Describing Suspects

Can You Describe Or Even Remember A Suspect?

An AW Original Classic Article

If you were robbed at gunpoint, assaulted, or any other way attacked or were witness to violent criminal action, would you know how to describe your attacker or other suspect to the police?

Careful before you answer… We’re not talking about the neighborhood kids egg bombing cars or toilet-papering houses.  It is quite different when there is a real sense of danger that you feel, or something so bizarre or intimidating that in boggles the senses.  In such kind of incidents, most persons uncontrollably go into what is known as the fight-or-flight syndrome…

What happens to the body in fight-or-flight syndrome?  At least a significant amount of blood leaves the brain which carries oxygen with it, and is diverted primarily to the arms and legs because the arms are used for fighting and the legs are used for running away from the present danger.  Almost simultaneously, the adrenal glands pump a hefty amount of adrenalin into the same diverted blood stream.  This is all great for giving you extra strength and a rather brief boost of energy.  Unfortunately, because less blood and oxygen are in the brain, it (the brain) does not process information as acutely as normal.  Most persons go into a state of tunnel vision.  And numerous police reports indicate that when confronted with a weapon, a great majority of victims provide a mass of information about the weapon, often going into great details about such weapon.  All the while, little information is given about the suspect and often much information concerning the suspect is not correct


Observing is not simply observing.  There are different approaches, methods, and reasons for observing.  In what we are talking about here, the most important awareness paths toward observing are:

  • Observing to remember
  • Observing to describe

It is important to observe in a methodical order of importance.  First, you would want to observe things that can not be changed, at least not easily.  In light of describing a suspect, that would most often be items such as:

  • Age
  • Height
  • Build
  • Sex
  • Race
  • Complexion


  • Scars
  • Tattoos —(But be more careful with tattoos, as they can more easily be fake or temporary)

Of course, all of these things can be camouflaged, hidden, or intentionally manipulated to fool observers.  So next, you will look for any clue that there may have been attempts at intentionally hiding these important features.

None of the items above is cast in stone or in any particular order, and each incident or situation may be fact depending.  A good thing to do is study suspect description checklists such as the one provided by Advice Watch at: DESCRIPTION OF SUSPECTS  Checklist & Log.  This will give one a good feel for the types of things to be on the lookout for and consider.  Furthermore, if an incident ever does happen, you will want to have such a checklist on hand;  as you will want to immediately write down in as much detail as possible everything about the suspect and what happened.  Every minute, and potentially every second that you do not reflect on the situation and write it down, you will be losing valuable memory details.

Next is to observe the face if possible, and even if you do not immediately think that it is possible.  For example, you may not think that it is possible to observe the face if a suspect is wearing a mask.  However, depending on what type of mask the suspect is wearing, you could still provide some very important details about the face.  If the suspect is wearing something like a ski or ninja mask, you can still observe the distance between the eyes (very important), the bushiness of the eyebrows and eyebrow color, eye color(^^), thickness and protrusive level of the nose, and even race; as you can often see enough of the skin around the eyes, and you can also often observe if they appear to be Asian or non-Asian.  If the mask fits rather snug or tight, you can observe other distances (very important) such as the distance between the eyebrow and top of the head, wide or narrow cheek bones, general shape of the face, and often the size of lips and distance between the two opposing ends of the lips.

^^ Eye color can be easily manipulated or hidden with colored contact lenses.
^^ Skin, particularly if only a small amount is showing, can be colored enough to hide or disguise race.
^^ Eyebrow color can easily be colored to hide or fool.

Most people can not remember, much less describe a face after an adrenaline causing incident because they have not learned how to properly observe them.  The most important items to observe in a face to best remember and describe them is the shape, and then the 5 (most important) distances. Such being:

  • The distance between the eyes (inside corners)
  • The distance between the bottom of the nose to the top of the upper lip
  • The distance between the eyebrow level to the hairline
  • The distance between the bottom of the chin to the lower lip line
  • The distance between the outside of the opposing cheekbones

Standard Description:

Obviously, you would rarely be able to get all of this information.   Get as much as you can in as much of a logical order such as follows:


  1. Name
  2. Color
  3. Sex
  4. Age
  5. Height
  6. Weight
  7. Hair
  8. Eyes
  9. Complexion
  10. Physical marks, scars, tattoos, limp, etc.
  11. Clothing:
    1. Shirt/Tie
    2. Trousers
    3. Coat
    4. Socks
    5. Shoes
    6. Hat
  12. Voice
    1. Accent
    2. Sore/Sick
    3. Strong/Soft


  • Color – ( example: Red)
  • Year – (example: ’95)
  • Make- (example: Ford)
  • Body- (example: Sedan)
  • License Plate (State and #)



In any case get the direction that the suspects were last seen moving towards.  Also note any erratic or sporadic directional behaviors that could be a clue that the suspect/s did or did not have an escape route or plan, or that their plan was bungled; or thought out very carefully.

Though it may be that any of these things could be disguised, discarded, altered, or falsified and some easier than others, all could provide valuable clues later.  For example, the clothing can be quickly changed or the hat could simply be thrown off.  Nonetheless, discarded clothing could provide clues such as direction, and possibly fingerprints or other DNA evidence.  Even a fake name could surprisingly hold a clue.  For example: Do they have an enemy that has that name?  What made them choose that alias?  Yes it could be completely random, but maybe not.



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