Three Questions You Should Ask Before Calling The Cops

Aug 10, 2016 · 4 min read
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Depending on the situation, calling the cops can be a good or bad call. (Image from:

Are the cops need in every single situation in our lives? When I was looking at Zootopia, a thought went through my mind — Why does Judy know as much as she does being a cop? Nevermind the fact that she is a fictional character (a European Rabbit cop) in a fictional world, this is how we see the police officer; a human being of high standards and knows almost every reasonable law in the book. That is what we see reflected on our movie screens and televisions, so we would think that most matters can be solved by bringing the police into it.

However, it’s because of this over-simplistic look at law enforcement that we forget that not all matters need the cops to get involved. Now, I’m not saying you should ask yourself “should I take care of this robbery myself” or something to that extreme. I’m saying that in most day-to-day situations, it’s probably best to not escalate a simple matter. After all, just like you, cops go into a situation assuming the worse and what could have been easily avoided is now front page problems.

The major problem is training the general public to critically think. After all, we see public service announcements after 9/11 that “if you see something, say something.” It’s amazing effective because it’s simple to repeat. After all, it’s “better safe than sorry,” right? Well, with racial tensions at a high, I doubt that would be the most positive thing to say.

So, we need a better way to think about getting the police involved. I purpose a simple three question survey that will help the general public determine if cops are needed in any situation. Three quick questions that require a little thinking and can be asked quickly. I’ll present the questions first and then explain:

  1. Is this a life-threatening emergency?
  2. Can I intervene or call someone who can intervene?
  3. Can I (or others) safely intervene?

Let’s review each question.

Is this a life-threatening emergency?

Look at the situation logically and ask yourself “is this going to get someone killed?” It’s important to ask this question first and when asking yourself this question, look at the whole picture. Zoom out a bit and look at the situation, the people involved in it, the time of day and other environmental factors. Take every detail in — the more, the better. This will help you determine if the answer is a “yes”. If you’re able to breathe calmly while examining everything, then it’s not as life-threatening as you originally thought. Move on to the next question.

Can I intervene or call someone who can intervene?

Now, the situation you’re observing isn’t life-threatening, however, there is a “quality of life” concern that is sticking with you. So, can you intervene? Even if you’re an introvert, just bringing yourself closer to the action can defuse it some of the time. We’re not talking being a superhero, we’re talking being alert and present. Being active and attentive if a person is arguing with someone might actually defuse it. However, there will be cases when it’s best for someone else to do it on your behalf.

Can I (or others) safely intervene?

The last question you should ask yourself is the safety part. After all, the context of the situation is still an abstract thought. You don’t have all the pieces of the puzzle together. However, you do have enough information to see if it’s okay to do things on your own or have someone do it for you.

So, what about the answers?

Now, if you answer yes to the first question, get the help as you best see fit. If you are calm enough to get to the second question and the third question, then it’s probably best to get someone else to assist. There are alternatives to 911 in a lot of major cities and you should learn about these options. Take the time to research them. In New York City, we have 311 which can be used to call up other services that can help. An operator will be able to guide you to the right service. However, this works best after defusing the immediate situation.


This is by no means a “perfect” strategy and this will require some fine tuning. However, this is something that was designed to help you stop and think. When you see a situation and you’re scared, your mind will shut down and you’ll be faced with very limited options. By training yourself to ask questions, you might de-escalate yourself and see the problem in front of you for what it really is — one that can either play itself out or can be handled without making the scene a big deal.

Sadly, we can’t all predict how every scenario is going to play out. Which is why we have to start thinking of other ways to do so before the need arises.

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