Dear PoPville – At What Point Do I Call the Police?

Photo by PoPville flickr user slightlyworn

Dear PoPville,

When do you/the readers call the police on neighborhood activity, and when do you just chalk it up to living in a “transitional” neighborhood? I’ve lived in my house for about five years, and have heard loud arguments/hooliganism/crazy people on my corner almost weekly. Tonight started with a heated and prolonged domestic dispute. I looked out of the window when it sounded like the woman was being hit, and while I couldn’t see that couple, I did see two (unrelated?) men come bolting out of an alley, then stop in the street and hurl rocks at someone/something on the other side. I’m hesitant to bother the police unless someone’s clearly being hurt, but erred on the side of caution and called 911.

The dispatcher was appreciative and two squad cars arrived in under 10 minutes…which is probably a reasonable response rate, but long enough that everyone had disappeared. I felt a little silly for having wasted their time. Do you think the police appreciate this kind of heads up, or is it better to just let it work itself out? I don’t believe anything has escalated to shootings/stabbings/extensive property damage, so maybe I’m just overreacting?

68 Comment

  • They are DC employees, of course they feel bothered. I feel silly asking this city for anything.

  • Totally appropriate.
    I can’t believe that people are afraid or hesitant to call 911. Simply call if you think the police, fire or emergency services are needed. Report what you are seeing and/or hearing and let the dispatcher prioritize it.

    • PoP – can you call the MPD Public Affairs and schedule an interview to discuss this topic? Would be nice to not only hear what they view as appropriate times to call 911 but also to understand how dispatchers take calls, prioritize emergencies and generally clear up any confusion with 911.

      • Great idea! I’ve wondered about this issue many times.

      • The Office of Unified Communication runs 911 and 311. They summon the police as needed. So it might be worth interviewing someone from OUC.

        • Prince Of Petworth

          I’ve asked OUC and unfortunately was only told:

          “you should call 911 for all police services and fire and emergency medical services.”

          I’m hoping they can give more examples, like this one for instance, and I’ll post if they respond.

    • Perchance does the OP work at an Apple store next to a LuLu Lemon…?

  • Wow. It all makes sense now.

    • gotryit

      OK, I’ll bite – please explain.

    • I’m glad it finally makes sense Kam. Now you know not to work yourself up on this blog.

      • Well said but I already posted below. You are right though and I will remember that moving forward, I just have a hard time with people putting words in my mouth, not reading, jumping to conclusions…I like to be fully understood but people like to take that and run so again, you are correct and I will keep your post in mind. Thanks!

  • One thing to bear in mind is that if you overlook people beating each other or destroying property by throwing rocks or dealing drugs in the open and then suddenly decide one day that this all concerns you, there will be no paper trail or documentation of the issue. You might rant and rave about there being open-air drug dealing but if no one has been calling the police or filing complaints then it’s going to be difficult to corroborate what you observe and do something about it.

    Document the issues in your neighborhood by calling 911 if they are as you describe. It benefits everyone. It’s the job of the police to respond.

    I really don’t understand why people agonize over this so much.

    • Exactly. If you have to ask yourself, “should I call 911?”, you should call 911. I can’t believe people are actually not sure.

      • Makes me happy to know my fellow Petworth neighbors feel this way. The wife has had a hard time with it a few times I have called, but I always say, have to let the dispatcher make that decision.

    • Really good points. I thought this question had been answered several times on the blog in the past, but apparently not.

  • If you think a crime is being committed, call the police. If you don’t, don’t. Pretty basic.

  • I call the cops every time the thugs on my corner get too loud too late at night. I don’t give a shit if it inconveniences them. Thats their call to make. If there is a shooting somewhere else they will prioritize that. But when they do come it sends a message to these a-holes on the corner to keep it moving. Its how change happens, a little bit at a time. these folks need to know that law abiding citizens are not gonna put up with this BS on the corner anymore at all hours of the night.

  • i’m sure people in nice neighborhoods worry about bothering the cops.

  • “Can’t you people take the law into your own hands? I mean, we can’t be “policing’ the entire city!”

    -Chief Wiggum

  • The more often you call the police the quicker your nighborhood will trasition.

  • Please, for the sake of that poor woman, call the police anytime you hear something like this! I can pretty much guarantee you that if this guy hit her that one time, it’s going to happen again, and it’s likely to escalate. Her life might depend on someone intervening…

    • I know, right?

      Litmus test: If that woman were my mom/sister/daughter, would I want someone to intervene right now?

      If yes, then yes, call.

  • Yes, call the police if a person is in danger or property is at risk. Who cares if the police appreciate it or not. They work for you (us), not vice versa.

  • Just what is so fascinating about hanging out on any corner or in groups of three or more late at night, why can’t that same energy to hanging out be the energy that is helping the so called ‘thugs’ basically kids with nothing to do, living at home with a worn out single mom, if that, be turned into something useful? Why does it take 20 to 30 minutes wait for squad car (gas wasted) and an officer to get there to disperse or squash a situation. Why do people not call the police when obviously someone’s being assaulted/robbed/beaten. When does common sense kick in and the doing gets done??

  • KSB

    Another option is to think through some of the recent occurrences and outline your concerns in an email to your MPD district commander. I took this route after about a year of nonsense on my block and received a thoughtful and appreciative response from MPD. Took a few months for them to put together enough intel to bust the house in question (and I wrongfully assumed in that time they’d simply ignored me), but they did a fantastic job and problem is solved.

  • How do you people make it through life? How do you make it through each day? What did you do before PoP when shit was much worse in DC? I never seen or heard of such a helpless group of what I would assume are adults. Please help, I don’t know which shoe I should tie first – get an ever loving grip. You live in a city now, this is not VT (though some try and compare it) or Mayberry, if you want to call, then call, if you don’t call, fine don’t call but either way don’t come crying on a blog about what should you have done. If the police come after the fact, it is what it is. Not everyone gets caught, it happens all the time.

    I get that we all come from different backgrounds but damn, this isn’t rocket science. If you feel there is danger, if you feel that people are dealing/doing drugs and you want the police to know, if you feel that you have info that may help in a crime, if you hear gunshots – CALL THE FREAKING POLICE. Do not write PoP a day later and ask what you should have done, do not call 311, CALL THE DAMN POLICE (if so inclined)!! They have ways of sorting things out and prioritizing them, if they don’t come fast enough (in a relevant amount of time), call them again. Did you all not have Officer McGruff in your life growing up?

    Now if you want a dead rat removed from a public side walk, streets cleaned, grafiti removed, alley cleaning, which are all PUBLIC SERVICES…call 311. It truly isn’t that hard.

    A lot of you are a bunch of freaking babies who need to be coddled that seem to lack common sense. Why on earth does anyone need to have a city-wide meeting with guest speakers Rudy Giuliani and Corey Booker to explain this?

    • One of the better PoP rants as of late. +1

    • Scrillin

      Damn – at first going into this post I was pissed, but you know what? You’re absolutely right.

      Here’s how I look at it: if this were happening directly to you, would you want someone to call the police? Of course! It’s just being a good neighbor and member of your community to help others and keep a finger on the pulse of your neighborhood.

      If you’re agonizing over whether to call the cops on a couple of guys on the stoop brown-baggin a couple of 40s, that’s more understandable, but when there’s folks up to something serious, take your responsibility!

    • That was a good rant. I had a similar situation when I saw a woman yelling for help and I looked out my window to see here struggling with a man. I yelled in my deepest voice – leave that woman alone – and then, not thinking, ran outside to try to assist her. When I got out there both of them had run away. I think what I did was probably stupid.

    • gotryit

      DC is a fairly transient city. Lots of people come from places like VT but have to live in shadier places in DC – it’s just the economics. There is a difference between naive and “helpless” / “babies”. I think most people learn, but as we stay in DC we’re always seeing these new people cycle through and learning for themselves.

      Chill out – these people are just in the process of adjusting to DC.

      • thats a big dc myth. we’re not really more transient than other cities.

        • gotryit

          I didn’t say more transient than other cities… just transient. I bet that NYC has similar issues with people moving in from different areas and adjusting.

      • Being naive is one thing, which we are not discussing. We all get got at some point and we hopefully learn from it. Learning to live life, when to call the police and getting your validation for your actions via a blog is beyond helpless and sad.

        Let me ask you this, if this blog didn’t exist or the internet stopped working, how would they ever get by in big, bad DC? I shutter to think of the answer to that question. Makes you think doesn’t it?

        • gotryit

          It makes me think that even the most skittish person also talks to their friends / neighbors, and learns that way too. So what’s wrong with putting out a question and discussing it on a blog?

          “We all get got at some point and we hopefully learn from it.” – that’s learning from your own mistakes. Reading it on a blog and learning from it is learning from other people’s mistakes.

          You seem to enjoy lording it over people more naive than you that you already got it and they didn’t. Congrats – so let them learn too.

          • Talking to your neighbors and typing to anonymous people on a blog are two totally different things. If you feel they are the same then I think you need to get out a bit more.

            There is nothing wrong from learning from other’s mistakes via a blog or whatever but when you depend on it for every reaction you have, you are asking for trouble when something really pops off and you don’t have time to read about what to do on a blog.

            Why do you say I enjoy lording this ove people, not true at all. I am tired of all the whining and the helpless mentality. I never have never gotten got like you may think which is a blessing because there have been times that something could have happened but I depended on my actions and not of those of what they say on a blog. I was speaking in broad terms but say what you will. I don’t want harm to come to anyone, let’s be clear on that.

    • A lot of these people posting and pushing up the real estate values are people who grew up in nice suburbs or rural places like Vermont. They’ve never experienced crime or seen it committed right on their block – they don’t understand how good they’ve had it. They’ve probably never had to call 911 in their entire lives. Thus they have no understanding of what to do or understanding what constitutes a crime vs. a simple domestic issue that will solve itself.

      Part of them feels guilty for being an Urban Pioneer and pricing out the locals (so they really don’t feel good about getting these people in trouble with the cops), yet at the same time they also feel entitled to a safer environment due to the price they pay for their mortgage/rent. There’s not only external tension between the interlopers/locals, there’s also an internal tension marked by guilt for being part of a greater economic wave that’s washing through DC.

      • assumptions make the world better.

      • I can dig that but it is like this – make a decision and act on it. You will learn as you go along.

      • I totally disagree. I have been an “urban pioneer” now owning two homes in some seriously dicey neighborhoods back in the day. I have never had one minute of white gentrifying guilt. Im not part of the problem. Hell I don’t know anyone who has guilt moving into a transitional neighborhood. Im not the one dealing drugs on a freakin playground in Parkview, yelling profanities at all hours of the night on the corner, I don’t throw trash on the street on in other peoples yards, I don’t rob, beat anyone or smash car windows. Im the solution, not the problem. And hell yeah, I call the cops all the time. Sometimes they come, sometimes they don’t. THATS city living. Maybe I am crazy and maybe entitled is not the right word but I think its reasonable to expect that I can live in a neighborhood without all this BS happening all the time. it won’t happen over night but I am super involved and I do more than just rant on the PoP…

    • Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    • I think your lectures are becoming tiresome. Kind of hard to take this seriously so soon after your “Mapquest made me late for an appointment/I think the government is behind it” rant from yesterday. Also wasn’t impressed by your expletive-laden outbursts in the “crack-smokers in the park” thread.

      You definitely have the highest average word count of all PoPville, so congrats on that.

      • I agree with you on the tiresome count. It’s to the point that I skip all of this person’s comments because they are always so angry.

      • I think you responding to everything I write is becoming tiresome as well as you making up things that I said which in fact did not happen. I am sure you won’t respond to this a la Mitt Romeny but please show me where I said “Mapquest made me late for an appointment/I think the government is behind it”.

        Again it is people like you that make your own facts up that start misunderstandings. Again, Mitt Romney much?

        Oh no, you are unimpressed with what I wrote yesterday, whatever will I do? Maybe I will write in to PoP and ask him and PoPville.

        Well I pride myself on being able to type pretty fast so…

        • Man alive, are you kidding me? Maybe it was someone else named Kam who also posts incredibly wordy diatribes, but it’s all right here:

          And remember this: we all need self-check sometimes.

          • I read it a few times but I missed the part where I said what you said I said. Please cut and paste, maybe I am slow today. Maybe you are the one who needs a self-check.

        • Prince Of Petworth

          Kam and those who get aggravated when people ask for advice – it’s all well and good that you know what to do in this situation – but not everyone does. Even though it seems super obvious to you – no need to be personally offended when others seek advice. You don’t need to personally respond to every post – if you find it and the blog aggravating or useless please skip it. It won’t be taken personally. This is an area where people are encouraged to ask for help when they need it. So relax, it’s a beautiful day out.

          • Dan,

            I am not aggravated but moreso bewildered and amazed. I get that people need help but when do people become accountable for their own actions? I think you do a great service overall, you know I love your blog and the service it provides but this simple question has been asked in many different forms over and over and over again. I understand that it is your blog and you will do what you will, no problem with that, just giving you some input at to where some of it comes from with some of us. People are also different and won’t respond the same way, that doesn’t mean we don’t look out for our fellow man…maybe the “harsher” responses will get through to people, you know?

            Also since I have your attention, my point yesterday was basically that IMO it was a little bit irresponsible to have a headline saying that people were smoking crack in such a public place when there was no evidence (just a pic from afar of two people sitting down, the OP originally never said they walked by them or that they saw the stint) of it until LW came and said they were there and gave the missing details. True, I did get annoyed with the responses because I felt they were attacking me and I am not one to back down when I think I am being resonable. You let it what everyone said slide but yet deleted my comment(s) but kept crass ones up. Since when it is ok to post about tasting dildos and everything that “Cam” wrote? That is where my frustration came from yesterday. Please feel free to email me if you like to discuss further offline.

            Overall though, keep up the great work and know that I don’t mean any harm to anyone.

          • Prince Of Petworth

            Look not everyone reads this site as religiously as others do. Just because an issue has been discussed once, twice or ten times – don’t assume the OP has read it. That point always baffles me. Otherwise – if it’s not helpful to you – don’t read it. Regarding other objectionable comments – as I’ve said 1000 times, I don’t read all of the comments. I try to catch as many objectionable ones as I can. I’m sorry I won’t be addressing the issue any further.

  • Better that you call the police, they show up, and it turns out to be nothing rather than NOT calling the police, and then have someone get hurt. Remember the Lululemon murder? Employees at the Apple store next door heard Jana Murray’s screams for help and didn’t call the police (why they didn’t is anyone’s guess, but maybe they were hesitant to “bother” the police).

    Call if you think something is wrong. You’ll be glad you did.

  • Again – Call 911. Don’t take the decision out of the MPD’s hands. Let them make the call and priority.

    Wow. It is not that hard.

  • If you’re wondering whether you should call the police or not, you should call the police.

  • Don’t worry about bothering 911. When I called the non-emergency number to report a week-old hit-and-run on my parked car they told me I needed to dial 911 to report it. Even though it was non-violent. Even though it wasn’t an emergency.

  • Time to move.

  • It “sounded like the woman was being hit,” but “I’m hesitant to bother the police unless someone’s clearly being hurt”?

    If it sounds or looks like someone is maybe, sort of, possibly being hurt, please call the police.

  • It really isn’t a big deal to call 911. I’ve had to do it twice in the past month–once for a guy passed out and unresponsive at my bus stop, and once for a bus flashing “Emergency–Call 911” on it. I figure the police can prioritize these with everything else. I’ve also called over the past couple years for hearing gunshots (twice), a car with no plates parked in a traffic lane during a snowstorm (worried it would cause a crash), a bleeding man who couldn’t stand up, and probably others (once I saw a guy selling DVD players out of a truck full of them…I didn’t call for that but happened to walk by a cop on the next block and mentioned it).

    My litmus test is first to make sure I wouldn’t cause harm to myself from calling. That means getting away from gunshots and out of hearing range of a potential criminal. Second, I compare how bad I would feel if I got scolded by a 911 operator (hasn’t ever happened, by the way) versus how I’d feel if I read in the paper the next day that someone died from the thing I hadn’t called about. In situations like an unconscious person or a shooting that truly could be life or death, it’s easy to err on the side of calling.

  • This is why I worry about walking in this city…that I’ll cry out for help, and no one will call 911.

  • Some lines are blurry: what about the house across the street, where the negligent old aunt lets her nephew RUIN the block by partying on the front porch EVERY DAY from noon untiil 6 with half-a-dozen (or more) other loud, foul-mouthed, shiftless, druggy-drunks, who hoot and holler and down endless beer and curse and chain smoke, with every 4th word being some variation on f*ck or sh*t.

    Yeah, I know I can call the cops when they stagger over to the alley (or to the side of my house!) to piss, or when they quite obviously are doing little deals. Maybe even when they drop their bottles and fast-food wrappers everywhere. But what about for spewing loud profanity during the day? Any recourse?

    They, alone, ruin our otherwise half-decent block ghetto. Because of them, I avoid taking my kids out front and keep the front windows closed.

  • I always say call. We used to have an active drug house on our block and all sorts of mayhem going on. I would call 911 to report drug dealing whenever I saw it; I also called whenever I saw fights, which was pretty often (example – once saw a man holding a woman down on the sidewalk, while another woman punched her in the face). The frequency of 911 calls was used in the court case which resulted in the owner being forced to sell the house (google dc drug nuisance property for more info). The house was sold, completely renovated, and sold again. And our block is so quiet, it’s awesome 🙂

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