Western Carolina University is like any other community when it comes to safety and crime. While it has police officers continuously on duty, these officers cannot be everywhere at once. Additionally, the close proximity of our students to one another, particularly in the residence halls, allows some students the opportunity to detect suspicious or criminal behavior. Therefore, it is extremely important that community members work closely with the police to report and address suspicious or criminal behavior.
Community members are encouraged to report suspicious or criminal activity to the Police Department. While there is sometimes a reluctance to report people to the police, particularly among students, it is important to realize that individuals who commit crimes harm others. In some cases, the harm done to others can be fatal. The United States Secret Service has conducted a study on school shootings. Their findings suggest that:
- before most incidents, other people knew about the attacker’s idea and/or plan to attack;
- most attackers did not threaten their targets directly before advancing the attack;
- most attackers engaged in some behavior before the incident that caused concern or indicated a need for help; and
- in many cases, other students were involved in some capacity.
What is suspicious behavior?
Community members are encouraged to report suspicious behavior. Sometimes, a person
may not know what constitutes suspicious behavior. A general rule of thumb is that
anyone who acts abnormally or anything that is placed in a location that is not usual
should be considered suspicious. Examples of suspicious behavior include:
unusual noises, including screaming, sounds of fighting, glass breaking, or illegal activity;
- people in and/or around buildings or areas and who do not appear to be conducting legitimate business;
- unauthorized people in restricted areas;
- people who follow immediately behind others into card-access areas or buildings while the door is open;
- people driving vehicles slowly and aimlessly around campus or parking lots and, at night, without their lights on;
- people sitting in vehicles for extended periods of time;
- people who change their behavior when they notice that they have been detected;
- people dressed inappropriately for the weather or occasion, i.e., coat on when the temperature is warm; or
- people abandoning parcels or other items in unusual locations (i.e. in the lobby or in the elevator).
What if it turns out that the person has not done anything wrong? Will they still get into trouble?
When police officers receive a report of suspicious behavior, type of behavior or situation dictates how they will respond. In some cases, they respond to an area and immediately confront the person or situation. In other cases, they simply respond to the area and observe or listen. Still, in other cases, they may begin an investigation that can last days or weeks.
Generally, when the officers do confront someone, they ask the person to explain his or her behavior. The officers typically attempt to verify the person’s explanation. If the explanation demonstrates a legitimate basis for the behavior or the reason is otherwise corroborated, the officers provide an explanation of why they confronted the person and then thank the person for his or her cooperation. The officers typically do not reveal the identities of the person who called. In short, if the person has a valid reason for engaging in the observed behavior, the detention of the person is minimal and does not cause any problems or gets the person into trouble.
Remember that it is always better to report a person or situation and have it turn out not to be a crime or hazard then to not report the person or situation and find out later that a crime was committed.
Do I have to give my name when I report a suspicious person or situation?
While it is preferred that a reporting person provide their name and contact number so that the police can call back to verify information, it is not necessary for the caller to provide his or her name and contact information. There are ways to report suspicious persons or situations without the identity of the reporting person being revealed.
How Do I Report Suspicious Behavior or Situations?
There are a number of ways to report suspicious behavior.
Police Emergency Number - 828.227.8911
If you suspect that the suspicious behavior that you detected is actually a crime-in-progress, please call the police emergency number. Information that the police telecommunicator needs include:
- What is the person's last known location and direction of travel?
- What made the person's actions suspicious?
- Did the person say anything? If so, what?
- Did the person appear intoxicated?
- Were any weapons displayed or was there threat of a weapon?
Also, be prepared to give information about the person including:
- Eye and hair color
- Facial hair
If the suspicious person is in a vehicle, please provide the vehicle make, model, color, and license plate number if you can.
Police Non-Emergency Number - 828.227.7301
If the incident does not appear to be a crime-in-progress, you may call the police non-emergency number and report the information. Just as with the crime-in-progress situation, please be prepared to give as much information as possible about the person, vehicle, or situation.
Police TIPS Line - 828.227.TIPS (8477)
The TIPS line is an unmonitored telephone line that allows the caller to leave a recorded message. Since the TIPS line is unmonitored, it should not be used to report crimes-in-progress. When leaving a message, the caller should be prepared to give as much information as possible about the person, vehicle, or situation. The caller does not have leave his or name.
The Silent Witness web site allows a user to send an e-mail message to the Police Department. The message does
not capture the sender’s e-mail address; therefore, the message is submitted anonymously.
When sending a message, the caller should be prepared to give as much information
as possible about the person, vehicle, or situation. It is optional if the sender
wishes to provide his or her name and contact information.