Reporting Suspicious Behavior

We can't stress enough the importance of reporting suspicious behavior.  Sometimes, people are reluctant to call 911 about behavior that they feel is suspicious because they believe their call will be a burden or unnecessarily tie up police resources. In fact, reporting suspicious activity immediately can help police prevent or interrupt crime.

What is suspicious behavior?

  • If it's suspicious to you, it's worth reporting it to 911.  Examples include:
  • Unusual noises, including screaming, sounds of fighting, breaking glass
  • People in or around buildings or areas who do not appear to be conducting legitimate business
  • Unauthorized people in restricted areas
  • Vehicles driving slowly and aimlessly through neighborhoods, around schools or parking lots
  • People peering into parked vehicles that are not their own
  • People who change their behavior when they notice they have been seen
  • People dressed inappropriately for the weather or occasion, (i.e., heavy coat in warm weather)
  • Abandoned parcels or other items in unusual locations (i.e. in a lobby or elevator)

When to report suspicious behavior?

  • We urge you to call 911 when:
  • You believe someone is in physical danger
  • You believe a specific crime is happening
  • You believe something is suspicious

What makes it suspicious?  Be able to explain to the 911 call taker why the behavior you are seeing/hearing is suspicious. What gives you the feeling that a crime is in progress or about to occur? Don't doubt your instincts. Call 911 and let our call takers evaluate and respond to the information you provide.

What to think about when you call

  • Where are you? Take a quick look around to make sure you know where you are.
  • What just happened? Think about what you are trying to report and be ready to say, "I'm reporting a (crime, emergency or suspicious activity)."
  • What information do I need to tell the call taker? Take a second to think about the people or vehicles you may need to describe

Making the call

  • You dial 911, the call taker answers, "911, what is your emergency/what are you reporting?"
  • You respond, "I'm reporting a (crime or emergency)." '

From this point on, let the call taker control the call and ask questions. The 911 call takers have a system and format they follow in order to get the most accurate information from you to send to the dispatchers.  Allow them to follow their format and the call will go much quicker.  If a question is asked for which you do not have an answer, it's okay to say, "I don't know." Call takers may ask you if you wish to have contact with an officer. Saying "yes" can be a great help to investigating officers, enabling them to briefly call you or contact you in person to gain or confirm valuable details about a possible suspect in a crime.     Please stay on the line with call takers until they tell you they have what they need and say it's okay to hang up.

Above all, stay calm .Callers often give incorrect information because they are stressed about the situation.  Take a deep breath and look around.  This will settle your mind, allow you to take in your surroundings, and allow you to assess any dangers related - or unrelated - to the situation.

What the 911 call taker needs to know

The 911 call taker is focused on what you are reporting at that moment.  Information the call taker may ask for includes:

  • What is happening?
  • Where is it happening?
  • Where are you in relation to what's happening?
  • What made the person's actions suspicious?
  • What did the person(s)/vehicle look like?
  • Did the person say anything?  If so, what?
  • Were any weapons displayed or was there threat of a weapon?
  • What was the person's last known location and direction of travel?

Describing people

When giving a description of a person to the call taker, first describe things they can't easily change:

  • Race/skin tone, gender, age, hair, scars, marks, tattoos (i.e. White male, 30's, brown hair, heart tattoo on left bicep) Then describe their clothing from top to bottom and inside to outside:
  • Blue hat, white t-shirt, black jacket, blue pants, white socks, grey tennis shoes Describe characteristics that make the person stand out:
  • Walks with a limp, missing teeth, sweating profusely Give the person's last known location and direction of travel; where are they/which way did they go?
  • Was heading north on 23rdAvenue South from South Walker Street

Describing vehicles

If you are reporting a suspicious vehicle - or a suspicious person in a vehicle - please provide as much information about the vehicle as you can.  Consider the acronym CYMMBALS"

  • Color- If you don't know, give shade (Light colored - Dark colored)
  • Year-If you don't know, a rough guess works (newer - 80's model - late 80's)
  • Make-If you aren't sure, you can say "It looked like a ... (Pontiac, Hyundai, etc.)."
  • Model-(Grand Am, Sonata) if you don't know, you can skip it.
  • Body - 2 door (Coupe), 4 door (Sedan), Hatch back, Wagon, Van.
  • Accessories - Roof Rack, Tinted Windows, Fancy Rims etc...
  • License number - if you can write it down or memorize it great.  If not, relay as much as you can.
  • State- If the license plate is from out-of-state, please say so.
  • Describe anything that makes the car stand out, such as any damage and the damage location, stickers, antennae balls, etc... and last known location and direction of travel.


Sue Rahr, Interim Chief of Police
Address: 610 5th Avenue, Seattle, WA, 98104-1900
Mailing Address: PO Box 34986, Seattle, WA, 98124-4986
Phone: (206) 625-5011
Contact Us

Newsletter Updates


Sign up for the latest updates from Police

The Seattle Police Department (SPD) prevents crime, enforces laws, and supports quality public safety by delivering respectful, professional, and dependable police services. SPD operates within a framework that divides the city into five geographical areas called "precincts".