How do I report a crime in San Francisco online?

Reset Rating: D+ (6/15 points)

Link: http://sf-police.org/index.aspx?page=778

The only thing worse than having your unattended laptop stolen at a Peet’s coffee shop is then having to go to the SFPD to file a report for that stolen laptop. The San Francisco Police Department now offers this service online...sort of...

However, the difficult and burdensome in-person process is now just a difficult and burdensome process you can complete online.  While points are given for this attempt to embrace the demand for more Web 2.0 tools, this feature misses the mark.

Breaking it down:

Accessibility: 1 out of 3

In terms of access points on the web, users technically can access the page from both the 311 website and the SFPD main page.]

  • On the 311 website, it resides under the “Community” link, not the most intuitive location (coupled with links for marriage, school information, committee database, etc).
  • On the SFPD page, you can link to it from the main page, though the process of linking to it from the main page is misleading at best. The icon is not clickable, and instead you have to select one of small text links: “English,” “Spanish,” etc to get to the reporting process.

The Google Translator feature on these pages improves the accessibility of the information, but the site also features department-translated pages, which appear not to translate all the information from the English pages and detract from that accessibility.

If you do not have Internet access, you can either phone in your report (using 311) or physically go to a station to do so.

Ease of Use: 1.5 out of 3

The fluidity of the process is lacking: the redundancy and presentation of the instructions make the process cumbersome. The additional specificity for types and locations of crimes that can be reported using the online service is a hurdle for ease unto itself.

The reporting form, in the end of the process, is consistent and straightforward.

Design: 2 out of 3

The pages within the SFPD site are visually consistent, although the instructions double back. The reporting form breaks with that visual consistency, but it is a pop-out and is relatively easy to navigate on its own.

The only true design problem is with the “Online Reporting” button on the “Police Report” page. It looks like a button, but it is not a button -- it’s a header for the language hyperlinks below it. It is not easily apparent that these language links are what would lead you to the form.

The Guide: 1 out of 3

Not to beat a dead horse, but really? The instructions could use some revamping/streamlining.

User Feedback: 0.5 out of 3

There is not a direct feedback mechanism for this service: no support email address, phone number, etc. You could call the general line for “Support Services,” which is listed in the directory located under the “Contact Us” section, but that may not necessarily answer whatever question or problem you have.

If some feedback mechanism existed, I might be able to inform them of how unintuitive their link to the reporting process is.

So how does this work? (I recommend a comfortable chair for this endeavor…)

From the San Francisco police department main page, you can click the button labeled “File for…Select your report” at the bottom of the page, and you are shuttled to a page entitled “Police Report.” This page lists out the crimes which can be reported using the online service:

    • Lost property
    • Theft
    • Vandalism/graffiti
    • Vehicle tampering
    • Vehicle burglary
    • Harassing phone calls

If you are lucky enough to have your misfortune fall within the given categories, you can choose one of the tiny listed languages: English, Spanish, French, Chinese, located directly below the large, antiquated-looking, yet colorful “Online reporting” button in the middle of the page. The “Online reporting” button itself is not at all a button, but a disproportionately large header. The “Online reporting system” page opens and proceeds to list these additional conditions:

    • The crime is not in progress;
    • It has not just occurred and you do not know of the suspect’s whereabouts;
    • The suspect does not have a felony warrant out;
    • You do not know who the suspect is nor have a description of them.

If any one of the above is not true, then the site asks you file the report over the phone, not online.

Scrolling down, it is explained that the crime has to happen within the jurisdiction of the San Francisco police department, which means it cannot happen in:

    • BART
    • City College
    • On the freeway
    • Golden Gate Bridge
    • Presidio
    • San Francisco State University
    • UCSF campus
    • USF campus

In case you forgot, the site goes on to clarify again that you cannot file a report online if the crime does not fall within the following categories:

    • Lost property
    • Theft
    • Vandalism/graffiti
    • Vehicle tampering
    • Vehicle burglary
    • Harassing phone calls

You also must have a working email address in order to file online.

Finally, if you’ve made it beyond the stipulated hurdles, you can click a hyperlink for a type of crime committed and in a separate window, proceed to fill out the relevant information for your online report.

After you file your report, an unofficial report will be emailed to you until an approved report is emailed.

Slightly problematic: If you choose one of the department-generated Spanish, French, or Chinese translations featured in the left-hand toolbar of the “Police Report” page, the department-generated translations offer less information than is present on the English page. These departmental translations are likely relics from years ago and lack the updates the English pages feature. Obviously, if you select the Google Translator version of the page, you do receive a translation with all the given information. Dear SFPD, updates need to be made to the department-translated pages, or the pages should be removed.

To come...

These reports are tied to the SFPD CrimeMaps service available on the SFPD website. CrimeMaps, generated by The Omega Group in collaboration with SFPD, is based on official police reports and provide up-to-date information on crimes in localities. SFPD at one point used the less-than-attractive CrimeWatch format, which led to the proliferation of sites like San Francisco Crimespotting, which attempted to create more user-friendly sites, but the current CrimeMaps page is actually quite usable and visually meaningful. See our upcoming review of CrimeMaps soon!

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Phil Ting's picture

Great review

Nice job - filing police reports online is a great idea - but like many things in our city - we still need to do better.  Nice analysis.  Our office is working to do more online.  You can download many forms online but we need to continue to work harder to make sure all our forms are online and can be more user friendly.

Paid for by Phil Ting for Assembly 2012. FPPC ID# 1343137