The California Highway Patrol wants to remind you that being a good witness means not placing yourself or others in danger. Dialing for help and reporting a crime can be as heroic as stopping the crime in progress.
The type of crime being committed won’t tell you what type of suspect you are dealing with, so it’s a good idea to never get between a suspect and his/her escape route.
As a witness, the information you provide can lead to the arrest of a criminal or get help there sooner. In an emergency situation, try to remain calm and call 9-1-1 to provide critical information.
Never try to apprehend a suspect by yourself if you can avoid it. Yes, you should defend yourself if you are being threatened and see no other avenue of protection or solution.
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But protect yourself and your loved ones from getting injured by being safe when you can.
In an emergency, everything happens quickly. Take a deep breath and slow down.
Tell us where you are: The CHP can help you, but we first have to know your location. Dispatchers do not know where you are just because you have called in. Always be sure to give your location.
If you are driving on a highway, keep track of the direction you are traveling. Also try to tell the dispatcher the milepost marker, the last exit number or the last street you passed. In a city, give the address or cross streets where the emergency is occurring.
Remember, if we are told your location, we can get to you much more quickly.
Tell us about the suspect: Compare a suspect to yourself. For example, was the suspect taller or shorter, heavier or thinner, darker or lighter complexion, longer or shorter hair? Did the suspect have any unique characteristics such as tattoos, scars, baldness, facial hair or glasses?
What was the suspect wearing? Was the clothing casual, sloppy or form-fitting? What color was the suspect’s shirt and pants? Were they wearing any type of headwear?
Be prepared to describe all these details to the officer who responds to the scene.
Tell us some specifics: Pay attention to the sequence of events. Think about what just occurred and try to recollect some important facts.
Take notice if a weapon was used. If a gun was involved, was it a revolver or semi-automatic? Was the barrel short or long? What color was it? If a knife was used, was it a pocket knife, a switchblade type or a fixed-blade like a kitchen knife?
Tell us about the vehicles: When describing vehicles, try to recall the make, model, color and, most importantly, the license plate number. Take a quick cellphone picture or video of the vehicle’s license plate and/or event.
Also, specific information should be noted, such as an identifying mark or damage to the vehicle. Bumper stickers or parking permits are also good clues. Describe which direction the vehicle fled and how many occupants may have been in the vehicle.
The more you remain focused, the more information you will be able to recall later when providing a statement. If you have a pen and paper handy, write down the details of the suspect and/or incident as soon as possible. It is critical to advise authorities while the information about the crime is fresh in your mind.
Being a good witness also applies to traffic collisions.
While conducting our investigations, the CHP relies on independent witnesses to collisions. Pay attention to the traffic lights, traffic flow, direction of travel of the involved vehicles, and descriptions of the persons involved in the collision and where they were seated in the vehicle. These questions, among others, will be asked of you as a witness to a collision.
Only say what you saw during a crime or an accident, not what you overheard another witness say. Remember that people see and hear things differently. When you begin repeating other statements, they cannot be clarified for accuracy.