Vargas: We all need to be more vigilant and step up and report suspicious behavior


It’s been just a week since the tragic terrorist attack at the San Bernardino Inland Regional Center. The ugly face of terrorism has come to America again. This time it wasn’t some well-known target but a suburb of San Bernardino — a place no one would have put at the top of the terrorist target list.

The attack, which left 14 dead and 21 injured, adds to the now-realistic fear that such tragedies could happen at any place, any time.

Across America today we are all behaving differently. We are just a little more cautious and wary. We are watching more diligently as we go about our daily lives.

But what should you do when you see something out of the ordinary?

Over and over again, we’ve heard the Monday-morning stories after a tragic event involving an active shooter. Witnesses come forward describing odd behavior or concerns about the perpetrator’s behavior. Sadly, it’s often too little, too late.

The San Bernardino shooting is no exception. During interviews, neighbors have been quoted as seeing what they thought was suspicious activity but didn’t report it.

Allegedly they didn’t want to “profile” the family.

Profiling is a legitimate concern, especially if a person’s, race, ethnicity or religion are the only reasons a person is considered suspicious.

The key word here is “behavior.”

Twice I’ve reported neighbors who I felt were engaging in suspicious behavior. In both cases they were engaging in criminal activity. In one instance my neighbors were a part of a major drug trafficking ring. In another they were involved in a large-scale fraud ring.

Since 9/11, the Department of Homeland Security has gone to great lengths to educate the public about the need to be vigilant through its “See something, say something.” campaign. Orange County has followed suit with its Keep OC Safe program.

Despite these efforts, there still is reluctance on the public’s part to report behavior we see as suspicious.

In looking at past active-shooter incidents people had observed, I believe there are three main reasons we don’t report suspicious activity:

We rationalize the behavior we are seeing.

We see something that draws our attention as being suspicious, then we figure out a way to explain it to ourselves to make it seem OK.

We don’t want to rock the boat.

We don’t want to be seen as the neighborhood troublemaker or tattletale. This comes from a long cultural tradition of not wanting to be the “snitch.”

Someone else will do it.

You know what you are seeing is not right but you don’t say anything because you assume someone else will do it.

If you “See something” you should report what you are seeing.

Local law enforcement is the first step. Some agencies like Anaheim PD and the FBI have online tip lines you can use. You also can report to your local Crime Stoppers, who forward information to the appropriate agencies.

In these scary times, we all need to do a better job of making our communities safer. Through better vigilance, my hope is we can prevent the next terrorist incident from ever taking place.

Joe is a retired Anaheim Police Department captain. You can reach him at