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Questions To Ask Before You Call Police

You’re having a lovely Sunday. You’re walking through your neighborhood. You round a corner, and you encounter something that alarms you. Now what?

Some of our community members from Portland State University put together this step-by-step guide to walk through the questions you should ask yourself before calling the police.

A chart laying out four questions to ask yourself before you call the police
Credit: 5546 Studio

1) Is this merely an inconvenience to me? Can I put up with this and be ok? If YES, you identified the police do not need to be involved.

This applies in situations such as: you see a person sleeping in a car and they do not appear to be in pain or danger, or your neighbor is playing loud music, or there is graffiti on a building, or there are kids on your street and you don’t like it.

2) Can I handle this situation on my own? Is this something I could talk out with this person? If YES, you handled the situation

A lot of problems can be solved by just talking to the other person or people involved. Use this method in situations like: your neighbor’s dog repeatedly gets into your yard and digs up your prize-winning gardenias, or an unhoused person’s belongings are blocking a sidewalk that you need to use due to mobility limitations, or someone parked in your parking spot, or there are kids on your street and you don’t like it AND those kids are putting their bikes on your prize-winning gardenias!

3) Is there a friend, neighbor, or someone else I could call to help me? If YES, you and your community handled the situation

Sometimes you may feel intimidated initiating an interaction by yourself, or feel unequipped to handle a particular situation. Or maybe you are young and would like an adult’s help handling a problem. Call a friend, or a community member, or your neighborhood council member, or an adult you trust – whoever you think can help! Use this for any of the situations listed above that you do not feel confident managing alone. This can also be used in situations such as: you are concerned about your friend’s mental health, or you saw something that frightened you and don’t want to be alone right now, or you need a ride somewhere, or you continuously see behavior you’re concerned about in your neighborhood and want to make sure someone is aware of it, or you want help figuring out the best way to handle a problem without jumping to calling the police. Your community can keep you safe! They are a great resource.

4) Could we use mediation to talk through the problem? Could I Contact an alternate emergency response line? If YES, you helped your community handle the situation

This is where our site comes in! For many situations, there are emergency (and non-emergency) service providers that can help with the situation you are dealing with. This can include: you see a child you believe is homeless or a runaway and needs help, or you see a person acting erratically on the street and believe they are experiencing a mental health crisis, or your friend is acting erratically and you believe they are too intoxicated, or you are living in a house where you do not feel safe and you need help getting to a safe place, or you or someone you know is kicked out of their home because of their gender identity.

There are so many resources that can help you with most situations. These lists are not exhaustive! Try to think through the steps above, and think creatively! Remember that interactions with the police can be harmful, and don’t call them if there is another option that doesn’t place anyone in danger. There are so many people who can help, and help is always available.

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