How to Report a Suspicious Person

A suspicious person can pop up anywhere: at your place of employment, at school, at the park, even around your neighborhood. While not all suspicious persons are up to no good, some activity should be reported to the police immediately, just to be on the safe side. It doesn't mean you have to call 9-1-1 - in fact, there are other ways to report a suspicious person without causing an emergency response. If you are out and about, and you notice a suspicious person acting strangely, read on to learn how you can report the activity so that law enforcement can investigate the matter further:

How to Report a Suspicious Person

Step 1

Recognize Suspicious Behavior

Suspicious behavior can arise in many situations, and can manifest in many ways. There are a few signs that you can learn to recognize in a suspicious person, whether through their looks or through their actions, that can help you determine whether or not the individual needs to be reported to authorities. Familiarize yourself with these activities, so that you can recognize them immediately if they happen in your presence:

  • A person parking their vehicle in an unusual place, like a public park or in front of a school, for an extended period of time. - A person, whether in a vehicle or not, alone and taking pictures or video of people in a public or private place, especially if there are a lot of children in the area. - A person in a vehicle who slows down and seems to be watching others in the area, and/or continues to drive by the area repeatedly. - A person who appears to be paranoid or making strange and sudden movements for no apparent reason (this could also mean the person is mentally ill, and/or that they have escaped the supervision of their guardian). - A person in a parking lot who is moving from car to car, peeking inside or trying to open the doors. - A person in a neighborhood, moving from house to house, peeking inside or attempting to open doors. - A person running (not for sport/exercise/leisure) for seemingly no reason, or as if they are being chased. - A person who is holding or dragging another person or child, who is screaming or appears as if they are trying to get away.

Of course, this is not meant to be exhaustive of all examples; if instinct is telling you that something just isn't right, you should listen to your gut and act accordingly.

Step 2

Asses the Situation

There may be plausible reasons for why the suspicious person is acting the way they are; this is why you need to assess the setting around you before you jump to the conclusion that the activity needs to be reported. For instance, a man with a camera attached to his shoe taking pictures of young girls at a park is activity that should definitely be reported. A man with a digital camera who is clearly taking pictures of his daughter, however, is not. Another example would be an individual carrying a screaming child as he or she kicks and yells to be released; if this was happening on, say, school grounds, it should probably be reported. A child who is clearly throwing a tantrum while being carried away from a playground, however, is probably just upset that they are being taken home. It's important to assess the situation about you before reporting a suspicious person so that you can determine whether or not the situation truly requires the involvement of the proper authorities. Of course, if you are ever in doubt, it is always better to alert authorities to investigate, rather than potentially allowing a suspicious person to harm somebody else.

Step 3

Make Note of the Suspicious Person's Appearance

When you call to report a suspicious individual, you should have some key details ready for the person who takes your car. Of course, first and foremost would be the suspicious situation that you want to report - specific details of what it happening, how long it's been happening for, where it's happening, and why you think it's suspicious would help law enforcement officers respond as best as they can. Additional details that you should take note of include a thorough description of the suspicious person, including the clothing and shoes they are wearing, their hair and skin color (and eyes, if possible), and any distinguishing marks. If there is a vehicle involved, try and get the make, model, and color of the vehicle, along with the license plate number - even a partial license plate number would help authorities track the person down. If the suspicious person has since left the area, give the authorities the details of where and how they left, and if possible, where they may be headed to. Even some of this information can help police find the suspicious person, and put a stop to any criminal activity they may have had planned.

Step 4

Report a Suspicious Person

Once you have determined that a suspicious person needs to be reported, you should decide what level of response the situation needs. For instance, a person who appears to be kidnapping a child would warrant calling 9-1-1, while a person who has been parking in a car for a long length of time may only need to be reported to the police department's non-emergency secretary. Again, when in doubt, always call 9-1-1; just be aware there are other options when a suspicious person needs to be reported, but isn't necessarily causing an emergency situation.

If you find yourself in a non-emergency situation, but feel it should still be reported, you can contact your local police department's non-emergency line. This will put you in touch with someone who is at the police department, rather than a 9-1-1 dispatcher, and the person who answers can assess the situation and respond accordingly. If you do not know your police department's non-emergency number, you can contact 4-1-1 (the information hotline available on every phone) and ask to be transferred to the police department by giving your state and town. If you are reporting activity that isn't in your home town, be sure to give the town where the suspicious person is located.