My neighbors had a fight and I called 911 — was that the right move?

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Kairu asks:

HotlineI had an unpleasant situation this weekend.

My apartment neighbors (a couple in their 20s) had a fight, complete with thuds, pained screams, and the woman screaming, “Let go of me! Stop!”

I called 911 since it seemed to be more than a lovers’ quarrel. But since telling friends, some say I overstepped my boundaries and should have minded my own business.

I feel if I’d done nothing and the fight escalated to a crime scene I could never live with myself.

What would you do in this situation? How do you know when to intervene?

Comments on My neighbors had a fight and I called 911 — was that the right move?

  1. If it was just yelling/loud arguing, I wouldn’t have done anything. But with thuds and “let go of me” screams, I totally think you did the right thing. You could have helped someone who didn’t know how to help herself. And I would do it again if it didn’t stop.

    • THIS. You wouldn’t want to call the cops every time you hear arguing, but if someone sounds like they’re in danger it’s definitely the right thing to do.

      A few years ago I heard my upstairs neighbors having an argument, and I debated whether or not to call the cops. My air conditioner was too noisy for me to be sure what I was hearing, and I decided to err on the side of minding my own business. A few minutes later, I heard him slam the door and leave in a hurry, followed by her crying for several minutes. I considered going upstairs to see if she was okay, but I barely knew her and didn’t want her to think I was eavesdropping. Fortunately he moved out shortly thereafter, but I think back on that day often and regret having done nothing. If I were in her situation, embarrassing as it may be, I think I would have appreciated a hug and a kind word, even from someone I hardly knew.

      • I had downstairs neighbors once who used to have loud fights (and loud make-up sex), but once there were some thuds involved and I, too, erred on the side of minding my own business–mostly because I felt vulnerable myself, living upstairs by myself and I could never get a good read on him, so I wasn’t sure that he wouldn’t retaliate somehow, especially since I was pretty much the only one who would’ve called the cops. Still, I was sorry afterward that I didn’t, even though things seemed to be okay and there were never any more fights that sounded physical in the month or two I remained there.

        • My neighbor right above me, who I don’t know, has super loud orgasms. He sounds like a baying wolf. I have had my share of men…none of them screamed out like that. The first time I heard it, I was actually scared until I figured out what it was. He has sex at least 4 times a week and I think he’s using prostitutes. Anyhow, the homeowners association told me I need to call 911 if it happens after 10:00 PM. I’d like to know if I will remain anonymous when I call 911. He’s a BIG guy, I’m a little woman…I don’t need him rapping on my door out of anger.

    • Channeling my social worker family here–possibly consider leaving a number for an assistance program or shelter? Good idea?

      • I don’t know if that would be a good idea or not. Could that make things worse if the abuser saw it?

        • I’m used to secret ninja sneak drops. Like, find a time when the intended person is home alone and just slip a number under the door with “shhh! if you need somebody, call this then destroy it.”

    • AGREED, there is a difference between loud neighbors and dangerous neighbors.

      You did the right thing.

  2. I’ve done this before. We could actually see into their apartment from our kitchen window. You don’t want to waste the cops time if it’s not serious but then again it’s better to be safe than sorry. Either way you did the right thing.

    • You could always call the non-emergency police number if you’re not sure if it’s a true emergency. It should be easy to find on your police department’s website.

    • We had a similar situation a couple apartments back, except we could see into their living room from our living room if everyone had their blinds open (rare). This couple used to fight all the time, and while it never escalated into violence (that we heard it), would get out of hand. They fought over clothes, and once he apparently hid her purse so she couldn’t leave.

      It was a relief when they moved out.

  3. It was certainly the right thing to do. Often people will not help because of something called the bystander effect ( http://psychology.about.com/od/socialpsychology/a/bystandereffect.htm ), and that can have tragic consequences. Look at what happened to Kitty Genovese in 1964 when no one called police, despite dozens of people hearing her screams.

    It’s hard not to feel that you’re invading someone’s life by sending the police to intervene, and society does put pressure on us to behave a certain way, but if you hadn’t called 911 and something serious had happened to this woman, how would you feel?

    • i’m very proud of you & quite disappointed with your friends for telling you to mind your own business. for one, in your case, it had OBVIOUSLY become physical. & THAT is NEVER okay. personally, i will call w/ just the screaming. i couldn’t live w/ myself if i’d head screams down the hall, “minded my own business”, & then later find out there’s a dead woman or child in there. seriously, think that over. how would you feel?
      i’ve been abused before & sometimes that is exactly what it takes. sometimes it’s also a bit of a wake up call that the situation is out of hand. you did the right thing & hopefully that woman will get out of the situation. if it keeps up, keep on calling. in some places, there are few laws to protect women unless the cops are called. if SHE does it, she is in far more danger. so, think of it as you doing her a favor in many more ways than one.

  4. Given how you explain the situation, I would have called the police, too. I don’t think you overstepped any boundaries. In the past, I’ve had to call the police about neighbors fighting, too. Domestic abuse is very serious, and I feel like it’s important to speak up when we feel it’s occurring. For all you knew, it would have been dangerous to go knock, and it’s completely reasonable to involve the police in a situation where they might be needed.

  5. Only you can say whether it was appropriate. With many decisions, there is no definite “right” or “wrong”…

  6. The tricky thing is that sometimes, if there was something going on but the cops couldn’t do anything about it (due to lack of evidence or douchebaggery on the cops’ part), that could leave the abused partner in the position of being in the house with a very, very angry abuser. I have no idea how often this actually happens but anecdotal evidence suggests it’s a non-zero likelihood.

    That being said… I’d probably do the same.

    • We don’t live in a perfect world unfortunately. So while it is a possibility that after the police leave the abuse will start again all that means is you should be calling them again.

      • In cases of domestic violence being reported, one of the people involved has to be taken away to try to stop the violence that was happening after cops left. Reporting fighting is not the same as domestic violence but if cops see that that may be what’s going on, in my experience they’ll typically err on the side of caution. Unfortunately, if a female that fights back is being abused, she’s often the one taken because girls use their nails and bruises take a few hours to show up. I’d have done the same thing though.

  7. Don’t question yourself on this – you absolutely did the right thing. You may even have saved this woman’s life! Your actions are commendable, not reprimand-able. We are all that much safer when we have neighbours that look out for us.

  8. Domestic Assault is a crime, so if you have any reason to believe that the fight involved hitting (which is sounds like you did from the description) you did the right thing and you shouldn’t hold any guilt.

    There are a lot of people out there that believe that they shouldn’t violate the privacy of their neighbors no matter what and your friends sound like that – but ages ago we used to know our neighbors and call them friends. Would we let our friends get hit and yelled at and sit idly by? I doubt it.

    • Social worker and former sexual assault (and DV) prevention and awareness worker here:
      You absolutely did the right thing, as many people here have said. If ever you or anyone you know worries about making this sort of anonymous intervention, I would invite them to think about what if it was someone they know, someone they love- your mom, your sister, partner, friend- what if it was you? Personally, I would rather someone called the cops because they wanted to protect a person in danger and have to deal with the hassle of sorting it out later than have no one act like they care, and feel alone and ashamed without any resources. While not every state has supportive police presence or the best laws to protect women, I would like to encourage everyone who reads this to err on the side of caution when you think someone needs police intervention- you could be saving their life.

      Speaking of which:
      Here is the website for the Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network (RAINN): http://www.rainn.org/
      Here is the National Domestic Violence Hotline website: http://www.thehotline.org/
      Both of these are great resources if you want to leave them on someone’s door, hand it to them in a hall, or use them yourself. It’s an awful and lonely thing to be the survivor of violence, continuing or in the past, but there are people who want to and can help.
      Be well.

  9. If it happens again, you should call the cops again. And again. And again. If nothing else, if not for concern for your neighbor, these people are interfering with your life. You have a right to make a noise complaint.

    You should also go to the housing office and explain that you’d like to report that they’re violently fighting. It’s a disturbance to members of the apartment community as well as a danger for everyone. (What if one of them has a gun and fires it?)
    If your community manager is reluctant to intervene, explain that you’ve seen the cops show up multiple times and you’re hearing thuds, which sounds like possible damage to the property and appliances. That’s usually enough to motivate them into action.

    • I actually disagree. If the male partner is abusing the female partner on an ongoing basis, destabilizing their housing situation is not going to make things better on either of them. Evictions and/or moving are disruptive and stressful, which would make an abuser more likely to abuse. Plus, what if they end up next to those neighbors who DON’T care or who aren’t willing to do something the next time something is happening? I’m not saying the author should be responsible for this woman’s safety for the duration of her life, but giving her a termination of tenancy on her record won’t be good for her either.

      • Actually I was in the same situation a decade ago with my ex and my housing manager found out about the situation when I called the cops on him one night….hearing about the campus police and sheriff department coming out to my apartment more than once raised a red flag for us. However housing managers tend to watch for you despite what you may think of them. and will help you out. She worked things out in my favor and asked him to leave since he damage the place. For the most part, in some states and cities, the abuser is kicked out of the home if the landlord feels the person is violating their rental agreement or a danger to the other tenants. I just wish someone would have call the cops instead of me when I was going thru hell at that time of my life. It would have made me feel like someone in my apartment complex gave a damn if I was alive or dead.

  10. Nah… Don’t worry about your naysaying friends. You did the right thing.

    It’s not an easy decision to make and one that you have to make a call on, and you did. So don’t worry.

    xoxo

  11. I wish my neighbors had called the police when I was in a terribly verbally and emotionally abusive relationship. While my partner never physically hurt me (beyond occasionally throwing things at me) she did a lot of slamming doors and punching walls so I can see why my neighbors assumed she was also hitting me. She would scream at me for hours. A visit from the police would have been something that I could not ignore, that I couldn’t chalk up to everyone fights. Because she wasn’t hitting me it was easy to make excuses for the terrible way she treated me. Abusive relationships are incredibly hard to leave and sometimes it takes the men in blue showing up for you to find the strength to say I need to get out this. If you ever think someone is in danger make that call, you could literally be saving someones life.

    • I’m so glad you were able to get out of that relationship safely! No one deserves to be treated like that. And punching walls and slamming doors is a classic way to control your partner through fear. I’m sorry you had to go through that.

    • My neighbor is verbally abusive to his girlfriend. He’s so loud that the neighbors can hear him from inside their houses with the windows closed. I tried to lodge a complaint against him with the homeowners association, and the police department, but was told that nothing would be done unless he were actually hitting her. Perhaps your neighbors found themselves in the same situation.

  12. Better safe than sorry… I’ve done it more than once, and with a dad as a 30-year cop, I can tell you he would say that’s the right move, too. Many states also have a domestic abuse hotline, too, in case it feels weird to dial 911.

    • Agreed! I just finished an safety/emergency prep course through my work. And the officers we worked with assured us that if we think there *might* be an emergency situation– CALL. Even if we’re not 100%sure. The police will never get mad at you for calling.

  13. You definitely did the right thing. Screw invading their privacy, if he something serious happens in the future to her, it is on record that the police have been called because of domestic disturbances. She is lucky to have a neighbor like you. Take it from someone who needed that push from a neighbor to seek help and get away.

  14. I think it’s the right thing to do. There was an incident with the couple living in the condo above me, and the woman was screaming hysterically and crying. I had the phone in my hand and dialed the first number, and then I saw the police come in through the garden, so someone else had the thought long before I did.

  15. You did the right thing. My friend called me once and all i heard was her crying and screaming and her fiance telling her to shut the ef up… I called the cops because she lives 2 hours away and i couldnt help. Turns out they were just fighting, not physically. Unfortunatly she ended the friendship because i called the cops… I still wouldnt have changed a thing. I had the right intentions and thats all that matters.

    • I would have done the same thing! I’m sorry your friend couldn’t recognize that you had her best interests at heart. It sounds to me like he might be verbally abusive to her. She was probably embarrassed, but that doesn’t mean that violence doesn’t take many forms. I hope she’s ok.

    • I have called the cops for similar situations, and lost friends that way. It is sad that they don’t see that it was a true act of concern and worth more than a stupid boy who doesn’t know how to argue effectively anyways, but I would seriously hate myself for life if my own friend called for help and I didn’t do anything.

  16. Hiya. You absolutely did the right thing. I’m a certified domestic violence peer counselor, and this is most likely not the first time this has happened between this couple. Police are often astonishingly lacking in any kind of knowledge as to how to support survivors of this type of violence, but having someone in the building who is listening and interested in her safety is an advantage to that woman, whether she knows it or not.

    If you know the woman, consider leaving a phone number – if you can, give it directly to her, rather than leaving a note. If her partner finds it, he might be inclined to become violent again, and will most likely blame her. You absolutely did the right thing. Please remember that domestic violence is characterized by isolation – reaching out to her while keeping her safety in mind is one of the best things you can do. She may be responsive, she may not be. Denial is a VERY powerful thing. But some part of her knows that what’s happening to her is wrong. Please don’t second-guess yourself.

  17. You did the right thing. Hearing raised voices is one thing, but thuds and “Let go of me!” are another. If nothing else, better to call and regret it for a little while, than to do nothing and perhaps REALLY regret it for the rest of your life.

  18. DEFINITELY the right thing – I didn’t “wake up” to my abusive situation until a friend did the same for me. Then I got out, found another wonderful man and are as happy as can be.
    I think our move to an individualistic rather than community-like existence leaves some people alone and miserable, when there are people around them, friends, neighbors and strangers that can help them.
    Way to give some community love to your community. (and I agree with the above-the thuds would get me to call too).

  19. You definitely did the right thing. If it was a serious fight, you may have stopped it from getting worse. If the couple were just being drama queens (I have friends who fight that way just so they can have hot make-up sex, and it’s weird) maybe it taught them a lesson about minding what your neighbors can hear and what it’ll make them think. I was in the same situation once – from my apartment window I saw folks across the way having a fight, and I thought I saw the man raise an object to hit the woman. It was night and their curtain partially obstructed my view, but I called the cops anyway – better safe than sorry. And don’t worry about wasting the cops’ time; their job is to protect people.

  20. You did the right thing.
    Even if your actions do not immediately put and end to the situation, you have made a record of the incident, and that goes a long way. If they ever have to go to court, or if there is a child involved, or something happens to either of them, the information is important.
    I work in the legal system, and I have seen cases involving domestic abuse (including child abuse) at which my first thought is, “How did no one know this was happening?”. I hate knowing that maybe someone did know and kept quiet.
    And you can tell your friends what you told us: What if you did nothing and then saw it on the news the next day? What if police showed up at your door and asked if you heard anything, and you had to say yes, you heard but chose not to act?

  21. You absolutely did the right thing, and I’m sorry you didn’t find more support for your actions with your real world friends, but I’d say after seeing this thread it’s clear that in this community it’s better to potentially embarrass yourself and your neighbour (if the fight wasn’t very serious and just sounded that way,) then to do nothing when someone needed intervention.

    It’s hard to make those calls, but always, always, ALWAYS err on the side of too cautious. What’s the worst that could happen if you do? Compare that to the worst that could happen if you didn’t.

    I’ve been there-The cops can diffuse and give a wake up call to everyone involved, abuser and abused alike.

    Now that I’ve gotten out of that relationship I am more cautious and likely to intervene-at least with a phone call to the cops.

  22. I’ve had cops come by our house to search us owing to a ‘concerned citizen’. they searched high and low and as long as they wanted… hey i wasn’t about to tell them they were misinformed – they would find out themselves.

    not only was calling them malicious, it was also a waste of valuable police (and my own) time. we suspect it was a call made by a disgruntled neighbor we were pursuing legal action against at the time. THAT was an unhappy individual “overstepping their boundaries”.

    on the other hand, hearing screams and a beating – you had no way of knowing if it was her husband, an intruder or an incredibly energetic play-fight bdsm-style. you did what you thought was right because whatever was going on was enough to disturb you and your family. period.

    you did right and from now on, i expect the racket is going to happen elsewhere or not at all. that was your only concern.

    if the protagonist was being abusive, well, the right people were involved. dont think more about it.

    • As someone who engages in active BDSM, I sort of accept that someday cops might show up at my house called by a concerned neighbor. I am prepared to explain the situation and deal with the consequences, though yes, it would probably be annoying and embarrassing. I would NOT be angry at that neighbor. I would understand that their actions were motivated out of concern. Now, if it was someone who just disapproved of my kinky lifestyle, that would be different of course. But someone who mistook play for abuse – it’s an easy mistake to make and I would prefer concern to apathy.

  23. A young mother (early 20’s) and her boyfriend moved in to the unit next to ours on a short term trial basis. All day and night we would hear screaming. The mother screamed at the child (3 or 4) almost non-stop. This was right when I just had my daughter and I couldn’t imagine what the girl was doing to warrant such screaming all the time. Then one night I swear the walls and floor shook and I decided that was enough and I called the police. The landlord ended up not extending their lease as they were doing other things against our building agreements (smoking in building and such). When they left (right after the big fight I called on) we saw the inside of the apartment, they had left holes in the walls (punched through) and broken furniture strewn about. It was terrible.

    I still worry about that little girl to this day and wonder if I should have called child services instead. The grandparents were often over and it wasn’t as bad then, but oish, that poor little girl.

    I guess I’m saying, there is a point when things get out of control. if you feel they have hit that point, call. It’s better to call and it be nothing than not and have someone seriously injured or worse.

  24. You did the right thing. You intervene when you hear or see something that sounds like it might be a crime. There’s no harm in being overly cautious but there can certainly be harm if we all collectively mind our business no matter what we hear or see.

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