“Man is a social creature.”

—Benedict Spinoza

“No man is an Island.”

—John Donne.

“I bet that guy over there is beating off.”

—My training officer.

There’s something about seeing a guy by himself that provokes a visceral response. It can be one of pity: “Poor SOB.” Or as in the case when most cops see a guy by himself one of suspicion: “Poor SOB. What’s he up to?”

Accustomed to familiar scenes of their fellow human’s intermingling, it runs counter-intuitive for people to see their fellow man entertaining themselves alone, particularly in public places, especially at exotic hours.
True, some people are naturally loners. They park in the shade during their lunch break and eat their Subway sandwiches. Then they go back in the field working motors.

But others park off the beaten path for less savory reasons.

Take parks for instance. The lone male may be there to 1) buy his dope, 2) do his dope, 3) sell his dope, 4) drink his beer, or 5) relieve some sexual tension.

But guys who park alone on public streets and near businesses can be up to no good, too. Guys park near stores around closing time to case them. Stalkers and estranged lovers could be counted on to park near the homes and workplaces of the objects of their warped affections.

You never know what might turn up in checking out some guy that looks to be sitting in a car alone.

This past June, one off-duty Wake County (N.C.) deputy noted an SUV parked in the cul-de-sac of a subdivision under construction. Illuminating the vehicle, he saw what appeared to be a lone male inside. One investigative overture led to another and soon he discovered that the man was sitting next to a two-year-old boy. Garner, N.C., police officers called to the scene made an arrest. Police reports say the officers found a naked 12 year-old covered by a tarp in the back and pornographic images of the girl that the SUV driver, Jonathan Sullivan, 41, had allegedly taken of her. Sullivan was charged with indecent liberties with a minor.

In July of last year, San Antonio police officer Robert Ingram, was patrolling behind a strip retail center when he saw a car backed into a loading dock. Drawing closer, Ingram saw a lone male sitting in the driver’s side. The suspect looked up and motioned his head side to side, then pointed a finger up before motioning it from side to side (indicating a “no” gesture).

The suspect placed his car in drive and gunned the engine, accelerating into Officer Ingram’s car, pushing the patrol car back several feet until it was pinned between a concrete pillar and the suspect’s car. The suspect then reversed his car and again came forward, spinning his rear tires, as the suspect’s car again struck Officer Ingram’s patrol car. Officer Ingram, fearing for his life, fired his service weapon through his own patrol car’s front windshield, eventually killing the suspect and offering yet another anecdote against LAPD’s stupid firing at vehicles policy.

When dealing with a lone subject acting suspiciously, remember the totality of the circumstances is what matters. And that is readily addressed through the usual who, what, where, why, when, and how…

Who is he? Does he look like a dirtbag in a nice area? A well-dressed young man in a bad area? Someone that you’ve never seen before – and you know your route like your postman knows his.

What is he doing? Does he seem inordinately concerned about his actions arousing the curiosities of others?

Where is he? Is he parked near a playground, or a football field watching cheerleading tryouts? In the darkest area of the property? Or parked next to the only other car in the lot? Is he at the intersection, keeping vigil for traffic running in all directions, talking on a cell phone with buddies burglarizing a house a block away?

When is he there? After hours?

Why could he possibly have chosen to be at this location as opposed to any other?

How is he acting? Does he appear to be going out of his way to provoke such curiosity? Does he seem inordinately curious to your presence, or is he taking pains to ignore you?

Does he avoid eye contact with you, or is he unusually friendly? (Not to put citizens in unwinnable situations, but really, when was the last time a citizen really looked that happy to see you when they weren’t getting the crap beat out of them?)

I went with “he” because sometimes going for that whole gender neutral thing is a pain in the ass, and most of the time, it’s men that are up to no good. But it isn’t always just men that indulge scandalous behavior.
One night Eric Lindblom–recent recipient of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s Medal of Valor (congrats, Eric)–saw a female seated in the driver’s seat of a car that was backed into a parking space. Eric illuminated her with his spotlamp at which time the woman got that deer in the headlights look. She then initiated a flurry of activity below Eric’s visual plane.

Eric quickly closed the distance and yelled to his partner, “I think she stashed a gun!”

Reaching below the driver’s seat, he grabbed for what he thought was a gun. What he came up with was a flesh-toned battery-operated device approximating the form of a booster rocket. Worse, its singular purpose had been recently realized. Wiping his hands disgustedly, Eric sent the fraulein on her way.

Well, at least Eric knew that she was up to something.

Often, you’ll know something’s up, too. So don’t talk yourself out of it. Be sociable.

Besides, you wouldn’t want your fellow man feeling all alone in this otherwise benign and existential universe, would you?

Author

Dean Scoville
Dean Scoville

Associate Editor

Former associate editor of Police Magazine and a retired patrol supervisor and investigator with the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department, Sgt. Dean Scoville has received multiple awards for government service.

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Former associate editor of Police Magazine and a retired patrol supervisor and investigator with the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department, Sgt. Dean Scoville has received multiple awards for government service.

View Bio
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