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Reporting and Providing Information about Crimes and Suspicious Activities

Reporting crimes and providing information about crimes in a timely manner are responsibilities of individuals. For reporting purposes, crimes are considered as either emergencies or non-emergencies. Emergencies should be reported by calling 911. These include crimes that are in progress or about to happen, and ones that have resulted in serious personal injury, property damage, or property loss. Other criminal and suspicious activities are considered as non-emergencies and should be reported to the SDPD or other agencies on other phone numbers listed below.

Persons witnessing and calling to report crimes are routinely asked for their names, addresses, and phone numbers. This is done so that they can be contacted later if necessary during the investigation of the crime. Witnesses desiring to remain anonymous should request that the officers responding to the call not contact them. Even if contacted later by a detective, the identity of the caller will not be revealed to anyone involved in the crime. In this sense, reports of crimes are treated as confidential and the identity of the caller is protected. However, if the case goes to trial, the report could be released to the prosecuting agency and under the rules of discovery, to the defense. It could also be subpoenaed in a civil trial. And you may be called to testify in court.

The ability of the police to locate and arrest criminals often depends on the thoroughness and accuracy of the report you submit. The following information checklist should be used for reporting both emergency and non-emergency crimes:

  • Type of crime
  • Location: exact street address and nearest cross street
  • Time of occurrence
  • Weapons used
  • Number of persons injured and types of injuries
  • Vehicle information: type, license number, color, year, make, model, unusual characteristics (e.g., dents, bumper stickers), number of persons, etc.
  • Suspect information: race, gender, age, height, weight, hair color, hair length and style, eye color, facial hair, clothing type and color, other characteristics (e.g., tattoos, missing teeth, scars, glasses), direction of flight, etc.

For some non-emergency crimes that occurred in the City of San Diego you can now file a report on the SDPD’s Citizens’ Online Reporting System. These crimes are: harassing communications, lost property, theft, theft from vehicle, vandalism, vandalism of a vehicle, and vehicle tampering. The procedure for this is described below.


Emergencies include crimes that are in progress or about to happen, and ones that have resulted in serious personal injury, property damage, or property loss. They also include situations in which the suspect may still be at the scene and some suspicious activities. By calling 911 you will be linked to the appropriate police as well as fire fighting, medical, and ambulance services. You don't need money to call 911 from a pay phone.

When reporting an emergency be prepared to give an accurate description of what your emergency is and your location, especially if you are calling from a mobile cellular phone. The dispatcher has no way of knowing where you are if you are using a cellular phone unless you have an E911-ready phone that provides location information based on a Global Positioning System (GPS). But even then the response will be faster if you provide your location. (People with cell phones need to check with their vendor to determine if their phones are E911 ready. All new phones have a GPS capability but must be activated to work in that capacity.) Otherwise the dispatcher can determine the street address and apartment or condo unit only if you are calling from a fixed/wire line phone. If you are calling from a gated community or a controlled-access building, be sure to give the dispatcher the gate or door access code. Answer the dispatcher’s questions about the emergency and don't hang up until you are told. With the address, if the line is disconnected or the caller cannot speak, an officer will still be dispatched.

911 calls on cellular phones have increased dramatically over time and are currently overloading the dispatchers who receive these calls. It is estimated that nearly 60 percent of these calls are either accidental or for non-emergencies. Time spent handling these calls prolongs response times for real emergencies. Accidental calls can be reduced by disabling the phone’s auto-dial 911 feature. 911 calls other than those involving crimes should be limited to life-threatening situations to which emergency personnel have not yet responded. For example, a parked vehicle not blocking traffic lanes is not considered an emergency; it should be reported on a non-emergency line. Please make note of the non-emergency numbers, which are (619) 531-2000 or (858) 484-3154, and add the appropriate one to your cellular phone directory.

Some examples of crime emergencies that should be reported by calling 911 are:

  • Fights, sexual assaults, etc.
  • Homicides
  • Burglaries and robberies in progress
  • Flashlight beam in a business or home, especially if the business is closed or the residents are away
  • Domestic violence
  • Child and elder abuse
  • Sounds of gunshots, screaming, barking dogs, breaking glass, explosions, alarms, etc.
  • Hit and run accidents with possible injuries
  • Vehicles containing weapons or property not normally kept in vehicles
  • Ongoing dumping of fuel or other hazardous substances
  • Road hazards that require immediate attention to prevent personal injuries and property damage
  • Graffiti and other acts of vandalism in progress
  • Runaway juvenile or missing person who needs special care -- be sure to tell the dispatcher if the person needs medication and has a special problem, e.g., Alzheimer's disease

Persons seen doing the following should also be reported by calling 911:

  • Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs
  • Entering a neighbor’s home when the neighbor is away
  • Forcing an entry of a home, business, or vehicle
  • Exhibiting unusual mental or physical symptoms that poses a threat to him/herself or others
  • Removing property from a business, home, or vehicle, especially if the business is closed or the residents are away
  • Carrying or wearing bloody clothing
  • Struggling with a resisting child
  • Trying to or actually using a vehicle to pick up a person by force, especially a child or female

Parents can use the following safety tips to teach their children the proper way to use 911 to report emergencies:

  • Never say "nine eleven." There is no eleven on a telephone keypad or dial. Always say "nine-one-one."
  • Always call from a safe place. If there is a fire in the house, get out first and then call.
  • Post your address near the phone.
  • Never call 911 as a prank or joke. You can get into trouble and keep someone who really needs help from getting it in time.
  • 911 is not for animal emergencies. Call your vet or the County Department of Animal Control at (619) 236-2341.
  • Call 911 if you think you have an emergency and explain the situation to the dispatcher.
  • If you call 911 by mistake, don't hang up. Explain the mistake to the dispatcher and say there is no emergency.

Reporting Non-Emergencies to the SDPD

To report some non-emergency crimes you can file a police report online, or you can call the SDPD's 24-hour numbers for non-emergency calls and general information at (619) 531-2000 and (858) 484-3154. Crimes and suspicious activities that fall into this category are: (a) those that don’t involve serious personal injury, property damage, or property loss; (b) ones in which there is no possibility that the suspect is still at the scene or is likely to return to the scene; and (c) ones for which an immediate response is not needed. If there is any doubt as to whether the situation is an emergency, it is always better to be on the safe side and call 911.

The SDPD response to non-emergency calls will depend on the relative seriousness or priority of the situation, the likelihood of making an arrest at the scene, and the availability of an officer. Response times are the longest for so-called "cold crimes" like home burglaries where the perpetrator has fled the scene, no suspects exist, and the victim is in no further danger.

Some example situations that may not be emergencies are:

  • Home and business burglaries in which the suspect is gone from the scene
  • Open or broken doors or windows in businesses or homes, especially if the business is closed or the residents are away
  • Stolen checks and credit cards -- also call the financial institutions involved to have them stop payments of checks and verifications of charges
  • Impersonation and stolen identification, e.g., drivers license
  • Auto theft and vandalism
  • Hit and run accidents with no injuries
  • Minors violating curfew
  • Loud parties
  • Road hazards that don’t require immediate attention
  • Past instances of graffiti or other vandalism
  • Past instances of child or elder abuse
  • Runaway juvenile or missing adult who does not need special care
  • Car or building alarms
  • Underage drinking
  • Accumulations of consumer goods, especially in good condition and not in use in homes, garages, and storage areas

Persons seen doing the following may not be emergencies:

  • Disturbing the peace, i.e., loitering, panhandling, noise making, and harassing others
  • Soliciting without a license, not displaying a valid registration card, or operating between the hours of 9:00 p.m. and 8:00 a.m.
  • Going door-to-door, or into side or back yards in a residential area
  • Loitering near a business or home, especially if the business is closed or the residents are away
  • Loitering near schools or parks
  • Looking into parked vehicles
  • Running other than for exercise
  • Carrying property at an unusual time and place
  • Entering and leaving property on daily or regular basis, or in large numbers, especially at night
  • Drunk in public but not in any immediate danger
  • Exhibiting unusual mental or physical symptoms but not a danger to themselves or others
  • Offering goods for sale at ridiculously low prices
  • Making a quick change of vehicles

Vehicles seen doing the following may not be emergencies:

  • Moving slowly, especially without lights at night, in aimless or repetitive manner, or near schools or parks
  • Parked and occupied at an unusual time or place
  • Parked for more than 72 hours, possibly abandoned, or otherwise parked illegally on city streets
  • Parked on city streets but cannot be operated safely thereon because of a missing part or piece of equipment
  • Being dismantled or repaired, especially at night or in a parking lot, garage, or non-business location
  • Being used for business transactions, especially near schools or parks
  • Being driven in an erratic manner

For some non-emergency crimes that occurred in the City of San Diego, except on a State highway or freeway, you can now file a report on the SDPD’s Citizens’ Online Reporting System if you have a valid e-mail address and do not know who committed the crime. The crimes you can report this way are: harassing communications, lost property, theft, theft from vehicle, vandalism, vandalism of a vehicle, and vehicle tampering. Go to the Services and Support web page, click on Citizens’ Online Police Reporting, answer the questions on the first page, and click on Submit if you answered No to the first five questions and Yes to the last four. Upon completing your report you will be given a temporary police report number and be able to print a copy of the report for your records.

If you observe multiple incidents at a particular location that you want the SDPD to investigate you can fill out a CRF (Citizens Request Form) at any SDPD Storefront, Satellite Office, or Area Station. The addresses and phone numbers of these facilities are in the table at the end of this paper. Or you can fill out and submit a CRF in the FORMS section of this website.

You can also report non-emergency situations and suspicious activities directly to some investigative units during normal business hours if you have enough information for the unit to start an investigation. Units that will take calls directly are listed in the government pages of the phone book. Other numbers that you can call are listed below:

  • Neighborhood Policing Resource Team. Call (619) 446-1017 to report public pay phones that are being used by persons loitering or involved in prostitution, drug dealing, graffiti, and other nuisances.
  • Gangs.Call (619) 531-2847 to report threats by known gang members, gang activities, and gang-related graffiti. Call (619) 531-2532, the 24-hour gang hotline, to provide information on incidents of gang violence. Your call can be anonymous, or you can leave your name for a detective to call back.
  • Traffic. Call (858) 495-7800 regarding recurring violations of traffic laws at specific locations, e.g., speeding, running red lights and stop signs, etc. Because such violations are classified as infractions and must be witnessed by a police officer before any enforcement action can be taken, the SDPD cannot act on complaints of specific violations by an identified vehicle. However, in the case of misdemeanor violations, e.g., reckless driving and hit-and-runs, enforcement action can be taken if a private person witnesses the incident and can identify the driver or the license number of the vehicle.
  • Vehicle Abatement. Call the SDPD Vehicle Abatement Office at (858) 495-7856 regarding abandoned, wrecked, dismantled, or inoperative vehicles or vehicle parts on private property (not yours) if they are not lawfully stored thereon. Call the SDPD at (619) 531-2000 or (858) 484-3154 regarding any such vehicles or parts on city streets or public property. The vehicles will be inspected and steps will be taken to have them removed if they are in violation of the law.
  • Vice. Call (619) 531-2452 regarding prostitution, pornography, gambling, and violations of laws regulating police-licensed businesses, which include cabarets, card rooms, dance halls, massage parlors, adult entertainment establishments, swap meets, pawn shops, etc. For complaints against stores, bars, and restaurants that hold an Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) license and sell alcoholic beverages regarding sales to minors, and vandalism, noise, loitering, litter, urination, rowdy behavior, etc. outside the establishments, call the Vice Unit ABC Hotline at (619) 515-2777 or fill out a complaint form in the FORMS section of this website.

Reporting Non-Emergencies to Other Law Enforcement Agencies

Crimes and suspicious activities of which the SDPD does not have jurisdiction should be reported directly to the proper agency. An exception to this is when the crime is in progress -- then call 911. The SDPD will notify the responsible agency. The phone numbers and jurisdictions of other law enforcement agencies for non-emergencies are given below:

  • CaliforniaHighway Patrol. Call (858) 637-3800 to report highway non-emergencies such as accidents, parked vehicles not blocking traffic lanes, and graffiti on freeway signs, over-crossings, and bridge pillars. Use 911 to report highway emergencies such a reckless driving, hit and runs, and vehicles blocking traffic lanes.
  • FBI. Call (858) 565-1255 regarding bank robberies and fraud, kidnapping, extortion, terrorism, espionage, interstate theft, and computer and telemarketing fraud. Call (877) 662-7423, a 24-hour toll-free hotline, to report corruption among local, state, and federal officials. For more information visit the FBI website at www.fbi.gov.
  • San Diego Storm Water Pollution Prevention Program. Call the Storm Water Hotline at (619) 235-1000 to report dumping of fuel or other hazardous substances in city storm drains.
  • San Diego County Sheriff. Call (858) 565-5200 regarding non-emergency crimes that have occurred in the Sheriff jurisdiction areas. These are the cities of Del Mar, Encinitas, Imperial Beach, Lemon Grove, Poway, San Marcos, Santee, Solana Beach, and Vista, and the unincorporated areas of the County. Alternatively, if you have a valid e-mail address and do not have suspect or witness information, or do not believe criminal evidence is available, you can file an online e-Crime report for certain crimes that do not require a deputy’s response. These are harassing phone calls, lost property, theft, vandalism, and vehicle burglary. Go to https://apps.sdsheriff.net/ecrimereport/emailvalidation.aspx for this service.
  • U.S.Border Patrol. Call (619) 662-7321 regarding activities of illegal or suspected undocumented persons. Information about the San Diego sector is available on the Internet at www.usbpsd.com.
  • U.S.Post Office. Call the Postal Inspector at (626) 405-1200 to report stolen, opened, or rifled mail, mail fraud, telemarketing fraud involving mail, and other mail-related crimes. The Postal Inspection Service has a standing reward offer of up to $10,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of anyone stealing mail or possessing stolen mail. Call 911 if you suspect a piece of mail is contaminated or contains an explosive. Otherwise do not handle or sniff it, and wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water. Call the SDPD at (619) 531-2000 or (858) 484-3154 about other pieces of suspicious mail.
  • U.S.Secret Service. Call (619) 557-5640 regarding threats to the President and other government officials, counterfeit money, forgery, identity crimes, computer fraud, and other financial crimes. For more information visit its website at www.secretservice.gov.

Providing Information about Crimes

Information about crimes committed in the City should be reported directly to the SDPD. To provide information about a crime that is under investigation, call the detective handling the case. If you do not know the detective's name, call your local SDPD Area Station and ask to speak with the detective assigned to the case. If the case is being handled by one of the central investigative units, you will be given the name and phone number of the detective to contact.

Generally the City does not pay rewards for information about crimes. However, a City ordinance authorizes the City Manager to pay a reward of up to $500 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of graffiti vandals. Claim forms for this Spray and Pay Rewards Program can be obtained online at http://www.sandiego.gov/graffiti/rewards.shtml or by calling the Graffiti Program Office at (619) 525-8522.

Another way to earn a reward if you have information concerning a serious crime or felony suspect and want to help fight crime without getting involved, is to call Crime Stoppers toll free at (888) 580-8477. Crime Stoppers is a citizen-operated, non-profit organization that works in partnership with local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies to help solve serious crimes. The operator on this 24-hour hotline will take your information and give you a code number. All calls remain confidential. If your information leads to an arrest you could earn a reward of up to $1,000. The tip-line operator will explain how you can use your code number to give additional information and how to collect your reward. See the Crime Stoppers website at www.sdcrimestoppers.com for information on wanted fugitives, e-mailing of crime information, unsolved cases, etc. You can also provide tips by e-mailing from www.tipsubmit.com or by text messaging from a cell phone to CRIMES or 274637, with SDTips at the beginning of the message, or by using the TipSoft app for iPhones. To use the app go through the phone app store, type in TipSoft, download the program, and create a password. The password could be used by Crime Stoppers later in arranging a reward.

Crime Stoppers also has a joint program with the San Diego Unified School District in which students can receive cash rewards of up to $1000 for anonymous tips or information that solve or prevent campus violence or vandalism to school property. These calls should also go to (888) 580-8477.

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