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How To Take Down A Criminal With A Single Text


You just saw a crime—luckily it wasn't against you. But you're discombobulated and not sure what to do or where to turn. Read these tips from the cops and learn what to do after the action.

Being Aware is a Way of Life

According to Detective Mike Hamideh of the Salt Lake City Police Department, being a good witness isn't a lucky coincidence —it's a way of life. He recommends taking a leaf out of the detective book (and the home security one) and staying alert and prepared in everyday life. "In law enforcement you're constantly reacting to the actions of a suspect," Hamideh explains, "so the key to effective law enforcement is shortening that reaction time, and being prepared does that." Run scenarios, keep your head up, and know who to call if the need does arise.

How to Give the Cops a Tip They Can Use

When we asked officers this question, two words echoed loud and clear—BE SPECIFIC! "Tips with specific and detailed information allow us to properly follow up and take the appropriate actions," explained Lieutenant Chris Kelly of the Lynn, Massachusetts Police Department. Detective Hamideh backs him up: "A good tip would be 'hey, every Thursday at 3:30 a blonde guy with a gray pickup goes to the corner of Main Street and Elm Road and meets two other men in a blue van.' The more information you can give, the quicker the resolution will be and, ironically, the LESS involved you have to be." Deputy Chief Paul Upton of the Somerville, Massachusetts Police Department also says that non-anonymous tips with corroborating information (like a phone number) are considered more reliable.

How to Submit Crime Tips to the Police

  • Over The Phone: Tip lines are tried-and-true, and ideal when you'd like to get across something complicated. Whoever is on the phone can ask follow-up questions immediately, and as long as you're not endangering yourself or others, you can give active updates if the crime is still in progress. Save your local tip line in your phone so if you need it, it's at your fingertips. You can find it on your police website or, often, posted in high-traffic public places, like government buildings or train stations.
  • Picture Tips Via Text: In situations where you don't want to draw attention to what you're doing, texting is a sneaky alternative to calling. It's also often anonymous, thanks to services like TipSoft—which reroutes your message through a third party vendor, strips off your identifying information, and forwards the tip to your local police. Smartphones offer another perk — picture and video. "People are seeing things and taking a picture, and getting it to us live and quick," Detective Hamideh says, and it's allowing officers to take more efficient action — thanks to a picture tip, a fire marshall was recently able to pinpoint the location of a suspicious package in the LA Airport and "direct his guys precisely where to go."
  • Online: Many departments have online forms you can fill out. This is great if you know you saw something but aren't sure what to say—the form's questions steer you into providing the most helpful information. Plus, as Detective Hamideh points out, "you can start and finish the process on your own time," so it's great if you're afraid of being flustered under pressure.
  • In person: It may seem old-fashioned, but dropping by your local sheriff's office isn't just for cowboys. An in-person conversation takes away the static inevitable in long-distance communication. And if reporting to the precinct makes you nervous, the police understand: "Satellite offices around the city allow citizens to approach officers away from the department in a more relaxed atmosphere," reports Lieutenant Chris Kelly of the Lynn, Massachusetts Police Department.

What NOT To Do

  • DON'T call in a tip if there's an immediate emergency. Call 9-1-1 instead.
  • DON'T assume someone else will call. "We have had examples in the past when investigating officers are canvassing the neighborhood after a B&E and found neighbors that either heard or saw something suspicious but never called the police," says Officer Kelly. "We could have possibly stopped the crime and arrested the suspects if they had called with that information."
  • DON'T figure the police are too busy. They'd rather hear from you, honestly. "We are at our best when we're working with the community," assures Detective Hamideh.
  • DON'T ignore your limitations. "Say you don't get along with your neighbor, so you have some kind of bias against him — take a step back," recommends Detective Hamideh. Just because you want to throw the guy in jail doesn't mean he actually belongs there.
  • DON'T make stuff up. Knowingly filing a false police report is a crime.
  • DON'T be a hero—especially when the professional heroes tell you to back off. "I once had a person who was a victim of minor hit and run damage," remembers Chief Joseph Balog of the Genoa City, Wisconsin Police Department. Even though they already had the suspect's license plate number, "They chased the suspect into another county at high speeds and refused to listen when I advised them to back off. The victim was on a recorded line telling my dispatcher the suspect was going over 90 MPH trying to evade him." "Tip-gathering" like that is more trouble than it's worth.

Where Do My Tips Go?

Although each department has its own protocol, most tips undergo similar journeys. Police staff who monitor tips listen carefully for details and send the reports to the appropriate department. "Tips are vetted for urgency and reliability," explains Chief Upton. "For example, a person who calls to provide a tip that X bank would be robbed today would get higher priority" than a tip about, say, a property theft that happened long ago. Want to find out what became of your tip? In many situations, you can follow up, depending on your state's open records laws.

Police Talk Back

Communication is a two-way street, and modern technology provides more ways for law enforcement to get in touch with you, too. That old wall of thumbtacked "Wanted" posters and community announcements has been supplemented by the much more accessible bulletin board that is Facebook and Twitter. Although most departments recommend you do NOT report crime tips via social media—the accounts often aren't monitored 24/7—"follow" your local branch and you'll always know what to watch out for. Detective Hamideh "ended up getting a homicide suspect close to the border of our state" because a savvy citizen recognized the guy from a Twitter update, and police have chased down social media-sourced leads on New Jersey KMart robbers, a rogue Toyota Camry, and a devious Ohio wallet thief this week alone. You never know—the next time an alert goes out, the savvy tipster who picks it up could be you!

Ever call in a tip yourself? How'd it go? Let us know in the comments!

SimpliSafe blogger extrodaniare Cara Giaimo

Cara Giaimo

A man's home is his castle, as they say, and no matter what kind of castle you have, I'm here to help you fortify it. When I'm not blogging, you can usually find me running, jamming with friends, or making strange types of ice cream.

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