrests were made nationwide.
  • 73% of arrested persons in 2018 were males.
  • The more recent an American was born, the greater the likelihood that the individual has been arrested at least once. The following is the percentage of Americans in various age groups that have been arrested: 
    • 6.4% of Americans born before 1949
    • 10.7% of Americans born between 1949 and 1958
    • 13.8% of Americans born between 1959 and 1968
    • 18.7% of Americans born between 1969 and 1978
    • 23% of Americans born between 1979-1988

Sources: Federal Bureau of Investigation, RAND Corporation

How to search online for Arrest Records in Pennsylvania

The Pennsylvania State Police provides an online, fee-based criminal records search known as the Pennsylvania Access to Criminal History (PATCH)

PATCH can be used by the general public to perform a name-based criminal history search of any person. The PSP claims that 85% of searches result in instant “No Record” responses. 

Here’s some important information about PATCH:

  • Each online request costs $22 which can be paid with a major debit or credit card.
  • There is no need to create an account to use PATCH. 
  • Organizations that perform repeated searches using PATCH can register to use the service free-of-charge by calling the PATCH help desk at 888-783-7972.
  • In response to a search, users will receive one of three messages: Pending, No Record, or Request Under Review

How can I search for a Pennsylvania arrest record on the internet using a background check service?

Since tracking down physical copies of arrest records can prove challenging, searching for them online is a viable option. There is a wealth of online services that allow you to search and access Pennsylvania arrest records and other public records via numerous government agency databases in exchange for a fee. 

However, despite the fact that users must pay to obtain an arrest record from an online service, it’s nevertheless a convenient means of getting these documents. The offices of government agencies are often marred by inconsistent service and take a long time to process requests to view documents. 

Sometimes it’s worth it to pay a fee to use an online background check service, rather than endure the extended delays typical of government offices.  

What can I do if my arrest record has a mistake?

If your Pennsylvania arrest record or other criminal history document contains inaccurate or incomplete information, there is a process for challenging the record and having it corrected.

1. Mail a request for a hardcopy Form SP4-170, Individual Access and Review to the following address:

Bureau of Records and Identification

1800 Elmerton Avenue

Harrisburg, PA 17110

2. You will receive a challenge form and a complete copy of your criminal record. Complete the form and mail it back to the BRI within 30 days of receiving it.

3. Wait for an official response from the BRI. If the mistake involves false identification on an arrest record, fingerprints must be submitted to correct the mistake. 


 

If you’re worried that someone you know or love has a criminal record and may be hiding it from you, run a quick background check online with ArrestRecords.com. Thanks to public records laws, almost all Pennsylvania arrests, criminal and civil records are available online, as well as comprehensive background checks and secret data. You can even find Pennsylvania marriage records, secret divorce records as well as birth and death records.