There have been a lot of news stories about people wasting the time of law enforcement officers by reporting silly things as suspicious: things like barbecuing, going for a walk, or waiting for a friend.
This doesn’t mean that you should never report suspicious behavior, though.
The important thing is to know the difference between behavior that is genuinely suspicious and ordinary behavior by people with whom you don’t happen to be familiar.
Somebody’s running … from something.
Running while in running shoes? Not suspicious. Running with the dog? Also not suspicious. Running to catch a bus or towards a school or workplace? Probably understandable.
But when a person is clearly running away from something, that’s concerning. There’s a significant chance that they’ve either committed a crime or nearly been the victim of one. Either way, this is worth taking note of.
Driving aimlessly or without lights.
There are definitely reasons that people might drive slowly and in circles. Out of state plates? That’s most likely somebody’s guest who is struggling to find the right address? They’ve got the windows down and are periodically calling out a name? Jarvis probably jumped the fence again, head over and offer to help look for their lost dog like a good neighbor.
But slowly circling the neighborhood for no apparent reason, especially near a park or school, is definitely suspicious. This is even more true if their headlights are off after dark. Unless there’s a Christmas lights display and everyone is doing it (not uncommon in some neighborhoods), take a note of the car as well as the plate number if visible.
Deliberately turning away to hide their face.
This can be a tricky one, as there are often legitimate reasons that people do this. A bruise resulting from a fight or domestic violence, someone who is crying or was recently crying, even a sunburn or bad makeover can cause someone to not want their face to be seen.
This is particularly true for teenagers, who can be extremely sensitive about their personal appearance. In combination with other suspicious behaviors, though (such as rushing, holding objects that don’t fit with their surroundings, and a generally nervous demeanor), this can be an indication that they were or are about to engage in some kind of illegal activity.
When bombs can be made to look like anything, there’s nothing about any particular container that’s inherently suspicious. Rather, it’s the context in which they’re placed that makes them worthy of concern (or not). For example: a package on a mail room floor: not suspicious! That same package sitting in the middle of a shopping mall food court: suspicious. Luggage in a train compartment with the owner sitting close by: totally normal. Luggage left in one compartment while the passenger leaves to sit in another compartment: definitely suspicious.
This doesn’t mean that every “Hey, can you watch my backpack while I head to the restroom?” incident is an indication of terrorism (it’s probably just a student who has to pee), but keep your surroundings in mind. This makes sense in a local cafe with good internet. It doesn’t make sense at a sporting event, government building, or transportation hub.
Not everything suspicious is an emergency, but reporting still matters.
Sometimes you know that someone’s behavior is concerning, but you don’t want to waste people’s time by calling 911. So what do you do for these in between behaviors that aren’t putting anyone in immediate danger?
This is what Torch is for. This anonymous reporting app walks you through the process of reporting suspicious activity. This can be done in the form of a typed note, a photo, a video, or even a combination. It automatically sends it to the most fitting agency so you don’t have to figure out where to report to or make that judgment call. And it also takes the decision about whether or not something is urgent out of your hands, enabling you to make your report worry-free.
Having the tools to report suspicious behavior safely and effectively puts the power of public safety directly into the hands of the people who benefit from it. Download Torch and help keep your community safe.