, Newburyport, MA

March 28, 2014

Never hesitate to report suspicious activity

The Amesbury Beat
Officer Tom Hanshaw

---- — One of the more common calls we receive during the course of every shift is a report of “suspicious activity.” Examples would be a strange vehicle in the neighborhood, someone loitering about, an alarm sounding, an odd item left somewhere, breaking glass or even a dog barking at an unusual hour.

I encourage residents to report this type of activity when they believe something doesn’t seem right. It may be human instinct or that “sixth sense,” but reporting suspicious activity could actually stop a crime before it ever happens. Don’t assume someone else will report what you have seen or heard; quite often no one calls about suspicious activity.

Truthfully, unusual things happen in our community on a regular basis and many are not criminal or malicious. Reporting suspicious activity can help police locate and identify a criminal through witness observations.

Although you may not wish to be involved, fear retaliation, overreaction or even you won’t be believed, it’s often a good idea to call. It may turn out the strange car you see contains a pizza delivery person who’s trying to find a home, but it could also be someone who’s looking for home to burglarize.

Don’t worry if your observations turn out to be wrong; it’s always better to have a false alarm than to get a call later reporting a burglary, vandalism or other crime.

Determining how to report the suspicious activity can also cause some confusion. For instance, you may not believe the scenario is a true emergency and hesitate to dial 911. You may not have a business number handy or perhaps wish to remain anonymous. Dispatchers will encourage you to provide your name and number, but it’s not required.

A good rule to follow is: should you feel police are needed right away, dial 911. A call to 911 on a landline phone is quicker as the call is answered by the closest dispatcher. A 911 call on a cellphone will be answered by a regional dispatcher and transferred to the local department.

Your observations of suspicious activity can help police make the community safer too. Try to note how the person looks, what he or she is wearing and the direction they go if they leave before police arrive. Quite often a vehicle is involved, so get the plate number if possible; even a few digits when combined with other features about the car can be useful.

Stay safe, never place yourself in danger when observing and reporting suspicious activity. Avoid confronting a suspicious person as well because you never know who you’re dealing with or what they are capable of doing. Someone who is contemplating a crime and risking the possibility of going to jail may act desperately to avoid being caught.

Finally, after a long and harsh winter, spring is officially here as the Red Sox return to action in a few days seeking to defend their World Series title. Best of luck to the 2014 Red Sox!


Tom Hanshaw is the crime prevention officer for the Amesbury Police Department.