“Which way did they go, which way did they go?” said the sheepdog in the old children’s cartoon. The sheepdog is asking a question that might sound simple, but as a police officer, I know the timely collection of who, what, when, where, why and how can be critical. We collect this information from a variety of sources, but witnesses and victims of crimes are usually the first to provide valuable details of an incident.
Think back to almost any news story and you may remember hearing mention of what a witness reported. A witness or victim can help solve a case and be an integral part of successful prosecution. It could be a simple hit and run accident or the most heinous of crimes, but any accurate details of the event can be important.
I want to give you a few things to think about in case you ever find yourself a witness or victim of something that requires police involvement:
Make mental notes about the suspect or suspects. Start at the head or hair, and work your way down to the shoes. Try to identify anything that stands out as odd, unusual or specific. Try to get those same specifics on vehicles. License plate numbers, even if they are only partial, are helpful.
Officers want to be there to help immediately, but there will likely be at the very least a short delay before officers can arrive. While you are waiting, jot down all of your information. This doesn’t have to be done in a story or statement form. A quick list of whatever you remember while it is fresh is good enough to start.
Daily activities provide opportunities to practice these observation skills. Any passing person allows you the chance to make mental notes about clothing, scars, glasses, or even the way they walk.
Remember, safety is paramount. Never insert yourself into a dangerous situation to collect the details of a crime. If you aren’t able to answer questions because you are hurt or worse, it won’t help anyone.