Are You a Witness to a Crime?

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By Sifu Lawrence Hochobeb

WAS that a crime I just saw? Why was that man running through my neighbour’s yard? Did those two people just exchange something in that car? Where are the police when you need them?

These and many other questions often go through the minds of people everywhere, everyday. If these or any similar questions have gone through YOUR mind, you may have just witnessed a crime. Often, people don’t even realise that they have just witnessed a crime. Sometimes they do. If you think that you have witnessed a crime or are observing some behaviour that appears suspicious or criminal, there’s only one thing to do, call the police!

Even if you only have limited information, you are still encouraged to call.
From talking to people on a daily basis, I have learnt many things. One thing that I have learnt is that people are sometimes hesitant to call the police.

Often, a person doesn’t want to “bother” the police. Or maybe a person isn’t quite sure if what he/she saw constitutes a crime and is embarrassed that when the police arrive, he/she will be ridiculed for calling them over nothing.

First of all, if you call the police you are not “bothering” them. It is their job.

Secondly, citizens must act as the “eyes and ears” of the police. The police can’t be everywhere at once and they often rely on other people to let them know what is happening out there on the streets and in our neighbourhoods.

Have the following information available when you call the police (or as much as possible):

– What happened (specifics, but keep it brief)

– Time of occurrence and location (when and where)

– Is anyone hurt? (Ambulance needed?)

– How many suspects?

Be also prepared to give a full description, which involves the following details:

Suspect

– Gender

– Approximate age

– Race

– Clothing description

– Hair colour and style (including facial hair)

– Eye colour (if possible)

– Tattoos, scars or birthmarks (if tattoo, what type of tattoo?)

– Weapons – gun, knife, stick.

– If the suspect is on foot, where was he/she last seen and what direction was he/she going?

– Name – If you know who the suspect is.
Vehicle

– Make (Ford, Toyota, Volkswagen, etc.)

– Model (Camry, Golf, etc.) If you don’t know what model, is it a 2-door, 4-door, pick-up, SUV?

– Colour of car

– Licence plate number – to determine who owns the car.

– How many occupants?

– Last direction of travel.

Sometimes people are worried about calling the police because they don’t want the criminals to know them. That is completely understandable.

However, you are not obliged to give any of your personal information to the police. You will be asked for this information, but you can tell them that you want to remain anonymous. If you choose to give information, give them your name, phone number and where you reside. If an arrest is made, the investigators will come and talk to you in order to get additional information as needed.

Something to think about: If you are faced with some type of criminal activity, is it better to be a good witness or get involved physically? This is a touchy subject and in the end, is a personal decision. In most cases, it is best to simply be a good witness.

Take into consideration what type of crime it is. Is it a property crime (some type of theft)? Or is it a crime against a person? If it is a property crime such as shoplifting, it probably is not worth the risk of injury. Be wary that there may be multiple suspects and they may have weapons. In any criminal incident, it is impossible to determine how desperate the suspect is. If someone is in immediate physical danger, then you need to make an important decision. You may not have to get involved physically but making noise and bringing attention to the suspect and the criminal act should often be enough to stop the criminal act.

Remember, if you get injured and can’t describe the suspects, then your act of heroism will have been for nothing. If the incident involves violence, best advice is not to intervene unless you are confident you can safely do so. Call the police immediately – police officers are properly equipped and trained to deal with these situations.

Being a good witness isn’t something that comes as naturally as one might think. Just as I have previously said, how you will react during a critical incident depends upon mental preparation and practice and being a good witness does, too.

One needs to begin noticing and being aware of their surroundings, taking into account what they usually see compared to something out of the norm. It doesn’t just happen. It takes some practice. The more you practice these skills, the more calm and safe you will be during an incident and the clearer your recollection of such details will be. The more calm and safe you will be during an incident and the clearer your recall of such details will be.

Your attentiveness and perception are also very important. Attentiveness measures your awareness of the incident and perception is your understanding of what it is you are witnessing.

Every time you see something that just doesn’t look right or when you see someone do something that you know is criminal, take it upon yourself to call the police. Every bit of information that the police gets from you puts them one step closer to catching the bad guys and makes our neighbourhoods safer places to work, live and play.

Sifu Lawrence Hochobeb is the Founder and Chief Instructor of Namibia Wing Chun Kung Fu Academy.

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