Knowing their duty to report suspicious behavior, good citizens want to do the right thing and notify authorities; however, when it comes to the question of whether to report something to the police or not, there are a multitude of issues that go through their minds. As a result there are many citizens who do not take that extra step of calling police because of their ambivalence.
Suspicion is sometimes based on factors that do not cast a good light on the complainant himself. For example, in a neighborhood of very plush homes and expensive cars, if a person drives down a street several times over a period of days in an old noisy car that does not fit the norm of the neighborhood, and does not appear to be stopping at a particular home, many citizens from the neighborhood may watch the activity for days without reporting it because they are guarding their own reputations against accusations of prejudice. This is completely understandable in today’s enlightened culture with regard to negative profiling of people on the basis of class, race, religion, and other factors.
The problem is that sometimes activity really is suspicious, and a complainant’s prejudice has nothing to do with it. A car passing down the same streets in a neighborhood for several days without stopping at a particular home, regardless of the condition of the automobile, is suspicious. However, it may go unnoticed if it matches the quality and conditions of the cars owned by residents in the neighborhood. Only if it catches attention will it raise the eyebrows of many people.
It is hard to distinguish between one’s suspicion and his prejudice. Police officers have to face this at all times, guarding against racial profiling, for instance, and judging by a suspect’s behaviors and the surrounding environmental and economic characteristics. The line of differentiation between prejudice and suspicion is something for which a police officer receives extensive training. Public citizens however do not.
Many citizens refuse to act because they do not want to put themselves in the judgment seat, and yet, crime prevention is highly dependent on the critical judgments of citizens. Law enforcement relies on citizens, their information, their eyewitness accounts, and what they deem as unusual behavior.
On the Dallas Police Department’s website there is an excellent list called, “Possible Indicators of “Suspicious and Terrorist Activities.” Here is an abbreviated version of the list:
Unusual requests for information, particularly about security or procedures May carry and use large amounts of cash Multiple sightings of the same suspicious person, vehicle, or activity Individuals sitting in a parked car for an extended period of time Individuals who do not fit into the surrounding environment because they are wearing improper attire for the location or season Individuals drawing pictures, taking photos, or taking notes of an area that normally does not attract tourists Testing security by breaching restricted areas to determine response
In the interest of a person’s own safety and that of his community, suspicious activity is something that is often instinctive and subjective. Police departments are trained to determine the degree of threat a suspicious behavior poses. Citizens should remain alert to behaviors that threaten their safety and property and not be hesitant to call it as they see it. Prevention requires attention!
See Crime Prevention 101 for more information.