Reporting Suspects to Law Enforcement

by Bill Froehlich

from the Column “Bill on Justice” on Scanner Group

Save the Suspect Information Card on this page to your phone to have a quick guide on what information to collect immediately after an incident.

Key Points for Citizens Reporting Suspects:

  • Citizens can learn to accurately report suspects, similarly to how Law Enforcement needs to collect suspect information.

  • Use the “Who, What, Where, When and Howconcept to collect information.

  • “Who” should include as much description as possible about the suspect (e.g. height, build, skin color, age, clothing).

  • Practice collecting information to be proficient when the need presents itself.  Simply collect information in your mind as you pass people in public to practice.

At times, law enforcement officers erroneously assume that the citizens should have better observation skills when reporting crimes in progress. This relates to a lack of accurate descriptions being given to the officers. We in the field can mistakenly assume this, because we have the skill-set and assume the public should have those skills as well.

Competency based education provided to the average citizen on how to do these things is important and makes sense. Competency based education relates to hands on skill setting whether it is physical hands or the mental application of the skill being taught, which is what we are doing here today.

When the citizen makes the report, he or she is asked what they observed, and for a description of the bandit. Basic training in this area provides a segment of observation skills that addresses the “Who, What, Where, When and How” concept.

Today I will discuss the ”Who” aspect of this learning concept. This is the most important element of identifying the bandit and increasing the likelihood he will be apprehended.

  1. Exactly what the bandit is wearing, including shoes.
  2. Skin color.
  3. Approximate height and weight.
  4. Hair color and length.
  5. Clean shaven, beard or mustache, scars or tattoos.
  6. Hat or glasses and the description of them. Does the hat have a logo.
  7. If there is a coat or sweatshirt, what is the underlying garment in case the outer garment is tossed aside to change appearance.
  8. Any other descriptor that sets him apart from another person, such as jewelry.

This may seem like a lot to remember. The word for the day is “Practice”. Practice at home by looking at what a family member is wearing, turning your back and verbally listing the description, starting with the clothing. The more you practice, the longer the list of descriptors will become. Try it while walking down the street and choosing a person close by or across the street. Distance does make a difference, but with practice, becomes easy.

Remember, it could be your description of the bandit who preyed upon another person, or closer to home, you; that gets him caught.