How to be a Good Witness – Part One

 After reading a comment left by Molly on the ‘Theft from Auto’ post, I found it discouraging to hear her building management would not install cameras in the building or underground parking lot, even after repeated break-ins and vehicle thefts.  Security systems are a proven deterrent.  Even if a crime does take place, the cameras provide the police with invaluable information such as a suspect description and any possible suspect vehicle involved.  However, these security systems can be expensive, and are not an option for some buildings.

In the absence of cameras, police depend on witnesses to identify suspects.  I’ll go over some things that you can do to aid the police when witnessing a crime, but first, I must stress this:

If witnessing a crime, do not get involved.  Do not place yourself at risk to apprehend a suspect, as suspects will often become very hostile, aggressive and combative in an effort to escape.  Too many people have been injured trying to stop a thief, and some have been killed.  Your life, health and safety are worth far more than any piece of property.

So now you ask, “What am I suppose to do if I see someone committing a crime?”  My answer is for you to be the best witness possible.  By following some of the these suggestions, you can increase the likelihood that a suspect will get apprehended by the police:

  • Be quiet – you do not want the suspect to know you have seen him
  • Make sure you have an ‘out’– always make sure you can get away.  If your safety is at all compromised, then back away and leave.  Your safety comes first. 
  • Call 911 – report to the call taker exactly what it is you are witnessing – still call 911 even if you have had to back away for safety purposes
  • Give your location – we cannot help you if we do not know where you are
  • Suspect description – give as detailed a description of the suspect as possible
  • Suspect vehicle – take a look around for a get away car
  • Additional suspects – take a look around for accomplices
  • Weapons/tools – look for any weapons involved, or tools the suspect may be using.  Tools can become weapons, so remember what I said about ensuring your own safety
  • Direction of travel – if the suspect leaves before police arrive, be able to tell the call taker which direction the suspect went in
  • Mode of travel – did the suspect leave on foot?  On a bike?  In a car?
  • Stay on the phone until police arrive – you may be able to give some last minute details

Ideally, if you happen to witness a crime, you will already be somewhere safe, like in a building.  Several of our calls for service are from witnesses inside their own homes, watching a suspect break into a car parked on the street.  These calls, and any call where someone is watching it ‘live’, are considered ‘in progress’ and will get a quick response from police.

Tomorrow, I’ll give you some tips to help you with giving suspect descriptions. 

Until then, stay warm, and have fun in the snow!


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