Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) Help All Aspects of Law Enforcement

By • on March 25, 2011

“That doesn’t look right.”  The phrase is said or thought by law enforcement officers frequently.  Every officer can relate to situations that leave you wondering what you just saw.  Besides the obscure and ridiculous incident, there are all types of scenarios that don’t quite fit in the category of a standard Incident Report or an Intelligence Report. 

Generally, officers capture this information in an Incident Report or Field Interview Report under the category of “Suspicious Activity” or “Suspicious Person.”  That works to capture this information for others’ use within the agency.  However, in the spirit of information sharing across the LE community, using the newly defined process for Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) is the best fit.

The Nationwide SAR Initiative (NSI) was created to capture suspicious activity on a local or state basis but avails the data for national sharing.  SAR data does not contain reasonable suspicion of criminal activity or criminal predicate but is still more remarkable than regular Dispatch, Field Interview or Incident Reports.  In fact, the data point could have a terrorism link that you may not be aware of.  The officer or citizen that creates a SAR based on their expertise and experience about a situation that they witnessed but they cannot assign a specific criminal activity to it.  Something just doesn’t sit right about what they are seeing.

While on lunch break for the last week Officer Jones has seen a black van sitting outside the Smithville Federal Building.  Every day at 12:15 the van pulls into a 15 minute parking zone in front of the building and the two gentlemen sitting in the van observe the building and appear to be writing.  No loading or unloading occurs during the 10 minutes that the van is parked.  Officer Jones takes note of the license plate and van details.

In this scenario, no crime has occurred.  However, it is odd to Officer Jones that a van will sit outside a federal building and conduct no business inside the building.  Does he have reasonable suspicion of criminal activity?  No.  Is there any reason that this information should be included in an Incident Report?  No.

This is an example of behavioral information that should be put into a SAR and, after appropriate vetting, become available nationally in the shared space.  While the information is of little use to Officer Jones at this time, that van description or license plate might be of large significance to another law enforcement agency or even a terrorism investigation.  Criminal activity, including terrorist planning, is not localized to one jurisdiction or agency.  Therefore, submitting local law enforcement’s SARs to be shared through the SAR shared space makes sense for local, regional and federal law enforcement officials. When you see something that doesn’t look quite right, don’t keep it to yourself, say something. The SAR you file might just be the final piece to a puzzle that saves lives. For more information about SARs and how to participate, visit http://nsi.ncirc.gov.

Libby Stengel is a Principal Consultant for the Memex solutions team at SAS, worldwide provider of intelligence management, data integration, search and analysis solutions (www.memex.com).  Stengel is a former U.S. Army intelligence officer with several deployments to Iraq working all levels of intelligence from debrief, interrogation, analysis to criminal intelligence trainer.  She can be reached at Libby.Stengel@sas.com


  • http://policeledintelligence.com Nick Selby

    This is great information, and actually something I just wrote about yesterday over on policeledintelligence.com in a peice called, “Give Me Your Hunches”. In that I was describing the challenges that agencies have in explaining this issue to the patrol officers, because it’s one of the few times that we’re asking patrol officers to succinctly articulate their hunches. Cops are great at noticing that which is weird, but really bad at articulating WHY it’s weird. This piece, my piece and the link to the Nationwide SAR are great advances in the discussion.

    Nick

  • Stephen Cheney

    Capturing the maximum detailed information at the site of the original incident or event is vital. The human mind can only digest so much, especially in a short time-frame. What is jotted down is certainly not all and as time passes images fade and blur in the memory. Also if notes are made on the spot to capture immediately the detail, the mind cannot be paying full attention to the scene when actually writing and happenings and different angles temporarily presented to view may be missed.

    What an officer, security, police or other needs: is to be able to take a picture which will capture everything visual in an instant, for future reference. Showing cameras to a suspect is not wanted, but many mobile phones have cameras in them and any picture is better than none. A picture could be taken while innocently seeming to only be answering a mobile call, if the observing officer happens to be spotted.

    Of course, under the security restrictions of some sites, officers are not allowed to take pictures and to ensure this no mobile phones with a camera function are allowed. On a case by case basis however, that policy should be reviewed. For instance, what good is an officer not being geared to take pictures if it is possible for a stranger near a site to do so? For instance, on a closed site an officer could be given a mobile phone with camera as a backup to his/her two way radio. It must be signed out and handed in each shift, and when handed in examined for pictures, approved pictures downloaded or wiped. Any transmission of pictures to an outside number could be checked, a given out phone would not have a number known to anyone outside of the security network for unapproved persons to call into.

    Such phones have the added advantage of recording visually any visually significant equipment or property damage with a time/date record tag. Blindly banning camera mobiles for security officers without considering the situation, site and advantages, as well as the obvious disadvantages, could be limiting security enhancement possibilities.

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