Saint Louis University

An interesting Supreme Court ruling, (Terry v. Ohio, 1968), defined suspicion to the law enforcement community as, information which is sufficient to cause a reasonable law enforcement officer, taking into account his or her training and experience, to reasonably believe that the person to be detained is, was, or is about to be, involved in criminal activity. The officer must be able to articulate more than an "inchoate and unparticularized suspicion or ‘hunch' of criminal activity." (L.Ed.2nd 889, 909)

In short, recognizing suspicious activity comes down to experience, judgment and common sense. Civilians are not held to the same standard as the law enforcement community.

Suspicious behavior can be defined simply as strange behavior. For example, a person walking down the street looking into the windows of parked cars in an area that has been the target of car thefts. The person's behavior is not illegal, but circumstances surrounding the behavior give cause for a normal person to become alert.

A person's conversation may also be suspicious. An example of suspicious conversation: You are about to enter a building that requires you to use an access card. A stranger attempts to walk into the building with you, without swiping. When you advise the person to please swipe, they answer by stating that they lost their card months ago. This conversation should cause a person to become suspicious.

Law enforcement, given enough time and information, have the capabilities to respond to and react to reports of suspicious behavior before the activity evolves into criminal conduct and someone is victimized. Reporting the behavior immediately gives law enforcement the opportunity to investigate the behavior to determine if the suspicious person is, was, or is about to be, involved in criminal activity.

Waiting to report the suspicious person or incident may give the person the time necessary to commit a crime and successfully flee the area.

When reporting the suspicious person or incident it is imperative to provide a description of the incident, the person and their behavior.

When providing a description of the suspicious person, start at their head and work toward their feet, noting anything that is particularly striking, such as tattoos, glasses, unusual hair or clothing.

As soon as safely possible, contact the Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness. You can call 314-977-3000 or text a summery to CRIMES (274637), (text STOP 274637 to cancel). Text HELP to 274637 for HELP. Message and data rates may apply.

Before providing a description, as calmly as possible, give your name; present location and a brief description of what happened; if anyone was injured; and if medical assistance is required. Then, describe the suspect according to:

  • Name (if known)
  • Race
  • Sex
  • Age (Approximate)
  • Height
  • Weight
  • Hair (color and style)
  • Eyes (color)
  • Glasses (frame — wire, round, color, etc.)
  • Beard or mustache
  • Unusual features (a limp, an unusual gait or an unusual speech pattern)
  • Visible marks or scars, tattoos, missing teeth etc.
  • Clothing (visible garments — hat, coat, shirt, trousers, shoes, etc.)
  • Weapon (knife, pistol, shotgun, etc.)
  • Direction/manner of escape (foot or vehicle)
  • Vehicle description (make, model, color license plate)
  • Was something taken?

Although you may not be able to provide every detail about person, your description may lead to an accurate identification of the individual at a later time.

The safety and security of the Saint Louis University community is a shared responsibility. Your vigilance and willingness to work with DPSEP helps ensure that SLU will remain a safe environment to learn, work and visit.