Witness a crime? Here’s how you should respond

The Durango Police Department relies heavily on the community to report suspicious activity, crimes in progress or crimes that have just occurred.

There are many times when residents observe what they feel is suspicious activity and fail to report it to the police department because they don’t want to bother the police or feel they may be embarrassed if the activity turns out to be “nothing.” Nothing could be further from the truth. The Durango Police Department wants to encourage residents to actively participate in helping keep their neighborhood safe. Call at the first sign of suspicious activity and be a good witness.

What makes a good witness?

Most importantly, being a good witness means not placing yourself or others in danger. Remain cool and calm so you can call the police and provide critical information.

Some people’s instincts are to scare suspicious activity away, chase after suspicious persons or contact persons after seeing a crime occur. If the crime involves property, always ask yourself, “Should I risk my safety and well-being for a property crime?” The answer is always “no.”

Although you may not see a weapon, remember that handguns and other weapons are easily concealed. Your safety always is the most important consideration. It’s better not to confront or get involved in a conflict with anyone; rather, be an excellent witness and call police.

Being a good witness also means being observant and providing as much good information as you can. Notice things that might be out of place or context. Grab a pen and paper and jot down your observations while they are fresh in your mind. What was the person wearing? Was it appropriate for the weather? What color? Were they wearing a hat?

Write down a description of the vehicle and license plate number, if possible. Any unique characteristics are good to include – such as a ski rack on the car or a person carrying a backpack. The more detailed the description the better.

Of course, if you see a crime in progress, call 911. If possible, and without endangering yourself, continue to monitor any activity you can safely observe. A police dispatcher will answer 911 and ask a series of questions relating to the activity you’re witnessing. Make sure you are familiar with your area. Being able to quickly articulate your location will assist the officers in their response.

Be clear about the activity and what makes it suspicious to you. Why is this out of place in your neighborhood?

Always listen to the police dispatcher for directions and guidance. While some of the dispatcher’s questions may not seem pertinent, dispatchers are trained to know exactly what information the officers need to know to respond quickly and safely. This means that a dispatcher may need to interrupt you while you’re relaying information. It’s important that during emergencies, your answers are direct and brief.

Remember that your safety comes first. Don’t ever be afraid to call the police department. Keeping an eye on your neighborhood or business is everyone’s job. With your help, we can keep Durango a safe place to live.

Lt. Ray Shupe is assistant operations division commander with the Durango Police Department.