So, I Called the Police

Sometimes, my generosity gets me in trouble. 

I have a little free library. It’s not registered with the official organization, so I suppose it’s a rogue little free library. My neighbors enjoy it, and I have people donating and trading books all the time. But when I have a man pounding on my front door late at night, shouting about the books, then it’s trouble. 

I was remembering that I had a woman, a few years ago, who was so offended by the books that she took all of them out,  shouting loudly, and threw them on the sidewalk. She eventually walked away. I did not call the police. 

So, the difference was that a woman shouting in the afternoon, didn’t alarm me, and a man shouting at night did. There was also the problem that, seen through the window, he was at least shirtless, and seemed to be completely naked. And pounding on my front door while shouting about books. 

Of course, I hesitated. While I do call the police occasionally, it’s mostly to ask questions, and all of my calls begin with the statement “This is not an emergency.” Except this time it was. The shouting and pounding continued. 

Like everything, the decision was complicated by history. 

Just over a decade ago, I called the police over a suspected prowler in my yard. I was recently divorced, my small children were asleep and I was working in my office when I heard what sounded like someone opening my gate and walking through the overgrown grapevine. I felt that odd feeling when you know someone is looking at you but you can’t see anyone. I was in a well lit room, and had a bit of light in the back yard, but all the light was going in one direction. Whoever was out there could see me, and must have known I couldn’t see them. My chronic allergy to asking for help had me thinking, really? Is there someone out there? Do I need to worry? and it was simply the fact of protecting my small children that had me think, ok, just call the police. They will take a look around and I will feel safer. 

Yes, and no. The police came – five or six squad cars, sirens flashing, and proceeded to move through my back yard like a military invasion. Guns drawn, shouting through bullhorns, they even called in a helicopter from LAPD. Every blade of grass in my yard was investigated, interrogated and dismissed. Hours of police yelling, helicopter hovering over the house, and half a dozen squad cars with lights blazing filling up every inch of my quiet little streetBy the time it was over – and this took several hours, and probably a dozen officers – they hadn’t found anyone, and told me they probably got away. 

Not only was I not feeling safer, I was pretty traumatized by the noise, by all the people walking around with guns drawn, and LAPD helicopter that had been almost sitting on my roof for an hour. 

So, the idea of calling the cops had me hesitating for a long moment. I really did not want to go through that again. But – more pounding and shouting, and I picked up the phone. My daughter asked “What if he’s African American? Should we be filming when they arrive?” 

Phones up and on, but again, the light was not really right for the shot. My porch light will never make it in the movies. 

When the CCPD arrived, they were fairly subdued. Lights, but no sirens, two cars instead of five, and the officers who came to deal with the situation recognized the man right away as a transient with mental health issues they had dealt with before. They were conversational rather than confrontational, and the matter was resolved in a few minutes. No one was harmed, no one was arrested, and peace returned to the street. And no one called for a helicopter. 

When I spoke to the officers at the door, they were compassionate about the issue. A brief conversation about mental health ensued, but I was so shaken from the shouting and door pounding I forgot to ask if they were the social worker squad. They certainly had some training in that direction.

The difference between calling the police in 2011 and calling the police in 2021 was night and day.

There were a number of different factors to include in the equation. I don’t know what the official department response is to ‘possible trespassing’ versus ‘disturbing the peace,’ but it seemed to me to be the difference between a department that met any possibility of  a problem with weapons drawn, and a department that arrived with diplomacy and dialogue as their primary tools. 

I hope that ten years from now I have no reason to be calling the police. But if I do, I’ll tell you what happens. 

Judith Martin-Straw


The Actors' Gang

1 Comment

  1. What a great story. I am so glad for confirmation that our local police force, imperfect as it is, is growing and evolving as all public institutions must. Several years (but less than 10 years), a woman knocked on our door after having been released too early from detox at Southern California Hospital. She had wandered more than a mile to our house, her shoes were very worn, and she needed a bathroom and some way to get home. We showed her to the bathroom, and called the Watch Commander’s line to see if CCPD could offer a ride. The two officers that came were very respectful and patient. Once they determined that they could not provide a ride, since she lived out of CCPD jurisdiction, one of them called a cab, and paid for her ride out of his own pocket. We offered to reimburse him or pay for the cab ourselves, but he would not allow us to do so.

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