Valuable Tips for Police Investigations

Tigard Police

Nearly 50 tips came in through email, social media and by phone after Tigard Police issued a press release about an attempted abduction of a woman outside of a grocery store in August. Detective Hockin, the lead in the case, and patrol officers spent the next two weeks following up. 

Many tips related to the man described in the press release—a white, 50-55 year old male with a beer belly. “You can imagine all kinds of calls coming from neighbors who saw someone fitting that description at every Safeway, Fred Meyers, Costco and BiMart,” says Detective Hockin. Although the description was the best information we had to share with the public, realistically it could apply to a number of middle age men and would not narrow down the search. 

Because of its uniqueness, the tips about the black van were especially helpful. “I could include or exclude tips based on the where the windows were or lack of them, the body style, racks or air conditioners on the roof,” says Detective Hockin. Where the van met the description, he would run down the license plate and obtain a photo of the registered owner.  If they matched the general description, he would show the victim. 

The most helpful tips include the following:

  • What specific case the tip relates to including the date the incident occurred
  • Contact information for follow up—tipsters often leave out important details that an investigator needs
  • A description of all people involved including: 
  1. Height, weight, build, facial hair and color of hair, eyes and complexion
  2. Clothing, eyeglasses, shoes
  3. Unique characteristics such as tattoos, piercings and physical traits
  • A description of the vehicles including make, model, license plate, color and unique characteristics such as dents or bumper stickers
  • Day, time and location observed so the detective can ask a business or other location for video footage 
  • Photos if it is possible to safely obtain them
  • Other details 

Email tips are preferred to phone tips because there is an email address to respond to and there is no risk of poor audio quality or information being cut off.

However, if a tipster sees a suspect or their vehicle in real time and it is a viable lead, they should call 9-1-1 or the non-emergency number (503) 629-0111. Depending on the call load, a patrol officer will get out to the location as soon as possible to identify the person or vehicle.  To report a tip about a Tigard crime after the fact:

Tips email and phone line are not monitored 24/7/365.

Remaining Anonymous:

Many people want to remain anonymous when providing a tip. Where police are attempting to locate a suspect, the tipster’s name is not always crucial for building a case. If the reporter has observed a crime, the case may depend on their participation. “A named witness is more valuable because we may need to have them testify in court as a witness. However, we will take what we can get if that person wishes to remain anonymous. If someone can put me on the right path, whether we can use that information in court or not, that’s still very helpful.”

Up to 90% of tips tend to be received within the first week. The number of tips depends on the case, and can be in the thousands, particularly in homicide cases. “We have an obligation to follow up on each tip whether that means spending a few minutes or a few days working the lead. Although it can take a lot of time, that golden nugget usually is in there somewhere, which can make it all worthwhile.”

In some cases, detectives will deliberately hold back information in a press release. “It’s not that we aren’t being transparent, but we don’t want to air the entire case because we may receive hundreds of tips, especially if it is a homicide.” A tipsters’ ability to provide specifics lend credence to their report and helps investigators narrow down those tips to the ones that are credible. 

“I have a had a number of bank robberies solved at least partially, if not fully, by tips. Typically, that’s all you have because there is no relation between the suspect or the victim-business,” says Detective Hockin. He had one case where an employer saw the video surveillance of a robber who looked like a former employee recently laid off. Not only did the descriptions match, but the employer provided valuable information about the car involved.   

In the case of the attempted abduction, the community provided great leads, but as of yet, they haven’t led to the suspect. Tigard Police are looking for more leads to move this case forward. Please check out the August 27th press release again to see any of the descriptions are familiar: www.tigard-or.gov/police/PoliceMedia.php

Community members play an important role in reporting crime, suspicious activity and tips. Some cases have been solved or have progressed largely due to tips. Working together, we can make our community safer.