How to Not Call the Police
Depending on their experiences, people often have different views about involving the police in minor community issues. For some people, contacting the police is a go-to response when there are what seems to be or are questionable activities happening in their community. But for others, contacting the police is often the last resort (or the police will never be called) because of racist or ableist police practices, bad experience with police, or because police practices are not survivor-centered.
Reflect on What You Consider Suspicious Behaviour
Stereotypes surrounding people of colour are abundant and show up in many ways – including in us. These harmful stereotypes have infiltrated people’s thoughts through negative media portrayals, peers, inaccurate social media posts, and racist relatives. To start addressing these biases begin by asking yourself if you think someone is up to no good simply by the way they look.
Think About Repercussions of Calling the Police
Research shows that people of colour are stopped, arrested, and detained more often than white people. Interactions also carry the danger of becoming more violent when police are called on people of colour, sex workers, or people who use drugs.
There is also a common response to think of calling the police if someone is experiencing a mental health crisis. Even in situations where there is no “wrong doing” happening, violence can occur, as was seen in the police-caused deaths of Regis Korchinski-Paquet and Chantel Moore who are two women of colour who died when police responded to calls for mental health checks. Here in BC, a student in UBC-O residence was dragged by her hair from her dorm room by RCMP when the police were called in for a wellness check.
There may even be someone in the neighbourhood or community who could be put at risk if the police are called. What if someone tries to record the police interaction and they are then put at risk? What if a Black or Indigenous person is walking down the street and the police determine they are suspicious in that moment (this sounds extreme, but it does happen)? What a friend of that person steps in to try and support and are harmed by police?
Ask Yourself “Is this merely an inconvenience to me?”
Assess whether someone – including yourself – is in danger or there is a crime taking place. If there is no harm and you can leave a situation that might be the best response. This includes critical thinking about how it is that police function to protect private property more than members of communities.
Consider if You Have the Skills and Safety to De-escalate the Situation
A lot of problems can be solved by just talking to the other person or people involved. Use this method in situations where someone may be shouting or having a difficult time, if there is 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.
Using empathy and care as a response to a mental health crisis (thank you to Nicole Luongo for these thoughts!)
- If talking to someone who is having a difficult time, ask them what they need. They may not know, but may appreciate having someone ask.
- Don’t force yourself on the situation. Maybe they are just doing their own thing and are not a harm to themselves or others at all.
- Do not try to get close to them or ask if you can get closer (this is a part of consensually letting someone into your space!)
- Do not try to problem solve for them unless they ask. Remember that you will not be able to address the problem that led to the episode. But you can listen and bear witness.
- Ask them if there is anyone you can contact for them.
Think About if There is Someone That is Not Police That You Can Call
If you don’t want to de-escalate or intervene on situation directly, think about if there is a friend, neighbour, or a nearby community member who can de-escalate the situation. Do research into numbers to call that are not the police for your local area (though do remember that some social services are trained to pathologise mental health crises and may call the police)
- MOP Van from PHS community services society. this is a service run by and for sex workers. they are parked at 8th and commercial every day from 1-7pm. they are harm reduction centered.
- Needle Van by PHS community services society. direct cell # 604-657-6561 from 7am-3am. Provide harm reduction delivery anywhere in city limits (they may be busy and you can leave a message for them)
- MORE. direct cell # 604-202-6324 – this is a 24-hour number that can provide support over the phone
- Triage Shelter Front Desk. 707 Powell Street. direct line # 604-254-3700 24 hours a day. Low barrier shelter who may be able to provide de-escalation and crisis support.
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If There are Few or No Numbers to Call as an Alternative to Police, Think about Building Your Own!
Creating and supporting peer networks in our area are a great way to build worlds without police. Peer support networks honour the fact that we all have a role to play in ending harm in our communities, while also building skills and expertise that further empowers our communities.
When it comes to calling the police, it’s important to consider why you are reaching for the phone. Of course, if you have witnessed a crime or you feel that you or someone else is in danger, you absolutely should contact the police. Being a bystander to something terrible happening to another person is also not okay! But if you are unsure, or if you feel like you have some biases, it might be wise to take a deep breath and think through your options.
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