CRIME: THE CAPTAIN'S VIEW
When you see a crime occur

Fellow crime fighters: I seem to get my inspiration for this column from conversations with others, crime trends or literature I am sent or come across regarding crime and crime prevention. This month the topic is how to be a good witness, or what to do when you see a crime occur. This topic really came to a head when I was called to the scene of the homicide at a Marina bar/club on the night the Giants clinched the World Series. The bar was packed with patrons and employees yet nobody saw the suspect who shot the 23-year-old victim multiple times.

I received much of the following detail from the District Attorney’s office. When you do see a crime occur, there are five essential components to being a good witness.

One (the most important and difficult rule), remain calm, as seeing a crime in progress can be a terrifying experience. Try not to panic.

Two, never place yourself in harm’s way. Do not intervene, as you too may become a victim.
Three, call 911 for a crime in progress as soon as it is safe to do so.

Four, be prepared as the dispatcher will ask you very specific questions about the crime and the criminal. That information is then relayed to responding officers so they can look for the suspect while on their way to the location where the crime occurred. So when possible, give a detailed description of the suspect to include the race, age, height, weight, clothing, hair color/type, facial hair, shoes (suspects may discard their clothing but never their shoes), direction of flight, or any other distinguishing detail that the officers can use to single out and locate the suspect. If a car was involved, give the type of car, color, license plate, direction of travel, and number of occupants if possible. Describe exactly what you saw.

And five, stay in the area to participate in the identification process if a suspect is located. This is an important component for use in court later, as frequently a victim cannot, or has difficulty, identifying the suspect(s).

Citizen tips are essential in the fight against crime. A crime against another is a crime against us all, and the criminal justice system relies on the witness in ensuring that perpetrators are arrested, prosecuted and sentenced for their crimes. Citizen witnesses who call in and identify suspects are crucial to criminal investigations, and your testimony gives a potential jury a clear, independent view of what happened.

A few months back I wrote about the importance of video surveillance evidence. This type of evidence acts as a “witness” to a crime and is generally irrefutable in court. The technology is very now affordable, so I would encourage you to utilize it in your home or business.

If you want to receive Captain Mannix’s weekly newsletter, e-mail ann.mannix@sfgov.org. You can also follow Northern Station on Twitter at /northernstation.