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June 16, 2021

Security Threats: Identifying Suspicious Items

Working as a security or police officer often means spending time surveying crowded public locations.


Working as a security or police officer often means spending time surveying crowded public locations. In these settings, it is important to understand how to not only be on the lookout for suspicious people but items as well. But how can you tell a suspicious item from something that has simply been set down or misplaced? Cultivating a discerning eye takes practice, but these tips can help you begin to build a new mindset or strengthen present abilities. Keep reading to learn not only what suspicious items may look like, but what to do when one has been positively identified.

What Makes an Item Suspicious?

There are obvious signs of potentially dangerous items, such as exposed wires, clocks and batteries, unusual odors,  and strange sounds. Anything that is out of the ordinary when it comes to your senses is worth investigating.  But what about when things are more innocuous? One of the best ways to identify a suspicious object is to look at it in the context of its surroundings. For instance, it’s unusual to see an unintended suitcase in a location where transit isn’t happening (like train stations, airports, etc.). Similarly, when someone is intending to return to a bag, they may move it out of the way of pedestrians, but a bag that has been purposefully hidden could be considered suspicious. The same goes for an item that has been sitting in the same location for an unusual amount of time.

Mail and packages that are hand-delivered or received with unusual stains weights sounds and smells should be handled with caution, as should anything that is handwritten, marked threateningly, or marked “confidential.”  Unless mail of this type was expected, it should never be presumed normal.

A Suspicious Item Has Been Identified— Now What?

Every location should have some sort of security protocol in place for dealing with potentially dangerous objects. The length of your involvement in this protocol may depend on the perceived threat of the object. For instance, a threatening letter or non-lethal object may fall into the jurisdiction of a security guard, but for potentially violent objects like possible explosives or poisons, proper authorities should be called to dispose of them immediately. Regardless, there are two big procedures to keep in mind:

  • If warranted, the area surrounding the object must be evacuated immediately.
  • A suspicious item should NEVER be touched unless you are trained and authorized to do so.

Identifying and dealing with suspicious items may feel like guesswork, but context is key. If an item is unusual, hidden, or visibly tampered with, going with your gut can save lives. Personal research into case studies is encouraged to train your eye, as is regular communication with non-security staff to help mitigate the chances of an item going undetected.

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