Suspicious Activity

Written By: Joel Council
It is important to your local Police / Sheriff’s Department that their citizens are alert, vigilant and are able to recognize and report suspicious activity.  It is important we are aware of our surroundings, can identify suspicious activity and crime related events, and report these in an effective manner.  A quick, accurate description of events can make a big difference in both Criminal and Terrorism related investigations.
Over the course of conducting security related functions, what has impressed me the most is the subtlety of crime and its pre-cursors. Criminals work hard to blend into our community. You are not normally going to see a huge event with people screaming, criminals making a hasty getaway, and cops responding lights and sirens. Suspicious activity could be something as subtle as an open car door, or a running pickup truck parked in a fire lane outside a loading gate to a local business. As responsible citizens, we hold an advantage over local law enforcement because we are most familiar with our particular area. We are more likely to recognize something unusual. We are the eyes and ears of the police department.

Many ‘pre-incident’ or suspicious activities are not crimes. While these behaviors may not be illegal, they may well bear scrutiny, to determine if they are illegal.  Merriam - Webster’s Dictionary defines ‘suspicious’ as “causing a feeling that something is wrong, or that someone is behaving wrongly: causing suspicion.” Wikia goes on to define suspicious activity as “Observed behavior reasonably indicative of pre-operational planning related to terrorism or other criminal activity.”

Learning to recognize suspicious activity is a skill that when properly applied will help to safeguard your area. The following list outlines several situations that may be perfectly innocent. However, it is suspicious activity that could also be crime-related.

Suspicious Activity Indicators:
  • Vehicles:
  1. Strange vehicles parked in your area.
  2. Individuals sitting in a parked car for an extended period of time.
  3. Person sleeping inside a vehicle.
  4. Vehicles parked illegally, especially when the driver is inside.
  5. Vehicles stopped in the roadway or positioned at awkward angles, possible traffic accident.
  6. A vehicle with an open door or trunk with no one around.
  7. A vehicle with damage such as a broken window or a punched ignition.
  8. A clean vehicle with dirty or damaged plates.
  •  People:
  1. Homeless people or travelers loitering in your area.
  2. People loitering around your location with no apparent or valid reason.
  3. People hanging out by businesses after hours.
  4. Someone running away particularly if something valuable is being carried, they may be leaving the scene of a crime.
  5. Someone running from a home or business under unusual circumstances.
  6. Someone with strange mental or physical symptoms, they may be injured or under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
  7. Anyone forcibly entering a car or home.
  8. Anybody moving property may be considered suspicious in some circumstances. Perhaps if it is late at night or if the item is not wrapped, it is possible that the article has been stolen.
  9. Somebody going from house to house, such as a sales person. This is particularly suspicious if, once a few homes have been visited, one or more of the people go into a back or side yard. It is even more suspicious if another remains in the front when this occurs. It may be that they are looking for a house to burglarize, or there could be a burglary or home invasion in progress.
  10. People in private communities who do not live there. These communities usually require the presence of a resident or tenant to escort people not living there. Without this escort they could be considered trespassing.
  11. Individuals who don't fit into the surrounding environment because they are wearing improper attire for the location or season.
  12. People “piggybacking” behind people entering a gated or authorized only area.
  13. Someone carrying a weapon in an inappropriate setting.
  14. Individuals drawing pictures or taking notes of an area not normally of interest to tourists, or showing  interest in or photographing security cameras, guard locations, or watching security procedures.
  15. People who may try to have a “cover story” or appear ‘normal’ in their behavior such as portraying a student, shopper or tourist.

  • Activity:
  1. A large number of comings and goings from a particular house, this may not be suspicious, unless it occurs on a daily or very regular basis, especially during late or unusual hours when it could signify vice or drug related activities.
  2. Multiple sightings of the same suspicious person, vehicle, or activity.
  3. Unusual requests for information, particularly about security or procedures for at-risk buildings.
  4. Testing local residents by breaching restricted areas to determine if anyone will react.
  5. Tampering with electrical, water, gas, or sewer systems
  6. Criminals may conduct training, surveillance and "dry runs" prior to an act.
  7. Criminals may conduct surveillance to determine a target's suitability for attack by assessing the capabilities of local residents in discerning potential weaknesses.
  8. Unusual rentals, purchases, deliveries, or thefts, particularly of poisonous or flammable chemicals, explosives, weapons or vehicles (including planes or boats).
  9. Anyone ringing a doorbell or knocking on a door without a reasonable explanation for doing so.
  10. Unusual or extended interest in public utilities, large public gatherings, transportation centers, government buildings and other possible terrorist targets.
  11. Any activity or event you observe that makes you feel uncomfortable. Always obey your intuitive sense that something is suspicious.
With all of the above situations you must use your common sense. In the majority of situations there is a perfectly innocent explanation for what you see. However, if you are not certain, call the Police Department and explain the situation. It is your job to observe and report. It is the job of the police to investigate.
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