Staying out of trouble while pursuing trouble is a tough balance.
In the bounty hunter’s world, the law at least requires you to carry specific paperwork, have specific credentials with you, and to call the police within a specific number of hours before you knock on any doors. That helps – there have been plenty of times that a neighbor seeing our team knocking on a door will get a little concerned and call the police. Often enough a police car will cruise up, chat with us, recognize that we already called their watch commander, wish us luck, and keep moving. That wouldn’t happen if we hadn’t already done our part and called them – it’s just following the rules.
Now, what happens when you don’t have those set rules in place? This could be a Guardian Angels patrol, another kind of Neighborhood Watch program … or any darn moment of any darn day when you spot trouble brewing.
Note: Deciding to take action should not be a choice. That does NOT mean you have to jump in and risk your safety if you don’t want to. Call emergency services and let them know what you see or hear – that’s a huge step forward (and somehow not many folks take that step).
Make That Call
If you make that initial call, you have some leverage for every other step you might take. Imagine the difference if you end up talking with an aggressive person in either case:
Scenario A: “I hope you’ll stop doing nasty deeds here, Mr Bad Guy.”
Scenario B: “I hope you’ll stop doing nasty deeds here, Mr Bad Guy. Besides, my partner there is on the phone with police dispatch.”
Everything else you say is now in the context of knowing the police might arrive. Mr Bad Guy has to accept that improved odds of consequences. This is basic criminology 101 stuff: “Swift and Certain punishment is more effective than Severe punishment.”
You see trouble brewing, and your partner calls the police. Ideally, whoever calls says the right things to keep you out of trouble.
There was an illustrative case in Texas in which a caller told the 911 operator that he could see people burglarizing his neighbor’s home. He even told the operator, “I’m gonna shoot em!” and then he did. It’s tough to claim self defense when you make a recording of yourself telling the police you’re going to hurt somebody.
When you call the police, they’ll ask for things like Location, Your Name, Phone Number, Description of the People Involved, and the Nature of the Emergency. At no point in the initial stages of the call will they ask you what you plan to do about it – so don’t tell them something stupid! Somehow, that’s harder to avoid than it might seem.
Call A: “I’m at 123 Main Street with a friend, and we see a tall white male in blue jeans and white shirt yelling at a red-head female in yellow. He is loud, gesturing violently, and she looks scared. Please send an officer. I hope she’s going to be ok. Please send an officer – we’ll intervene if we must, but I’d rather have an officer here right now.” (Bonus: If you’re comfortable with the added involvement, you can tell him (even from across the street) that you’ve called the cops, and they’re on the way).
Call B: “I’m at 123 Main Street with a friend, and there’s a crazy dude here scaring some girl. Wow – he’s wicked loud! We gotta jump in an’ stop em quick. You gonna send anybody? Better send an ambulance, too – we’re trained to defend ourselves! Haha!”
Imagine those two being played in court. When the big “crazy dude” has his nose broken, you can be sure his attorney will tell the jury all about how you destroyed his huge acting career, and he lost his lucrative job waiting tables because of his injuries, all because of your premature violent response to him simply talking to someone. You were probably biased in some way, too, making this into a hate crime charge. Yeah – silly things like this happen, and they’re a lot more likely when you give the other side’s attorney a head start.
Describe the other person’s scary actions as fully as you can – this call is being recorded. You will want proof that he (or they) demonstrated Intent, Means, and Opportunity – all of which is now recorded for posterity, or for your legal defense if you need it.
Memorize some lines you can use if you call for help, and won’t get yourself in trouble in the process.
Talk Smart or Shut Up
When the police do arrive, they’ll want to talk to the people still standing (and able to talk). Should you talk to them? If you don’t you look suspicious, and may kick them into “investigation phase” thinking to find out why you’re acting guilty. Depending on the severity of the results of the situation, that is likely to lead to a detention, and possibly even arrest. “Probable cause” is easy for an officer to articulate if you’re standing there looking guilty, not willing to cooperate with their simple questions, with mashed up knuckles. If you DO talk though, you might say something mistakenly really stupid, and land in trouble.
Go ahead and answer questions about why you were scared by the other person’s actions, words, gestures, body language, yelling, etc. Do mention anything that indicates THEIR intent, means, and opportunity … and maybe even why you and/or the other victim(s) were absolutely stuck with nothing else you could do but to intervene as you chose.
Again, memorize some options. Indicate that you’re still scared, shaken up, confused, DO want to cooperate, but DON’T want to make a careless inaccurate statement. Consider these loosely phrased, not easy to pin-down phrases:
“I convinced him to stop.”
“We managed to get them to walk away.”
Could you do those things with conversation? Of course.
Could you also do them with fists or other weapons? Yep.
Should you point out that distinction? I don’t think so.
Of course, they’ll ask for clarification, but this is where you can mention that, “I’m still really shaken up by this whole thing. If you need a full statement, I’m very willing to help. I just get scared about saying the wrong thing. You know how it is. If you need more information, can I have my attorney help me with this?”
With this, you’ve followed up with your initial phone call, stayed consistent, and even tried to give some initial answers and be forthcoming. But they’ll also recognize that you’re not an idiot-thug, and that helps a whole lot, too.
None of this helps if you’re actually an idiot-thug, or if you did something you shouldn’t have done. It’s just a way to keep yourself out of mistaken trouble when you actually did the right thing. There’s plenty of trouble available, even for the good-guys. Keep aware of these things, and keep safe.