This article discusses how law abiding citizens can give good descriptions of criminal suspects to the police. Especially with recent police budget cutbacks, there are not enough police officers and crime cameras available. The eyes and ears of citizens, however, have the potential to exponentially expand police effectiveness.
Not only crime victims, but also crime witnesses can help the police to catch criminals. Even if the witnesses do not actually see the crime take place, their observations of suspicious looking men and their cars and witnesses' notes of these observations eventually can help the police to solve crimes.
Several examples might illustrate how witnesses can help the police. In example number one, a neighborhood resident sees suspicious behavior. More specifically, after hearing several gunshots, she sees a man run to a vehicle, get in, and speed away. She, however, was able to copy down the license plate number of that car. When the police arrived later to investigate the incident, the license plate number she gave them became a valuable clue for their investigation.
Even if she was unable to get the license plate number, she could have noticed the type of vehicle (auto, truck, van) its color, make, model, condition, and direction of travel. If the witness had called 911, the alerted nearby cops in their patrol car might have seen the vehicle and stopped it.
In example two, the witness sees a criminal mugging a victim. From a safe distance, using her cell phone, the witness calls 911 and gives a description of the criminal, the time and location of the crime, and the direction to which the criminal fled. Examples of her description might include:
- The estimated height, weight, skin and hair color of the criminal.
- The clothing that the criminal was wearing.
- Any other characteristics of the criminal, including age, language accent, or hairstyle.
Witnesses of crimes sometimes do not want to become involved. They may be afraid, for example, of retaliation from criminals. Some cities, such as Baltimore, however, have programs that allow citizens to report crimes anonymously.
Witnesses have much to offer the police. With even a minimal description, the police might recognize a repeat criminal offender. Also the information from a witness, much like a piece of a jigsaw puzzle, can be a critical addition to information the police already have.