Suspicious Activity: What to Watch Out for and When to Call the Police


You see someone stalking through an alley at night. You’re not sure why they’re acting so cagey, but you see them eyeing a parked car nearby. They jimmy the door, trying to get in, nervously looking over their shoulder as they try to enter the vehicle. Has this person just lost their keys, or are you witnessing a vehicle theft in progress?

This is a stressful situation for anyone to be in. On the one hand, you don’t want to accuse someone of a serious crime if they’re just trying to get into their car. On the other hand, you also don’t want to stand idly by as a criminal takes someone else’s vehicle. What do you do? How can you tell if someone is actually nefarious, or just minding their own business?

Read the Body Language

Someone who is doing something they aren’t supposed to do will usually be exhibiting some telltale body language. Looking over their shoulder, nervously running their hands through their hair, and moving slowly to avoid detection could all be indicators that someone is doing something they shouldn’t be.

In most cases, body language alone should tell you a lot about a person’s mindset when they’re going about their activities. Sometimes, con artists and especially prolific criminals might look just as relaxed picking a lock as they do when they use a key from their own keyring. However, these situations are few and far between.

When to Call the Authorities

In the case of property crimes, if no one is being injured, it’s okay to call the non-emergency police number to report a crime you’ve witnessed. If you can see the person’s face, try to remember it. If the situation allows, you could even take a photo with your phone to share with the authorities.

Someone stealing a car, while definitely a crime, isn’t necessarily an emergency. Police are unlikely to arrive in time to stop them. Likewise, you should absolutely never try to personally intervene in such a crime: someone desperate enough to steal a car is also desperate enough to hurt you if you try to stop them.

If someone has been hurt, however, you should call the emergency line immediately. When someone’s life is in danger, you should have no hesitation contacting the authorities to get them out as soon as you can. Again, don’t try to intervene: getting involved in a situation that already has a violent criminal is a surefire way for you to get yourself hurt, too. Wait for the police to arrive and let them handle the situation. They’re trained and equipped to deal with criminals.