Alternatives to Calling the Police

by Wendy Sachs

Many of you may have seen countless Facebook posts, Tweets, and Google Docs sharing resources on how to avoid police confrontation. This comes saliently after the numerous law enforcement perpetrated murders of people of color, especially young Black men, that have occurred for decades but have recently been publicized and protested more than ever.

Although many neighborhoods of color are disproportionately heavily policed, data shows that lower income victims and those in urban areas are more likely to report crimes. Between 1994 and 2010, the percentage of victims who felt the police would not or could not help if they reported a crime doubled.

So, if people who are susceptible to police violence are more likely to report crimes and more likely to become victims of police brutality, why do they continue to the call the police, especially when they are perceived as unable to help?

In recent years the percentage of crimes unreported because of concerns about police has doubled. Victims give a variety of reasons for not reporting a crime to police — most commonly because they found another way to deal with the incident that didn’t require police attention.

Combining this information, the community at large has crowd-sourced numerous resources and programs to improve the capability of people with fewer resources to take crime de-escalation into their own hands. What To Do Instead of Calling the Police is one such document. Here are some of the key things to remember, say, and do if you are suddenly facing a situation where you or someone around you is considering calling the police.

  1. Breathe.
    Take a moment to collect yourself, take a deep breath, and assess the situation as a whole. Don’t compromise your safety or the safety of others where possible by rushing into a situation.
  2. Communicate your desire not to call the cops.
    If you are not alone, you may need to communicate to others why you do not want to call the police, especially if they suggested this action or have asked you to do so. Try a simple statement such as “I have seen that police interactions, especially between police and people of color, often escalate unnecessarily into violence and death. I believe we have other options in this situation, and I would like you to help me consider how we can best address this issue.”
  3. Follow the CPR golden rule: are you ok?
    Depending on the situation, are you able to ask people who may be in danger what is going on. Do you feel comfortable speaking with those involved on your own, or with the people around you? If this feels ok, assess the environment you are in and try to check in with those involved in the situation. It’s possible the loud noises or arguing you heard are not dangerous, or your neighbors will turn the music down if you just asked!
  4. Recall differences in ability, mental health, and emotional state.
    A lot of situations where police are called involve high tensions, tough emotions, and confusion. People could have altered mental states or attitudes due to drugs, alcohol, or reactions to this stress. You may also be working with folks who have a mental illness, or a different method of communication due to a disability. Police often react to these differences with violence. You can react with calmness and gentle communication and avoid threatening possible victims.
  5. Identify the root of the problem.
    Think about what the real issue is in the situation. Is someone in physical danger? Try to separate them and find a safer space. Is someone ill or having a health-related crisis? Try to get them escorted directly to an appropriate medical facility unless an ambulance is needed. If this is the case, specify the medical nature of the situation to a 911 dispatcher, or try calling your local EMS direct phone number. If the situation has lower urgency than immediate danger, take a moment to think about what tools you may have, and see the above-mentioned Google Doc for further tools and advice.
  6. Try crowd-sourcing.
    We do it for funding, but the open-source, community based platform Buoy allows us to apply it to crisis response. Try the app or contacting a network of people whom you trust to build a ‘response team’ so that you are supported in responding to a situation where you might normally call the police.

Hopefully these resources and steps can help you avoid calling the police the next time you are facing a crisis. Please feel free to reach out to the Now What Stories team with any further suggestions. Remember that resources may vary by your community; try to seek out those which can help in your city or with situations you face the most.

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