The same unfamiliar car keeps parking in front of your house or you get a weird feeling about the couple who just knocked on your door trying to sell a cleaning product. At what point should your suspicions rise to the level of action? And what specific action should you take?

The answer isn’t always black and white, but if you know when to report suspicious activity – and what specifically to relay to law enforcement – you can help keep your neighborhood safe.

The Definition of Suspicious Activity

Suspicious activity is anything going on that feels uncomfortable or out of place, according to the National Sheriffs’ Association.  It can include any of the following.

  • A stranger hanging out in the street.
  • Windows of a house that are broken or open when the weather dictates otherwise.
  • Someone looking in car windows.
  • The sound of gunshots, screaming, or fighting.
  • A lot of cars coming and going from a house.
  • Strange odors coming from a house.
  • Activity near gas, electrical, or sewer systems without any kind of identification related to a related company.

How to Make the Next Move

Once you’ve determined there is suspicious activity or you see a crime in progress, it’s time to act and call 911. Make the call as soon as you see the peculiar goings-on so law enforcement can act if needed and so the information is still fresh in your mind. Stay composed and explain what you saw, heard, or smelled, and the precise location. Stay on the phone with the dispatcher and be available to answer all their questions.

Other than reporting suspicious activity or a crime you’re witnessing, you should only call 911 for medical emergencies, fire, vehicle accidents, or when someone’s life is in danger.

It’s All in the Details

One of the best ways you can help law enforcement follow your lead is by providing as much detailed information as possible. If there is a stranger lurking in your neighbor’s front yard, describe the person. Approximately how old, how tall, hair color, clothing, tattoos, facial hair, race.

Describe exactly what they’re doing and make note of what time it is. How long has the suspicious activity been taking place? Are the homeowners typically away at work at this time each day?

If there is a vehicle in the neighborhood that you’re leery of, take note of the make and model, color, license plate, bumper stickers, and take careful notes of where the vehicle is and do the same for the driver, if there is one.

Always check with your local law enforcement jurisdiction about different ways to report suspicious activity in your neighborhood. Some agencies have a web page set up for you to report, others have a number you can text. Some even have apps that allow you to relay your information so law enforcement can track it down.

Whatever you do, always remember that once you report the suspicious activity, your job is over. Keep yourself and your neighborhood safe by letting law enforcement do its job.

Written by Michele Dawson

Michele is a former newspaper reporter who specializes in real estate and home improvement. When she’s not writing, she’s trying to keep up with her four active tweens/teens. Learn more

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