When to Call the Police
Crime Prevention tips from
National Crime Prevention Council
1700 K Street, NW Second Floor
Washington, DC 20006-3817
The Decatur Police Department’s
Crime Prevention Unit
“A Guide to the Suspicious”
No police department can function without the concerned assistance of responsible citizens. They are depending on YOU to call and tell them whenever you observe suspicious persons or actions. Some people fail to call the police simply because they are not aware of what seemingly innocent activities might be suspicious. Others may notice suspicious activity and be hesitant to call for fear of seeming a “nosy neighbor” or a “crank.” Still others take it for granted that someone else has already called.
Call the police immediately about all suspicious activity. . .and do it yourself. Don’t worry about bothering them because this is what the police are for. Don’t worry about being embarrassed if your suspicions prove unfounded. Think instead about what COULD have happened if you had not called.
Information Most Often Needed by Police
- What Happened?
- Anyone Injured?
- Vehicle Tag
- Vehicle Description
- Direction of Travel
- Description of Persons (including clothing and/or how many)
When describing suspects, notice age, race, sex, height, and weight. Compare your own weight and height with the suspects. Pick out some UNIQUE characteristics (scars, nose, jewelry, etc.) that will help you identify the suspect in the future if need be.
What Is Suspicious?
Basically, anything that seems even slightly “out of place” or that is occurring at an unusual time of day could be criminal activity.
Some of the most obvious things to watch for and include are:
- A stranger entering your neighbor’s house when it’s unoccupied.
- A scream heard anywhere might mean a robbery or assault.
- Offers of merchandise at ridiculously low prices could mean stolen property.
- Any removing of accessories, license plates or gasoline from a car should be reported.
- Persons entering or leaving a business place after hours could mean burglars.
- Anyone peering into parked cars may be looking for a car to steal, or for valuables left displayed in the car.
- The sound of breaking glass or loud explosive noises could mean an accident, burglary, or vandalism.
- Persons loitering around schools, parks, secluded areas, or in the neighborhood could be sex offenders.
- Persons loitering around the neighborhood who do not live there could be burglars looking for a target.
Some Not So Obvious Things To Watch For
Not every stranger who comes into your neighborhood is a criminal by any means. There are many perfectly legitimate door-to-door salesmen, repairmen, and servicemen moving around our neighborhood all the time. But criminals DO take advantage of this by taking the guise of legitimate business representatives. After all, if a criminal LOOKED like a criminal, no one would have any trouble spotting him. But, if you see:
- Someone going door to door in your neighborhood, watch for a while. If, after a few houses are visited, one or more of the persons tries a door to see if it is locked or goes into a back or side yard, it could be a burglar. Such action is even more suspicious, if one person remains in the front when this occurs, or if there is a car following, a few houses away. Call the police immediately; do not wait for the person to leave.
- Someone is waiting in front of a house or business if the owners are absent or... if it’s a business... and the business is closed. This might be a lookout for a burglary in progress inside.
- Anyone forcing entrance to or tampering with a residence, business or vehicle.
- A person running, especially if carrying something of value.
- Someone carrying property, if it’s at an unusual hour or in an unusual place, or if the property is not wrapped as if just purchased.
- A person exhibiting unusual mental or physical symptoms may be injured, under the influence of drugs or otherwise needing medical or psychiatric assistance.
- Many people going to and from a certain residence is not suspicious, unless it occurs on a daily or very regular basis, especially during late or unusual hours. It could possibly be the scene of drugs and vice activities or a “fence” operation.
Suspicious Activities Involving Vehicles Watch For:
- Any vehicle moving slowly and without lights or following a course that appears aimless or repetitive in any location, but particularly so in areas of schools, parks, and playgrounds. Occupants may be looking for places to rob or to burglarize, or they could be drug pushers or sex offenders.
- Parked, occupied vehicles that contain one or more persons, if it is an unusual hour. They could be possible lookouts for a burglary in progress, even if the occupants appear to be legitimate.
- Vehicles being loaded with valuables if parked in front of a closed business or unattended residence... even if the vehicle is a legitimate-looking commercial unit. More and more professional thieves are taking the time and trouble to customize their vehicles with special signs in order to move more freely without suspicion.
- Apparent business transactions conducted from a vehicle, especially around schools and parks. If juveniles are involved, it could mean possible drug sales.
- Persons that are being forced into vehicles... especially if they are juveniles or females... may mean a possible kidnapping.
- An abandoned vehicle parked on your block may be a stolen car.
- A “delivery man” with an alleged wrong address or asking if someone else lives there.
Other Unusual Activities
- Continuous “repair” operations at non-business locations could mean stolen property is being stripped, repainted or otherwise altered.
- Open or broken doors or windows at a closed business or residence whose owners are absent could mean a burglary in progress or already completed.
- Unusual noises, such as gunshots, screaming, sounds of combat, abnormally barking dogs... anything suggestive of foul play or danger or illegal activity.
While some, if not all of the suspicious situations described could have innocent explanations, your police department would rather investigate a crime-prone situation than be called when it is too late. YOUR CALL COULD SAVE A LIFE, PREVENT AN INJURY OR STOP A CRIMINAL ACT. Be Alert!