How to Be a "Good Witness"...

This is a discussion on How to Be a "Good Witness"... within the Carry & Defensive Scenarios forums, part of the Defensive Carry Discussions category; You always hear from other people (and sometimes your firearms instructor) to try to be a good witness rather than confront a situation head on, ...

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Thread: How to Be a "Good Witness"...

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    Member Array soundwave's Avatar
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    How to Be a "Good Witness"...

    You always hear from other people (and sometimes your firearms instructor) to try to be a good witness rather than confront a situation head on, if possible. One thing that they forget to tell you is how exactly you can be a "good witness". Well, I'm here to give you some tips on what to do when you dial those three important numbers: 9-1-1. Instead of tailoring this specifically for shooting-related incidents, I'm writing this for just about any kind of emergency because this is the most-important and first step to getting the help you need quickly. (Beware: This will be kind of long, so be prepared. ;O)

    Remember Where You Are
    THE MOST IMPORTANT INFORMATION YOU CAN GIVE A DISPATCHER IS YOUR LOCATION, AS ACCURATELY AS POSSIBLE. I have a saying at work (I am a dispatcher, btw), "I can send the world to you, I just need to know where to send it." We can send anything from animal control to sending in the military troops, but it will do no one any good if we can't find you.

    It's commonly understood that when you call 9-1-1 that the dispatcher already knows the location of where you are calling and your phone number. That's not necessarily true. It also depends on your local phone company and even how you're dialing 9-1-1. If you are calling from a residential phone, there's a high chance that the address shown on our screens are correct and the same with the phone number if you've lived there for a long time (e.g. +/- 5 years). If you're calling from a cellphone, you might as well assume that we have no idea where you are let alone what your phone number is. Very few places in the country have the ability to not only know your phone number but to actually figure out your location, even while moving in a vehicle (mine is one of those few).

    So, always be sure to give your location. If you are driving on a highway, keep track of whether you're going north/south/east/west-bound, the last milepost marker and approximately how far away from it you are. On a freeway, remember the last exit number or street that you passed. In a city, remember the address of where the emergency is (or the cross streets and which direction you are; e.g. northwest/northeast/southwest/southeast/etc.). Remember: We need to know where the emergency is/has happened rather than where you live or where you retreated to.

    Keep It Simple Stupid (KISS)
    Dispatchers can only send help as fast as we can determine what exactly is going on. If there is a home invasion/robbery, say so. Don't say that you were sleeping and some guy breaks down your door, etc., etc. Just say in plain English what it is. Some examples: Domestic violence (physical/verbal/people are seperated now), people fighting, bank robbery, assault in progress, armed robbery, carjacking, shooting (someone was actually shot), prowler, car accident, hit and run, fire, suicide, rape, man down, shots fired (nobody actaully shot). The faster you can tell us exactly what happened (short and sweet), the faster that we can send help.

    Another important factor is when it happened. There is a large difference between an assault that happened 2 weeks ago, an assault that happened an hour ago, 5 minutes ago, and is happening right now. Once you give us the minimum information (location, what happened, how long ago) we can dispatch help immediately while we put you on standby for about 30 seconds so we can get things going.

    Safety Is the MOST Important Thing
    Your safety, the safety of those involved and the safety of those responding to a call are of the up-most importance to us. If there is a very dangerous incident at the location that you are calling from... LEAVE!!! Don't wait for a dispatcher or police officer tells you to do so. Use common sense! It does us and you no good to call us in the middle of a shooting rampage or house fire while you're still there, you could get hurt or killed! Make sure that your environment is safe for you to be calling from and let us know right away if there is something that can hurt us/you or would increase the cautious approach of those responding to the call. Questions that we always ask include:

    Is anybody hurt and how hurt are they (e.g. unconscious, breathing, walking around, etc.)?
    Are there any dogs?
    Has anyone been drinking or seem like they have been?
    Has anyone been doing any drugs or seem like they have been?
    Are there any children involved or around now or when it happened?

    There are literally loads of other questions we will ask depending on what you're calling about. If you volunteer this information without us asking it makes our job easier and gets the information to those responding quicker.

    People and Vehicle Descriptions
    If there are people involved, tell the dispatcher who the players are. It is just as important for us to know who the innocent people are as well as the BGs if there is any reason why a LEO would approach them cautiously. Descriptions of people should include: ethnicity (What they look like, not their family tree; e.g. white/black/hispanic/native american/asian/etc.), gender, if they have a hat/what kind/color, hair color and length (approximate), shirt type and major color(s), pants/shorts/dress/etc. (including major color(s)), if they are wearing a jacket (type and major color(s)), shoes (if possible), and any unique characteristics (huge mustache, bushy beard, extremely short skirt, large spiked hair, numerous piercings on the face, tattoos, etc). We also need to know if they are still there or left and if they left which direction they were last seen going.

    When a vehicle is involved, we don't necessarily need to know what manufacturer made the car or the specific model. Unless you are absolutely 100% sure as to what it is and can quote the engineering schematics, we prefer general descriptions of the vehicle. We need to know the following: color (!), type of vehicle (stationwagon, sedan, coupe, pickup truck -- with or without camper shell, SUV, motorhome, farm equipment, semi-truck, etc.), year of the vehicle (older, newer, or approximate decade will do just fine), any unique characteristics (e.g. chrome wheels/rims, bumper/window stickers, dents, broken/cracked glass, etc), how many people are in the vehicle (as well as their descriptions, if possible), license plate and state issued (if you can get it, partial plates are still helpful), and the direction the vehicle was last seen going in.

    Conclusion
    Try to volunteer as much information as you can without being questioned. As I said already, the faster we get information the faster we can get it out to those responding and those in the area. If we need more information, we will ask for it. If you are on a cellphone you can barely hear the dispatcher, you/they are breaking up heavily, or there are other problems with the connection, keep repeating your location until the dispatcher confirms your location. The default response to any situation where we can't figure out what's going on is to send people now for some kind of unknown problem and try to recontact you. When giving numbers, don't give 3742 as "thirty-seven fourty-two," give it as "three-seven-four-two", or both one right after the other. When giving letters such as in a license plate, try to give it phonetically. If you don't know any military or LE phonetic alphabet, give example words (e.g. "B as in boy"). This will avoid confusion and get your information correctly as you give it rather than trying to figure out what you said. If there is something else that we need to know, we will ask... Believe me, it's our job to get information quickly and we know how to do it well. ;O)

    I work for a large law enforcement agency in Arizona and can answer any questions you have relating calling 9-1-1. If I didn't say something here and you want to know more information or need me to clarify it some more, please PM me and I'll be happy to give you anything I can. Dispatchers are commonly considered the "first person on the scene" so we need to know as much as we can, as quickly as we can so that help (and the right help) can get to you and get what needs to be done safely for everyone involved.

    Thanks for your attention! Hope this helps!

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    Distinguished Member Array RSSZ's Avatar
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    GREAT POST !! I will print out copies for some of my students as just another one of the handouts that I give to them. Very informative.

    We need to understand what the people on the other end of the phone are trying to accomplish also,understanding that things will be really crazy in the aftermath. By realizeing the type of questions that will be asked,we will be more prepared to answer those questions. Thanks for the above. --------

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    VIP Member Array Old Chief's Avatar
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    Soundwave, thank you for the informative and timely post. Now if we could get the non emergency users of 911 off the air.

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    VIP Member Array ccw9mm's Avatar
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    soundwave: Wonderful post! There doesn't seem to be a good "recipe" out there, and certainly not one that's offered up during training sessions. Glad to hear the scoop from somone "in the biz." Great reminders.

    - Michael
    Your best weapon is your brain. Don't leave home without it.
    Thoughts: Justifiable self defense (A.O.J.).
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    Most useful and thx for the post - a number of things mentioned which I daresay many folks would not be thinking of.
    Chris - P95
    NRA Certified Instructor & NRA Life Member.

    "To own a gun and assume that you are armed
    is like owning a piano and assuming that you are a musician!."


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    Member Array denverd0n's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Old Chief
    Soundwave, thank you for the informative and timely post. Now if we could get the non emergency users of 911 off the air.
    Well, this is a little off topic, but this is a problem that SOME jurisdictions create for themselves.

    Several years ago I lived in Omaha, Nebraska. My car was vandalized while it was sitting in my driveway overnight. Not an emergency, obviously. So I spent several minutes looking through the phone book to find a non-emergency number for the local police to call to report it. Finally found what I thought was the most likely number (problem #1: they did NOT have a clearly identified non-emergency number!) and called it. Explained what had happened. They TOLD me to call 911!

    I was incredulous. I said, "but this is not an emergency." Didn't matter, they told me, I should call 911 to report this. Okay, so I called 911 and reported it. And the whole time I was thinking to myself, "I hope someone with a REAL emergency isn't being forced to wait while I report this minor vandalization that happened hours ago!"

    I can only hope that Omaha has come up with a better system since then!

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    SOUNDWAVE-
    Great post. Very informative. Thank you very much for sharing the information you have with all of us. Hopefully we will never have to use these directions, but should it occur, I believe that it will help anyone who has read this post.

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    Soundwave, outstanding post! Being unseen, 911 operators rarely get the credit they deserve. It's a tough job.

    My local paper recently published a humorous article about bogus calls to our county 911 dispatch center (it was a slow news day).

    Some examples were asking for directions, for phone numbers (that anyone could find in the directory), for weather reports, for sports scores, a parent complaining that her kid wouldn't do his homework, trespassing livestock and many others. The public's stupidity knows no bounds!


    When you’re wounded and left on Afghanistan’s plains,
    And the women come out to cut up what remains,
    Just roll to your rifle and blow out your brains,
    And go to your God like a soldier.

    Rudyard Kipling


    Terry

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    Member Array kd5nrh's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by denverd0n
    Well, this is a little off topic, but this is a problem that SOME jurisdictions create for themselves.
    Same thing in Dallas; outside of M-F 8-5, they don't answer any non-emergency numbers, and the recordings all refer you to 911.

    Back to the topic; what I was always taught is to give the location first, (if they can't understand anything else, at least they know where to look) then a quick and dirty description of the problem, then wait for the dispatcher to ask for whatever details they want next.

    Location first also helps in areas like mine, where a cell 911 call will generally be routed to the county's dispatch, who may then want to transfer to the city's dispatch or call them immediately and relay the information.

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    Senior Member Array blueyedevil's Avatar
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    Soundwave, I'm surprised to hear you say that on a cell phone you have no idea where they are.

    I was shopping for a cell phone a while back, and was told by the salesman that they could now, By law, only service phones that were "GPS enabled". If you guys don't have access to that information, who does?

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    Member Array soundwave's Avatar
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    Thanks to everyone that thanked me for the post! I wanted to reply to this one to answer this question because I personally think it's very important and mostly not understood.

    Quote Originally Posted by blueyedevil
    Soundwave, I'm surprised to hear you say that on a cell phone you have no idea where they are.

    I was shopping for a cell phone a while back, and was told by the salesman that they could now, By law, only service phones that were "GPS enabled". If you guys don't have access to that information, who does?
    By a demand from FCC all cellphone providers have been required to sell GPS-enabled phones since about 2001-2002 or face penalties. However, not all cellphone providers are listening nor care. While they're starting to finally sell cellphones that are truly GPS-enabled, many cellphone companies refused to give out that information to 9-1-1.

    In our area of our county we receive Cingular, T-Mobile, Verizon, Tracphone (prepaid), and Alltel cellphone calls. Out of all of these, only 1 company will give out that information and that is Alltel. County-wide, the absolute worse cellphone company to give out your location is Nextel (which is surprising seems all of our guys in the city have Nextel phones). Besides Alltel, none of the others will even give out your phone number for us to call you back. So 90% of all of our 9-1-1 calls coming from a cellphone have absolutely no information as to what phone number is calling nor where they are.

    The information about your phone number and location are provided by the cellphone provider's cell tower, meaning that the cell tower must be enabled to provide that information. These companies don't seem to put a high priority on this for some reason. Some companies even have the phones with GPS and haven't even bothered to develop the technology to use it.

    On top of all of that, cutbacks on state 9-1-1 funds bring it backwards even more. Many, many 9-1-1 centers don't have the technology to receive this information even if it is available. In fact, some don't even have the ability to view that information from a residential phone. So just remember to give your location and phone number no matter what.

    There is no one that answers 9-1-1 calls that doesn't think this should have been implemented as soon as cellphones came into being. We all think that as soon as you answer a 9-1-1 call from a cellphone that we should know exactly what your phone number is AND exactly where you are. Sometimes that's all we get. No voice, no noises, nothing, and we need to be able to send help. On residential phones, the address we get is usually correct and we send what we can just in case calling was the only thing they could do (e.g. expect the worst case scenario in all situations).

    Now the benefits of finding a caller from a cellphone are astronomical. We had one case where we had a caller that was kidnapped and put in the trunk of a car. She was told that she would be killed methodically when they arrived at the destination they were going. One thing the kidnapper forgot to do was search her for things she had on her -- mainly her cellphone. The caller dialed 9-1-1 and we were not only able to figure out where she was but follow her as the vehicle was moving.

    The end result was that we had followed her as the vehicle was moving around the city and setup roadblocks and LEOs so we did eventually stop the vehicle, arrest the kidnappers and save the caller. Without this ability, she would've been very really dead and just another statistic. We can only do as much as we have the tools to do so. We can find out as much information from the caller as possible, but in some situations (such as kidnapping) that is not enough.

    Cheers.

    Edit!
    I forgot to mention that when you call 9-1-1 from a cellphone, even if it doesn't have service, you are connected to the nearest cellphone tower that can understand it and patched to the 9-1-1 center that is responsible for the cell tower. Therefore, you are not only at the mercy of your own cellphone provider's technology in the phone, but the seperate operator of the cell tower as well. Some phones don't work with some towers (such as Nextel) and will give out nothing, if it completes the call at all. Just something more to think about.
    Last edited by soundwave; July 26th, 2006 at 07:11 PM.

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    Member Array soundwave's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by denverd0n
    Well, this is a little off topic, but this is a problem that SOME jurisdictions create for themselves.
    Just wanted to touch on this one... The person that you talked to when they told you to call 9-1-1 are obviously not dispatchers. We only have a limited amount of 9-1-1 lines that we can answer. If the lines are full, they are transferred to a fallback 9-1-1 center near the original one. This creates a delay in our response and that's definitely not something we like to hear. Our agency is not one of them, but many agencies will clarify that you do NOT have an emergency and tell you to hangup and dial the non-emergency number. And, if you don't, the dispatcher will hangup on you because you are literally putting people's lives at risk.

    If for some reason you cannot find your non-emergency number for your jurisdiction in the blue section of your white pages, it is fine to dial 9-1-1 and ask for the non-emergency number. We have no problem with giving that out if it only takes a few seconds. Another good way to get that phone number is to call your local newspaper. Surprisingly enough, they usually know the phone number, sometimes directly to dispatch. ;O)

    Cheers.

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    Senior Member Array mark555's Avatar
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    good post thank you
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    Member Array denverd0n's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by soundwave
    Just wanted to touch on this one... The person that you talked to when they told you to call 9-1-1 are obviously not dispatchers...

    If for some reason you cannot find your non-emergency number for your jurisdiction...
    My point was that in that particular jurisdiction, at that particular time, they did not HAVE a non-emergency number! I called the only number I could find in the phone book for the police department and they told me to call 911. I then called 911 and told them it was not an emergency, but that I had been told I had to call 911 to report vandalism to my car. Yes, they confirmed, 911 was the correct number to call to report ANY crime, emergency or not.

    Now, to me, that was just dumb. But that was the way they were doing it in Omaha some years back.

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    Now, to me, that was just dumb. But that was the way they were doing it in Omaha some years back.
    Dumb is right. They were doing the very same thing in Portland, OR, in the 80s. Might have changed by now, tho.


    When you’re wounded and left on Afghanistan’s plains,
    And the women come out to cut up what remains,
    Just roll to your rifle and blow out your brains,
    And go to your God like a soldier.

    Rudyard Kipling


    Terry

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