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Hendon Publishing

Why People Don't Report Suspicious Behavior

For more than a dozen years, public officials have been encouraging American citizens to report suspicious activity to the local police. Yet, when a targeted mass-shooting or terror-related incident occurs, investigators often discover people who had an awareness of the perpetrator’s intentions or potentially dangerous behavior prior to the attack. Given all of the publicity associated with mass-casualty incidents since 2001, why are people so reluctant to report unusual behavior to the police?     

There appear to be at least seven primary reasons why citizens don’t report suspicious activity until it is too late to prevent an attack. First, some people simply don’t realize that what they have witnessed might be a harbinger of future violence. The behavior captures their attention, registers on their scale of ‘unusual,’ and gets stored in their brains. After pondering whatever it was that they saw or heard, they classify it as benign and unworthy of further attention. Once the incident occurs, however, they readily tell reporters and/or the police and often regret their decision to ignore the matter.

Second, some citizens live in areas of town where ‘bizarre’ behavior may actually be the norm. For them, the behavior would have to reach fairly high levels of ‘unusualness in order for them to make a phone call and report the activity in question. In the third category, we find individuals who simply can’t afford to get involved with the police, no matter what the reason. People involved in illegal behavior, wanted by the police, or who hate the police are not going to call 9-1-1 to report suspicious activity. 

Those in the fourth group are fearful of being labeled a ‘snitch’ by their friends and neighbors. In some cultures, reporting problems to the authorities is simply unacceptable and anyone who elects to do would be quickly ostracized by family, friends, and neighbors. 

The fifth group is populated by individuals who refuse because of fear. Some refuse to report to avoid being targeted by a lawsuit. Others fear retaliation by those engaged in the suspicious behavior, especially when they are reputed gangsters, terrorists, violent criminals, or ‘street people’ who have earned a reputation for being dangerous. Unfortunately, protection offered by local and state police, in return for cooperation, is only temporary. After the case is over, witnesses are on their own unless an individual can earn his/her way into the federal witness protection program where the likelihood of retaliation is rare.

The sixth group of people includes those who refuse to get involved in others’ business or who don’t see any obligation to contribute in any way to public safety. I recall one citizen encountered many years ago who exemplified this type of attitude. “It’s not my responsibility. That’s why we pay you cops the big bucks!” Whatever happened to the concepts of moral obligation (duty) and shared responsibility for the common good? Perhaps the social ‘transformation’ we’ve undergone in recent years has killed off some key values worthy of retention? That thought brings us to the last group of people, which includes those who fear being called ‘politically incorrect’ for reporting suspicious behavior on the part of individuals unlike themselves.

Terrorist and targeting shooters rely upon these non-reporting motivations and may understand them better than most of us involved in counter-terrorism, crime prevention, and homeland security. We can’t effectively motivate people to report unusual activity unless we better understand why they readily ignore appeals to do so. The need to spend more dollars on neuro-psychological research relating to crime, violence, and terrorism has never been more apparent than it has become lately. 


Chief J.T. McBride, M.P.A., C.L.E.E., teaches at Lakeland Community College (Ohio), is the co-author of K-PhD School and Campus Shootings Awareness and is a regular contributor to LAW and ORDER. He may be reached at  

Published in Law and Order, Apr 2016

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Good, There Are Too Many Citizen Cops As It Is

Posted on : Jan 28 at 8:49 AM By Anonymous

Good! Because when sheeple start report law-abiding citizens as acting suspicious because of their fearful nature and "encouragement" from their overlords and the the police then treat them as criminals right off the bat, there is a huge problem.

Watch Proactively as a Witness

Posted on : Sep 22 at 2:20 PM By Anonymous

The peaceful approach will always succeed, it's a seemly perverted annoyance when the motives of two ambiguous contentions collide. The moral interface is the judge of strength in choices, and good character assessment. Reporting the out-of-character suspicions of society makes it a challenge when believing spectators are vulnerable to manipulate fractures of hospitality. Look for particular coincidence that make for a determination of vice. Report all details, and be protected.

Helpful for me as well as to understand other people's behaviour in my environment!

Posted on : Aug 24 at 4:40 PM By Carlos Antoine

Very helpful to understand not only my behaviour but also the behavior of some people around me. Thank you for sharing

Truly appreciate everything you've said

Posted on : Jun 16 at 8:37 PM By Taylor

I'm a student in the mental health field, and I often find myself encouraging people to report more often. Many people feel as if they can't be bothered to report or submit a tip or feel as if their efforts will not make a difference, but speaking up is so much more helpful than remaining silent - and it's helpful for Everybody. It takes every person within the community to keep the community safe, and everyone's role is equally important. Thank you for sharing this article.

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