You might think you know all you need to know about calling 911 after using a firearm for self defense. But most likely, you got your information from TV and movies, which are not the best sources.
Watch a character on TV call 911, and it appears to be a quick and painless process. The person calls, tells the operator what happened, and police show up to comfort you and immediately cart away the body. Everyone knows the crumpled figure on the floor is the bad guy and you’re just an innocent victim who did what was necessary.
In real life, that’s not necessarily what happens. The police won’t have any idea who’s the good guy or the bad guy. Their job isn’t to comfort you. The crumbled body may not be moved for hours. And that 911 call isn’t just a simple call. It’s step one of a criminal investigation that starts the moment you start speaking.
As an American citizen, you have rights. And one of those rights is to not incriminate yourself. So here are 5 key facts you need to know before you even pick up the phone to call 911.
All 911 calls are always recorded.
It’s surprising how many people don’t know that every call to 911 is automatically recorded. Every word you say, every sound you make, is recorded and archived for future reference. In addition, the operator will see the phone number you’re calling from and can quickly determine your location whether or not you provide this information verbally.
You’re being recorded even when you’re on hold.
On most phones, when you put someone on hold, the sound cuts off, giving you a moment of privacy. But this isn’t the case for 911 calls. From the moment you are connected to 911 until the moment you hang up, nothing you say is private or off-the-record. Even if the operator puts you on hold, the recording keeps going.
911 operators are trained to keep you talking.
While 911 operators are not your enemy, they are also not your friend. While their intent may be good, their goal is not to help protect your rights. They receive extensive training to keep you on the phone, keep you talking, and keep gathering information to feed to responding police. This is not an intentional trap they set for you, but it can have the same results if you’re upset and end up talking too much and choosing your words poorly in the heat of the moment.
You have no legal obligation to answer questions.
It’s a common misconception that 911 operators are “the authorities” and can give you orders over the phone. In some cases, they are police officers. But in many cases, they are merely civilians whose job is to answer calls and dispatch police. Given that a self defense shooting can have severe legal consequences, you should be prepared to take control of the call and provide only the information absolutely needed to get law enforcement and a medical emergency crew to the scene. Anything beyond that may be used against you if you are accused of a crime.
You should follow a script and hang up.
Few police officers will agree with this advice. From their point of view, you should stay on the phone until they arrive so the 911 operator can help them control the situation, tell them where you are, and relay information about the situation before they arrive. That’s perfectly understandable. However, while this is in their best interest, it’s not always in yours. The best way to make the call in a way that will minimize the chance of incriminating yourself, if to follow a script and hang up.
Your script could be something as simple as this:
“There has been a shooting. The person attacked me. I was in fear for my life. Send an ambulance and law enforcement. My name is _____. I am located at _____. My phone number is _____.”
That’s it. Don’t stray from this basic information. The 911 operator may ask you to repeat something or be more specific about this information. And you should be cooperative. However, once the operator has these basics, it’s time to end the call. If the operators tries to prevent you from hanging up, just say you are too upset to talk. Don’t explain or argue the point. Just hang up.
If you have a lawyer or are a member of Second Call Defense, that’s when you make your second call.
Will police like this? No. Will it make some police officers wonder why you “lawyered up”? Maybe. But remember that you are a U.S. Citizen and you have rights. It can be inconvenient for law enforcement, who have difficult and thankless jobs. But just as you do what to have to do to protect yourself physically, you also have to do what is necessary to protect yourself legally.