Why would police need my birthday?
June 24, 2014 5:04 PM   Subscribe

I just called up the non-emergency police station in a suburb in Long Island to report some keys I found, and upon the police coming by to pick them up, the officer asked me for my name and birthday. I was caught off guard and gave the information to the officer. While I'm sure the information is certainly not difficult to find in other ways, is there any reason I should be concerned?
posted by jangie to Law & Government (9 answers total)
Best answer: My mom and I have the same name. When we were at the same polling precinct, we would distinguish ourselves by birthday. In New York, I'm sure names are not as unique as we'd like to think they are.

(and while yours might be, it's good to make it part of the process, rather than deciding if any given name is unique enough.)
posted by politikitty at 5:08 PM on June 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If it's a common name, your birthday is the best piece of information to distinguish you from other people of that name.

No reason to be concerned, IMO.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 5:10 PM on June 24, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Same thing happened to me recently (and I was calling the police because of credit card theft, so you can imagine how freaked out it made me), but all above are right -- it's an identification method, nothing more.
posted by Etrigan at 5:21 PM on June 24, 2014

Best answer: I also had a similar experience when I returned a wallet in person to the local precinct. I was actually sort of disturbed; felt like they were asking because they didn't trust that I was just returning the wallet I found on the ground. I was reticent later but complied in the moment.

Agree that it's an ID method, but not sure of why they care.
posted by nat at 5:27 PM on June 24, 2014

Best answer: Name & birthdate are used to identify patients at my hospital, too, both when setting appointments in person and when calling in to talk to a doctor/pay a bill/get lab results. Added as another example of how common it is—it's just weirder when it's a cop instead of a nurse.
posted by heyho at 5:32 PM on June 24, 2014

Response by poster: @nat, yeah, that's part of what bothered me too, I didn't want to have any issues later if there was some crime committed around those keys. Ah well. Looks like I can rest easy. Thanks all!
posted by jangie at 5:46 PM on June 24, 2014

Best answer: I'm always asked my birthdate at hospitals, pharmacies, doctor's offices, and basically in any other medical setting. There are only about 40,000 unique birthdays in the last 110 years, 150,000 last names in the US that aren't super-rare, so just that combination alone yields a (nationwide) 1-in-6-billion chance of two people having the same birthdate and last name - not counting twins, of course, who would (hopefully) have different first names.

That, and birthdates don't change and are easier to remember, even for very young or old people, than phone number, address, SSN, or other unique-ish data.

Cops have also been known to ask your age and birthdate twice if they suspect you're lying, and if you screw it up significantly, they can then focus on you for whatever purpose.
posted by WasabiFlux at 6:19 PM on June 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Hi there jangie, I'm a cop in a medium sized Canadian city so while the answer I'll give you might be different in the States, I'm pretty sure it's the same reason(s).

1) I second what everyone else said, that it's simply the easiest extra factor to add to First Name Last Name to make you actually unique.

I'll add to what's been said before by saying that non-unique names are a bigger problem than you'd think.... Especially when you're a cop. While there may be 150,000 last names that are in circulation, in actual fact it's a LOT less than that that one sees on a daily basis as a cop, because you tend to go around one particular city or even part of a city and people tend to live in areas with lots of people of the same background (all the white folk in this subdivision, all the East Indian in this one, etc.) so those 150,000 last names are no where near evenly distributed.

By the same token, first names get used in patterns that tend to focus certain names on certain age groups. Ever been in a classroom and seen that this year there are 5 kids with the same name? Yeah, first names tend to go in and out in fads and.... There may be X thousand ladies named "Gladys" kicking around, but you can bet they are mostly in the same 10 year age range.

2) Secondly it's probably an admin function. In many police databases entering a name REQUIRES a date of birth to ensure unique useful data. If you walked by me on the street and saw me in uniform and handed those keys to me, I'd take your full name and address and date of birth or just put anonymous, because anything in between would generate an automatic system review and I'd have to write a little note later saying the person didn't want to be identified.

3) Some people are in trouble with the law and also want to use our services. In fact, people who have been in trouble with the law are sometimes the FIRST people to call us. I can't say for certain why that is, but my guess is that it's because they think they know what to say to get us to do what they want us to do. (When X called police on me and said Y I got arrested, so if I call the police and say Y....). Long story short you'd be shocked how often people with warrants or other pending issues call or come to police stations. We'd be missing out on a huge amount of arrests and enforcement if we didn't at least run the name when we have the chance.

4) Variation on point 3 - some people hate cops and want us to drive up the driveway so they can shoot at us, or something less extreme but still not fun. You can be 100% sure the officer or their dispatcher checked the history of your address on their computer before they attended, and as others have pointed out, in my jurisdiction we would have got your full name and birth-date right on the phone, before I got anywhere near your door to pick up those found keys. Side note: This also makes my stay shorter, as confirming what you told the dispatcher takes less time and notebook space than getting it all from scratch, and on my computer I can just hit accept on what the dispatcher entered, rather than typing your whole name again.

So in summary, it's for accurate record keeping, to make the computer happy, and for officer safety.
posted by BlueSock at 7:47 PM on June 24, 2014 [19 favorites]

Yep, even at my OB/GYN, there are three other women with my name, so I always give my DOB!
posted by vickyverky at 12:09 PM on June 25, 2014

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