Residents & Police Address 'When Should I Call the Police?'

The Coalition hosted 4 discussion tables at the Coffee House Discussion: When Should I Call the Police. After meetings with the police chiefs and following community concerns about when and why people call the police, Coalition trustees suggested a Coffee House Discussion to provide the safe space for people to have a dialogue about what might, in their minds, be a reason to call the police; why someone might hesitate to call; what concerns people have about their own protection or in putting someone at risk. Our goals were to get people face to face in dialogue, taking the conversation beyond social media posts, and to get people thinking about their biases in assessing the need for police support.

We are grateful to all those who attended—most especially Chief DeVaul, Lieutenant Niheema Malloy, and Sergeant Adrian Acevedo. The attendees shared experiences and worked through some questions that they then shared with police who addressed their concerns. Listed below are some of the highlights. Note that this is a beginning and the intention is to share the confusions and concerns with the local police, the Maplewood Community Board on Policing, and the South Orange Safety Committee to support their efforts to provide the best support and guidance to the community.

Concerns that were shared included:

  • The use of surveillance cameras and sharing on social media
  • Too many police cars showing up for a nonthreatening issue
  • Confusion about using 911 as opposed to a general police department number
  • Concern about what to say to the dispatcher
  • Concerns about calls for help regarding people with disabilities
  • Is there a formal process for apologizing when police stop someone who is innocent or when the police made a mistake?
  • What kind of training are police getting?
  • If you have a lower priority issue that may require police intervention can you reach out by email?

Some suggestions that came from the attendees included:

  • Build neighborhood relationships
  • Consider neighbors as ‘first responders’
  • If you see something of concern or suspicious, ask yourself questions to check your bias before calling the police
  • Create an outreach policy to help mitigate fear and harm done to those who experienced wrongful stops by police
  • The onus is on us not to call the police for non-emergency issues

Chief DeVaul, Lieutenant Malloy and Sergeant Acevedo offered some responses that may be helpful in evaluating what rises to the level of police involvement and in clarifying the use of 911 or other services:

  • 911 gets priority. Only use 911 in dangerous situations or medical emergency.
  • Dispatchers are trained to ask questions
  • Take the lead in informing the dispatcher. Give as much info as possible.
  • Let the dispatcher know if there are or are not weapons involved or if you or someone is in danger
  • Be clear if this is a medical emergency; you can explain that you only need ambulance
  • Police are trained for medical emergencies and can usually reach a scene before the EMTs
  • Police become familiar with needs of local families and individuals and often know how to respond to repeated medical or disturbance calls
  • In family crisis situations, give the dispatcher context and history
  • Whether an individual calls 911 or general police number, the response is the same; it is commensurate with need.
  • When you see something that causes you concern, analyze your response so you can be sure it’s not unfounded or based on bias. It also helps the police understand what is happening. We care about behavior not appearance. Suspicious behavior should drive call.
  • Chief Devaul noted a need for further discussion on how to change when people are calling the police. Quality of life issues, nuisance issues, and problems between neighbors should not involve the police
  • The police can be reached by email for low priority issues and non-emergency questions. Visit the department website.
  • Ask yourself if you are taking up a line for a true emergency before you call 911
  • On training: the police receive de-escalation training, unconscious/implicit bias training, special training to handle family and domestic violence issues as well as working with neuroatypical people. There is also new training on non-intervention; the response may be to just patrol and look.

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