Theft: How to Describe a Suspect

Below are written transcripts of our podcast interview with Officer Ron Reier, the Public Information Officer of the Minneapolis Police Department. To listen to these and other podcasts visit our blog.

Listen Here (Quicktime): Describing a Suspect to the Police

Officer Ron Reier: Give us the best description you possibly can. If somebody, and again, maybe it’s just a suspicious person hanging around your neighborhood or hanging around a car, let us know: is it male, is it female, are they white, are they black, what color, what types of clothing are they wearing, were they wearing a hat, are they wearing glasses, do they have facial hair, you know something that’s descriptive.

I could show you crime reports where 80% of our crime, the suspects are described between 5’8” and 6’. Well, you know what? How do you know what 5’8” and 6’ is from a distance away? But I can tell you right now, if you walked out this door and you walked past that picture hanging on my door, if you’re 2 inches above the top of that picture or 6 inches below the top, I can measure that at a later point and now much more accurately how tall you are. So, and you see that when you walk into a lot of businesses, that they have the heights on the sides of doors. Well, they might say “Well you know I don’t know how tall he was, but I know when he walked by that his head was above the top of the car by about 6 inches…Or when he walked by this bush, he was a little shorter than that bush.” Well we can always measure that.

Weight is something that’s hard. You know you say, “Gee, the person’s 160, 180 pounds, I don’t know. But the person looked stocky, the person looked heavy or they had an extremely thin build,” something like that. But again, male, female, white, black, Asian, you know, they were wearing a black sweater, they had on black shoes or white tennis shoes, you know something like that helps us.

And then one of the things after you give the initial description, regardless of what type of incident you’re involved in, I always recommend to people that they sit back with a legal pad or get on the computer, and start detailing every possible thing you can remember. “Gee, I know it was about 10 o’clock last night. In fact, I heard a bus go by, I heard a train go by, there was an airplane that went overhead. I know it was about 60 degrees, it was a beautiful night, there was a little bit of wind. I thought I heard what sounded like breaking glass. To me, it sounded like it came from the west.” You paint a word picture of what happened and you’ve got it written down so that you can go back, you can add to it or it’ll help refresh your memory in the coming days. Those types of things really help us out with police reports.

Updated: 5/2009