CHP: How to be a Good Witness When a Crime Occurs


The following was provided by CHP

If you witness a crime, or are the victim of a crime, please report it to law enforcement. Remember, the fight against crime begins with the public. The community we serve is the eyes and ears of law enforcement; information provided by victims and witnesses often leads to the arrest of a criminal. It is important to be aware of your location when calling 9-1-1 to report any criminal or suspicious activity. If possible, move to a safe location. Never place your own personal safety or the safety of those around you in jeopardy to get a better view of the subject.

Additionally, it should be noted that we never recommend that you try to apprehend the suspect by yourself. You should defend yourself if you are being threatened and see no other avenue or solution. Protect yourself and loved ones from getting injured.

In an emergency, everything happens quickly. Slow down, remain calm, and try to really look at the suspect and remember his or her appearance. Here are some things to key in on:

  • Compare a suspect to yourself (was the suspect taller or shorter, heavier or thinner, darker or lighter complexion, longer or shorter hair, or hair style?)
  • Unique characteristics (such as tattoos, scars, baldness, facial hair, or glasses)
  • Clothing (casual, sloppy, or form fitting), color (dark, light, or patterned), type of headwear (baseball cap, beanie, ect.)

It’s also extremely important to pay attention to the sequence of events. Think about what just occurred and try to recollect some important facts. Take notice if a weapon was used and the type of weapon used.

The more you remain focused, the more information you should be able to recall when providing a statement later. If there is a pen and paper handy, write down the details of the suspect and incident as soon as possible. It is critical to advise authorities while the information about the crime is fresh in your mind. When describing vehicles, try to recall the make, model, color, and, most important, the license plate number. Also, specific information should be noted like an identifying mark or damage to the vehicle. Bumper stickers or parking permits are also good clues. If possible, snap a picture with a camera phone.

It is also important to remember which direction the vehicle fled, how many occupants may have been in the vehicle, and if a weapon was seen. Only say what you saw during the incident and not what you overheard another witness say (remember people see and hear different things). When you begin repeating other statements, they cannot be clarified for accuracy.

If criminal activity is persistent, keep a log of the times and dates the crime has occurred to help authorities in crime prevention. To provide witness information to the California Highway Patrol that is not an immediate emergency, please call 1-800-TELL-CHP.

Keeping California safe is a shared responsibility and the California Highway Patrol remains focused on working with our community to solve and prevent all types of criminal activity.



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