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This is a question often asked and debated – in meetings, on list serves and on street corners. After much thought, I decided to take a little time and put this question to people I thought would know the answer. I spoke with representatives from the police department, TWIS, and some people who do security. Then I took it one step further and checked out what is on the web.
Unfortunately, I got really great responses, but they contradicted each other:
“You should only call the police if you want them to come out.”
“You should call the police when you see a crime taking place.”
“You should call the police when you feel you are in danger.”
“You should call the police when you see something or someone suspicious.”
When I presented them with scenarios that have taken place in our neighborhood and asked again, “should they have called the police?” the answer changed to: “You might not want to call the police on that, but it is worth taking note of it in case you need it for the future.”
Well, with all this there was only one conclusion that I could stand behind: Calling the police is a personal decision. I too have questioned whether some things are worth a call to the police. That question bothered me the most. What I view as suspicious may or may not be what someone else views as suspicious. It is the gray areas that make us question whether we should call.
So after that, I looked at it another way. I tried hard to recall all the times I personally have called the police. I have never been too fond of the color gray, so I try to stay away from the gray things and look for the black and white. I can say that I probably have called the police at least 20 times in my life. The funny thing is that when I called 911 no one ever said “Hi Heather, it’s you again, what is it now!” I was never asked “Why are you calling us?” I was never told “Don’t bother giving me your location – I know where you live since you call so much.” However, I was asked “What is your emergency?” – which is the standard question. On some occasions I don’t recall even giving my name – they just wanted to know what was my emergency.
Call me a rebel, but I don’t mind taking chances, especially if the odds are in my favor. If I call the police the worst that will happen is that they will come. That’s not so bad – it‘s why I called. It’s not like they charge you $29.99 for coming. Some people feel that if the police are outside your door the neighbors might talk. Well, the rebel in me says, let them talk. I can explain it later – or not.
Finally, I visited a police department website, and my mind became settled. There was my question. The answer was simple: Let the police determine the importance. With that little statement, I can now sleep. The rebel in me says, “Hey, I’ll give you the information, what you do with it is up to you.”
However, I will call the police for the following:
- A person that exhibits unusual behavior, looks out of place, loitering, soliciting odd services
- A person looking into vehicles or checking the door handles
- Someone looking into windows of houses
- A vehicle that keeps driving slowly around the neighborhood or block
- A car sitting in place for too long
- A person running from a home for no apparent reason
- Screams, gun shots, glass breaking
This is the option that I can only hope you will choose when in doubt. You will always be able to find someone to debate with you on whether you should or shouldn’t call the police, and you will find someone to agree with your final decision. If concerned, you can take the time to check out 911.gov or the many other web sites, on when to call 911. I hope it will help you get a better understanding of what your options are in a sticky situation and how to avoid them. Still, the final decision will be yours and yours alone. Whatever you decide, make your decision so that you can look at yourself in the mirror and know you made the right decision based on that situation.
And if there is ever a day that I dial 911 and they say, “Hey Heather, you’re calling us again?” I will let you know. Until then I’m calling when in doubt.
CWTW has grown a lot since 2008! We are working this month to update our database, which is now in the hundreds. When we finish, our member addresses and numbers will be more complete and accurate. We will also have a more efficient system for sending out alerts, invitations, calendars, and other kinds of messages to CWTW members, whether active patrollers or eyes-and-ears participants.
You will be hearing from us soon by email, asking for verification of your contact information and the way you want to participate. If you would like to add someone to our network, please let us know. We will even send alerts to your block.
The unique thing about joining CWTW is that when we learn about crimes in our boundaries we will focus our patrol on that area for added protection and security. We do this for free! So always alert us to incidents that happen on your block or in our area. If you are not a member, please consider joining CWTW because we truly care about our community and we know you do too.
We appreciate your help with this sizable project.
You know those times when you read or hear certain things about other people and you wonder what were they thinking? Well, as an outspoken individual I generally try to keep my true opinion to myself, but this is not one of those times – this one is about me! Some joke that I am the “Queen of Safety,” but even this queen has made mistakes worthy of dethroning.
Last spring I wanted to walk to Chestnut Hill to handle some business. It was a beautiful morning, sunny and crisp. I told one of my friends about my intention. She and her husband suggested that I walk through the woods, under the McCallum Street
Bridge and over the Creek, since it would be scenic and make my walk shorter. I have lived in West My Airy for 40 plus years, but I’m not the nature type and fear spiders and bugs more than people. I have never walked on that side of the park and I was unfamiliar with that path.
Well, I strapped on my purse and off I went into the woods. As I began my descent into the shrubbery, I got a bad feeling, but I rationalized to myself that it was just me being paranoid. My instincts did not stop me from continuing down the path. (Despite what some people think, most Town Watchers are chickens just like the rest of the world. We don’t want confrontations, we carry no weapons, and some fear the dark, spiders, and strange bumps in the night. We just want to give a little back to our community by being observant.
As I walked down the path I couldn’t help but notice that I was completely alone – no people in sight. Again I thought to myself, this was a bad idea. I began to curse my friend and her husband, vowing to get them back!! Eventually, I ran into a young couple. As they approached me, my thought was “I could take them if I have to!” They asked me for directions, but of course I had no idea where anything was in this park. As they passed me by I began to laugh at myself. I felt like little Red Riding Hood in the woods. I was a little scared, and a whole lot mad at myself and my friends.
Eventually I reached the bridge which they had told me was the marker of safety because you were at the end of the woods. Well, it did not feel like the end to me, since there were still no houses and no people to hear a call for help. Then a man on a bike came toward the bridge. He seemed to look friendly, and we said our hellos. As I passed him, I put on what I call my supersonic bionic hearing ears – you know, the ones Bionic Woman had in the series. I tilted my head to the side to make sure I heard him moving away and not towards me. I continued to walk along the path, finally recognizing it as the other side of Cresheim Valley Drive. Feeling safer that I was not fully in the woods, I decided to call my friend and her husband. My cell phone was deep inside my purse. I left a message letting them know how much I hated the short cut, that I would never take their advice again, and promising to bring home two ticks to place on each of them personally. Eventually I got out of the woods safely without incident, but it is forever etched in my memory.
By now I am sure you are thinking, why is she telling this story? I am a person who tries to live my life with thoughts of safety first and always trying to think ahead. Yet, I alone put myself in an unsafe environment, under the false goal of trying to take a healthy walk to my appointment. I chose to enter the woods by myself, and I went in mid-morning, which I should have known is not the most populated time. I chose to carry my big everyday purse on my body in the woods with my cell phone at the bottom not in easy reach. Once in the woods, I ignored my instincts telling me it was a bad idea, deciding I could not turn around because I was in the middle. My thought was that either way I would have to walk through the woods, so I might as well finish this stupid quest. When I thought about what I did in summary format it read like …. “Single woman walking in the woods, at mid-day alone with her purse strapped across her body looking lost.” – Doesn’t sound too smart for the Queen of Safety! Almost reads like a Lifetime movie plot waiting to happen. I was lucky that nothing happened, and my friend was lucky I could not find any ticks!
But, I say to my readers, unfortunately we live in a world now where you have to always think about your safety. Don’t be frightened – be proactive! If you don’t have to be alone in the woods, don’t! If you want to run do so with a partner, not in the dark, by the woods with the runner’s uniform of shorts and tees and ear phones. I see these mistakes all the time. Fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, and friends: educate your walking and/or running loved ones. Strive for a healthy body, but do it with common sense.
We all do stupid things sometimes, but we often get an opportunity to do it again the right way. So if you can, try to do the smart thing before it becomes an unpleasant learning experience. Cut on the alarm before your house gets burglarized. Lock up the car before it gets vandalized or stolen. Find someone to walk or run with when you can. And always follow your instincts. If it doesn’t feel right it probably isn’t. Most importantly, recognize that we all make safety mistakes. Learn, improve, and live another day.
This is an example post, oWe are a volunteer organization focusing on the safety of our community. We patrol year round on foot, on bike, and in vehicles, and there are other facets to Town Watch as well. Our eyes & ears members report any suspicious activity to the police and to Town Watch. Some ask, “Is this safe?” It is no more dangerous than walking to your car each day or walking to the neighborhood store. The difference is that you are trained to be a little more observant. We are not police, but we add helpful eyes for them and for our community. Our goal is the keep our community safe!