Witnessing a Crime and Not Reporting It? Here's What to Do Next

Posted on by Dawna M. Roberts in CrimeMarch 29, 2021

 witness a crime

In our daily lives, we may witness a crime without even realizing it. Later, when we watch the news, something may jog our memory about details that we saw firsthand. You could help with the big break in a case by reporting your information to the FBI. 

What Is the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI)?

The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation is our country's federal law enforcement agency. Local police have jurisdiction over crimes that take place in towns, counties, and states, and the FBI has jurisdiction over federal crimes that affect national security.

The FBI operates under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of Justice. The FBI reports to the Attorney General and the Director of National Intelligence. The agency has jurisdiction over more than 200 different categories of crime, including terrorism.

The main goal of the FBI is to preserve national security. However, they also work on international security issues. They have 56 field offices in major cities all over the country and 400 smaller offices throughout the U.S. 

The FBI was established in 1908 by Attorney General Bonaparte. J. Edgar Hoover served as the director for the FBI from 1924 to 1972. During the 1940s up to the 1970s, the FBI's primary focus was on international espionage and terrorism. They also have a sex offender program and keep a registered list of all sex offenders in the country for the public to search. The FBI handles civil rights and hate crimes across the nation, stepping in when local law enforcement cannot handle the issue. 

With the pandemic and ramp-up of cybercrimes, the FBI has been working overtime to put cybercriminals behind bars. One of their main areas of expertise is cybercime. 

U.S. Crime Statistics

Although crime rates have dropped significantly since 1990, the public believes that it is rising. Some other interesting crime statistics include:

  • According to the FBI, in 2019, there were 2,109.9 property crimes per 100,000 people.

  • In 2019, the FBI reported 379.4 violent crimes.

  • The most common property crimes are larceny/theft and then burglary and motor vehicle theft.

  • For violent crimes, the most common are aggravated assault, rape, robbery, and murder. 

  • From 1993 to 2019, violent crime has dropped 49%.

  • For those same dates, property crime has dropped by 55%.

  • There are huge discrepancies between crime in different areas of the country.

  • Most crimes are not reported to the police or FBI.

When to Contact the FBI?

If you witness a burglary in your local area, you might want to contact the police in that jurisdiction. However, federal crimes and things that affect national security are handled by the FBI. So, if you witness something more serious such as espionage, terrorism, or computer/cybercrimes, then you should contact the FBI directly to report it.

report a crime

Perhaps you know someone who had been bragging about their ability to hack into government websites; that would qualify as something you should report to the FBI.

What Qualifies as a Tip When Calling the FBI?

You can contact the FBI online to submit a tip or by calling. However, first, understand that only certain information will be helpful to them. Some things that qualify as a genuine tip are:

  • Government employee corruption.

  • People that are planning to commit kidnapping, robbery, extortion, or other high-end crimes.

  • People who are helping known terrorists.

  • Terrorist behavior (bomb-making, plans, etc.).

  • Anyone who is recruiting others for terrorist activities.

  • Drug crimes, human trafficking, or human rights violations.

  • Racial or hate-based crimes.

  • Organized crime activity.

  • Hacking or cybercrime.

  • Fraud involving financial institutions.

  • Other types of fraud, including healthcare fraud.

How to Report Crimes to the FBI?

There are a few different ways to report crimes to the FBI. Below are the most common. You may want to brush up on U.S. Federal Laws before contacting them to be sure what you saw or heard did, in fact, violate federal law.

  • Often, the FBI will post ads with a crime tip hotline so you can call anonymously. They do this in high-profile cases where they want the public to help be their eyes and ears. 

  • You can also lookup your local FBI office. Many major cities throughout the U.S. have one, and you should be able to find the phone number online.

  • If the crime you witness or suspicious activity involved dangerous chemicals, you can call this number 855-835-5324.

  • Use the online reporting feature on the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center.

  • You can also contact the Major Case Contract Center at 1-800-225-5324.

If you are aware of a serious crime and think your information would benefit the FBI's efforts, never confront the person(s) yourself, instead contact the FBI at once and report your tip. 

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