Suspicious Activity, Persons & Vehicles

The following article is the third installment on Community Safety by Travis County Sheriff Outreach Deputy James Kitchens.

Developing Citizen Awareness Through Crime Prevention Programs

Regular meetings of your NEIGHBORHOOD WATCH group should be utilized for programs to develop citizen awareness and proper response to suspected or actual criminal activity.  Speakers from law enforcement as well as from a wide range of community organizations are valuable resources for this training:

  • Recognizing suspicious activity
  • Describing and reporting events, vehicles and persons

Recognizing Suspicious Activity

BE ALERT.  Anything that seems slightly “out of place” or is occurring at an unusual time of day could be criminal activity.  DO NOT ATTEMPT TO APPREHEND A PERSON COMMITTING A CRIME OR INVESTIGATE A SUSPICIOUS ACTIVITY.  Call the sheriff’s department immediately, and do not worry about being embarrassed if your suspicions prove to be unfounded.  Law enforcement officers would rather investigate than be called after it’s too late.

The following incidents MAY indicate possible criminal activity and should be reported:

  • Continuous repair operations at a non-business location (stolen property being altered)
  • Open or broken doors and windows at a closed business or unoccupied residence (burglary or vandalism)
  • Unusual noises, such as gunshots, screaming, or dogs barking continuously (burglary, assault, or rape)
  • Sound of breaking glass (burglary or vandalism)
  • A person exhibiting unusual mental or physical symptoms (person my be injured, under the influence of drugs, or otherwise needing medical attention)

Time and accuracy are critical in reporting crime or suspicious events.  Call 9-1-1 to report life-threatening incidents or a crime in progress, and use the non-emergency number 974-0845, #3, for crimes that have already occurred.  Your call could save a life, prevent an injury, or stop a crime.  The information you provide will be kept confidential.  You do not need to give your name, although this is often helpful.

Suspicious Persons

Obviously, not every stranger who comes into a neighborhood is a criminal.  Legitimate door-to-door sales and repair people appear in residential areas frequently.  Occasionally, however, criminals disguise themselves as these workers; therefore, it is important to be alert to the activities of all nonresidents.  Law enforcement officials should be called to investigate persons in the following circumstances, who may be suspects in the crimes indicated:

  • Going door to door in a residential area, especially if one or more goes to rear of residence or loiters in front of an unoccupied house or closed business (burglary)
  • Forcing entrance or entering an unoccupied house (burglary, theft, or trespassing)
  • Running, especially if carrying something of value or carrying unwrapped property at an unusual hour (fleeing the scene of a crime)
  • Heavy traffic to and from a residence, particularly if it occurs on a daily basis (drug dealing, vice or fence operation)
  • Screaming (rape or assault)
  • Loitering around or peering into cars, especially in parking lots or on streets (car theft)
  • Loitering around schools, parks or secluded areas (sex offender)
  • Offering items for sale at a very low price (trying to sell stolen property)
  • Loitering or driving through a neighborhood several times or appearing as a delivery person with a wrong address (burglary)

Suspicious Vehicles

Vehicles in the following situations MAY be involved in crimes and should be reported to authorities:

  • Slow moving, without lights, following aimless course in any location, including residential streets, schools, and playgrounds (burglar, drug pusher, or sex offender)
  • Parked and occupied, containing one or more persons, especially at an unusual hour (lookouts for a burglary or robbery)
  • Parked by a business or unoccupied residence, being loaded with valuables (burglary or theft)
  • Abandoned in your neighborhood (stolen car)
  • Containing weapons (criminal activity)
  • Someone, especially a female or juvenile, being forced into a vehicle (kidnapping, assault, or attempted rape)
  • Business transactions taking place in it, especially around schools or parks (sale of stolen items or drugs)
  • Persons detaching mechanical parts or accessories from it (theft or vandalism)
  • Objects being thrown from it (disposing of contraband)

Describing and Reporting of Events, Vehicles and Persons

Practicing to develop skill in providing quick, accurate descriptions is an excellent NEIGHBORHOOD WATCH meeting activity.  In attempting to describe events, vehicles, or persons, write down the details of what you have observed while they are still fresh in your mind, so your descriptions to law enforcement officials will be as accurate as possible.

Describing Events

When describing events, write down:

  • What happened
  • When it happened
  • Where it occurred (note the nearest cross street, home address, or landmark in relationship to the event)
  • Whether injuries are involved (Be prepared to report visible or suspected personal injury.  Be as specific as possible – this could save a life!)
  • Whether weapons are involved (this information, whether observed or suspected, is vital to responding officers)

Describing Vehicles

When describing vehicles, write down:

  • Vehicle license number and state, make and type of vehicle, color, and approximate age
  • Special designs or unusual features, such as a vinyl top, mag wheels, body damage, pinstripes, etc.
  • Direction of travel

Describing Persons

In preparing descriptions of persons, it is important to write down the following:

  • Sex
  • Race
  • Age
  • Height (estimated from eye contact level measure against your height)
  • Weight
  • Hair (color and length)
  • Hat
  • Facial hair (beard/mustache)
  • Shirt/tie
  • Coat/jacket
  • Trousers
  • Shoes
  • Any peculiar or distinguishable mannerisms, physical disabilities, disfigurations, scars or tattoos
  • Voice characteristics
  • Direction of movement

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