A recent arrest in Madison, WI highlights the importance of suspicious activity reporting and public awareness campaigns that focus on criminal indicators beyond potential terrorist activity. On July 5th, the Madison County sheriff’s office responded to a suspicious activity complaint at a nearby Wal-Mart. The female customer reported an unknown white male attempting to take photos of her from under her dress. Upon coordination with Wal-Mart security, the sheriff’s office found video surveillance of the same suspect on a different occasion and were able to locate the individual’s license plate.
The next day, July 6th, the sheriff’s office responded to a call regarding a suspicious person watching children at a swim class. The reporting person, a parent of a child in the swim class, knew the suspicious person was a registered sex offender. The suspicious person left the swim class driving the same vehicle identified from the Wal-Mart incident. In this situation, two seemingly non-related events, occurring at two different locations that would not normally share information, resulted in the identification and neutralization of a potential threat – in this case an individual posing a high risk threat to children rather than a terrorist attack.
The bottom line is that suspicious activity, when identified and shared, can have an immediate impact on local, state and national security. As we have seen since our first deployment a decade ago, tips and leads from citizens often lead to robust investigations, whether related to terrorism or not. When combined with a strong relationship between the public and private sectors, as shown by the coordination between Wal-Mart and the sheriff’s office in Wisconsin, threats can be identified early and criminal events stopped. In this case, two suspicious activity reports from alert private citizens identified and potentially thwarted a possible incident from an individual who was clearly a high risk threat to children, and possibly others.