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by Peter Moskos

October 2, 2016

When to call (and not call) 911

Interesting study by some prominent (and good) sociologists about the drop-off in 911 calls after there was publicity about a man severely beaten by off-duty Milwaukee cops in 2004. Calls dropped by about 17 percent for about a year.

But that's just a segue to this, which comes from a community listserve in Durham, NC. A friend of mine who lives there sent it to me. And I reprint it here with permission of the author, Durham Sergeant Dale Gunter. He's got a bit of whimsy about him (a good quality in a sane cop) and seems to be in the news a fair amount, in a good kind of way way. Also, this a question I still get asked a lot.
There seems to be some confusion and hesitation about when to call 911. Lots of people have emailed me recently to ask when or what constitutes a 911 call versus a non-emergency call. So in order to clear it all up and because I know you’re all wondering, I’m gonna give you the skinny on the whole deal. This is exciting stuff folks, so put a pillow on the floor just in case you fall off the edge of your seat.

Here we go: if you see something HAPPENING that you think needs Police attention NOW (or for that matter, anything that falls under "Emergency Services" such as Police, Fire or EMS) then 911 is appropriate. The basic idea is to ask yourself if what you're seeing is “In-Progress.” If it is in progress -- call 911.

Now -- if the situation is clearly NOT an emergency or the incident is not currently in progress, then dialing the Non-Emergency line is appropriate [The Durham number is given here, but yours might be 311]. That’s why it’s called the Non-Emergency line -- nifty huh?

Examples of 911 calls can include:
  • Car wrecks
  • Any medical emergency
  • A break-in to your home (and you don't know if anyone is inside)
  • A break-in to your home while YOU'RE inside!
  • Seeing someone stealing, about to steal, or break-in to something
  • Fights (doesn't apply to animals, does apply to Kung-Fu)
  • Bad guy with a gun
  • Any sighting of Chuck Norris (cause someone is about to get hurt)
  • Gunshots
  • Suspicious activity (make sure to tell 911 exactly what’s suspicious about what you see)
  • Your house is on fire
  • My house is on fire
  • Anybody’s house is on fire
  • Fire in general
  • If you've fallen and can't get up
  • If I've fallen and I can't get up!
  • On second thought, a Chuck Norris sighting? Nothing we can do. Best not to intervene. It is, after all, Chuck Norris.
Now this is not even a drop in the bucket. So don't limit yourself to any list out there, because there are so many situations that can and would apply. Use good judgment and if you still have doubt, call 911. You can’t go wrong -- we'll figure it out when we get there.

Now, for the non-emergency stuff. the Non-Emergency number for the Durham Police is [yours might be 311, if you live in a city].

Basically, anything that you might need the police for, but it's not a "ShaZaaam!" moment. It's NOT in progress, and it doesn’t endanger life or property. It's more of a “Well, the police should probably know what's going on here, but there's no rush.”
Some examples of non-emergencies are:
  • A dent to your car in the parking lot.
  • A stolen mower, weed wacker, whack-a-mole game, wilted weeping willow, or other property (something that might have gotten stolen out of your shed for example) and the bad guy is long gone
  • A minor crime that occurred days ago or even hours ago
  • A car break-in (not in progress)
  • Identity fraud (not in progress)
  • Police advice
When not to call us at all --
  • When your order at Mickey-D's is not really "Your way."
  • When you forget your anniversary -- again -- and you were married Christmas day, her birthday, or Halloween (You’re on your own fellas).
  • Cat in a tree (it will come down eventually. after all, who's ever seen a cat skeleton in a tree?)
  • Dog in a tree -- call me directly. Gotta see that.
  • Clowns -- your discretion -- they creep me out too.
  • Aliens -- when aliens from Mars, in possession of an Illudium PU 36 Explosive Space Modulator, lands in the city park and start vaporizing people into cosmic dust -- it may be an emergency, but trust me -- I ain't coming.
  • Just to say "Hi Police!"
  • When Victor finds out Adam is secretly conspiring against Ashley to make her think she’s losing her mind and to make her think she's pregnant, but we all know she's really not, except for Victor, who can't see the truth because he hates Jack, and Jack is worrying about Gloria scheming as usual and Jack and Victor are worrying about that crazy Mary Jane and kitty cat. Mary Jane wants to kill Jack and Victor and stuff the new cat, or marry Jack, depends on the moment. Now, Mary Jane ought to think about calling 911 for that spider bite, that might be appropriate, and she could if she hadn't have stomped on the cell phone. Not that I watch Y&R, it's just what I hear, honest, you know, word on the street and all.
  • To find out the weather or road conditions. Instead, just watch Don “Big Weather” Schwenneker on WTVD. If Big Weather says “TarNader is a comin,” grab Dorothy and the dog and get in the cellar, cause a TarNader is a comin!
  • You want directions
  • Lost cell phones (No need to report it to anyone but your insurance company. Also, how did you call?)
  • Lost wallet
  • Lost dogs
  • Lost cats
  • Lost love
  • Lost keys
  • Lost re-runs
  • Los Alamos
  • Las Vegas. What happens in Vegas -- stays in Vegas -- unless you put it on Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat.
Now, if you have something that comes up and are confused or wonder about or have ANY DOUBT at all, repeat after me: Call 911 -- you can't go wrong.

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