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. At the very least, they were disturbing the peace, and it was clearly upsetting you, so you justified in calling the police, and in the process you may have helped a woman in a bad domestic violence situation.

    Your friends are wrong for thinking we have no responsibility to other people. Ignoring domestic violence just gives it license to continue.

    • & ya know what? i’d question keeping those friends. b/c maybe if you were in trouble, they’d “mind their business”.

  2. We, as a people, have been conditioned to mind our own business and not get involved. If you feel that you were trying to help someone because you care about the wellbeing of people; then you did the right thing.

    I would have, and actually have done, the same thing.

  3. After reading all these replies, I’m so proud to be a member of this community! It is obvious that no matter what makes us offbeat, we obviously all care about our little worlds. That is so rare, and just so fantastic.

    Yay Offbeat Home!

  4. You did the right thing, for sure. Forty years ago, when I was about 10, my parents (and the rest of the neighborhood) listened nervously and did nothing while our neighbor’s boyfriend loudly destroyed every bit of furniture in that family of five’s house. I think of it with shame to this day and have vowed to always be the one who calls (thankfully, this has never happened). If my parents had called, I would have been proud of them. And I think the children next door would have known that someone out there thought that what this guy was doing wasn’t right and shouldn’t be tolerated.

  5. My husband is a police officer, and the official protocol is that if you are a fairly reasonable person and think “Maybe I should call the cops” then you should do so. They would rather be called to nothing than not be called to something. And there is no such thing as wasting their time, regardless of what they may tell you. They’re paid for being in uniform and if they get a more important call while there they will go. So don’t stress out that someone could be dying in a car wreck while you’re taking to the police. In addition to the bystander effect we’re still stuck in the 1950s in the idea that “a man’s home is his castle” so anything that takes place inside is sacred, especially when it comes to spouses. While I agree to a certain extent, violent fighting certainly shouldn’t be covered in that. I highly recommend the book The Meaning of Wife. They discuss this issue at length.

    • Thank you for posting that. There have been other times when I wondered if it was something worth calling the cops over, and erred on the side of not doing it. (Things like neighbors setting off fireworks too close to cars or houses or people or on unstable, crooked surfaces or other unsafe ways, among others.) Knowing that “official protocol” is that they’d rather people call than not, I feel better about doing it.

  6. Around where I live, we actually have a campaign run by the police and community groups jointly SPECIFICALLY saying to call 911 if you suspect there is any domestic abuse, regardless of intensity.

    There has been alot of domestic abuse in my area and no one ever stepped in. It took a case where the whole apartment complex heard the fight, no one called, and now he is forever hospitalized with permanent brain damaged.

  7. Thank you for stepping up and calling the police. I had a situation very similar last year and I wish someone would have called the police for me.

  8. You definitely did the right thing. It can be a hard judgement call but as everyone else here is saying- Better safe than sorry.

    A couple of years ago my friend and her husband were coming out of a grocery store when they saw and heard a couple getting into a fight. He was screaming at her and then started hitting and punching her in broad daylight. Everyone else just stood there and did absolutely nothing. No one called the cops, tried to break it up, nothing. Luckily she’s a badass and called the cops before stepping in and confronting the guy. She chased him off and stayed with the girl until the cops came.

    That’s not to say that anyone should bust in to anyone else’s lives but you did do the right thing by calling the cops. Way too many people end up getting caught in the Bystander Effect.

  9. You did the right thing and I admire you for that. We lived in an apartment where we could hear fighting from our upstairs neighbors get rough. We’d all stop to listen and have phones in hand, but it was too vague. We knew they had a dog from the barking and just couldn’t tell. Were the sounds the dog responding to the fight? Were they stomping around? Was it just slamming doors? The worst was one night when we heard loud thuds as though something heavy had fallen to the ground. Not furniture, something soft. Everyone jumped up, one of us (a guy) knocked on the door, but another man reasoned it could be the dog. No need to call the police.

    It wasn’t until I ran into her later and saw the pint-sized dog that I realized we should have called the police immediately. I still regret not doing anything because I was afraid of being an inconvenience. Isn’t that weird and kind of sick? That our concern would be an inconvenience?

  10. Ummm… Sometimes my boyfriend and can sound a little like this. 🙁

    I have anxiety/anger/etc type of issues, so things can get melodramatic REAL fast. There’s never been any danger, just very exaggerated fights that we handle with a long conversation after we cool down. I would HATE for someone to call the police on us!

    BUT I think my case is a relative rarity, and the possible danger of the situation probably outweighs their right to privately handle their business.

    Also, I second Kim’s comment!!

    “At the very least, they were disturbing the peace, and it was clearly upsetting you, so you justified in calling the police, and in the process you may have helped a woman in a bad domestic violence situation.”

    Even if you take out the good-samaritan-intentions, they are definitely disturbing YOUR peace, which gives you the right to call the authorities.

    • I know how it is to suffer with anxiety disorders, and I definitely know how it can be to suddenly find yourself in the middle of a fight you didn’t even mean to start.

      However, I’d like to encourage you to seek counseling if you’re not already. Even just sitting down to agree on some discussion strategies for future situations can work miracles. For instance, the “I see you’re upset, let’s take a ten minute time out,” and getting the heck out of eachother’s faces tactic is awesommmme.

      Having some tactics in your back pocket to preventing the melodrama from happening can really save you some time and embarrassment. I always need to cool down before I can discuss ANYTHING, but I’ve learned how to make sure that the yelling and fighting doesn’t happen before I can get there. I’m so much happier, and I feel more positive about myself and my relationships because I’m not accidentally unloading with hurtful words and abrupt, poorly-phrased statements that I can’t take back. They’re toxic to your relationship and even if you both apologize, you know that they stay with you.

      You also say that this sounds a little like your boyfriend. Your anxiety and anger issues aren’t cause for him to yell or make thuds that might disturb or worry your neighbors. Perhaps he would benefit from counseling to help him understand how best to cope with the situation and where his reactions are coming from.

      Maybe this is me butting in where I shouldn’t, but if this post is any indication, we’re over-carers around here. 😉 We just want the best for everybody! :p

      • I meant “my boyfriend and I”!!! critical typo. our fights sound like that, with a majority of the melodrama coming from me.

        And yea, he’s encouraging me to seek help with my anxiety. Our school offers good starter resources. I tried to go before, then it sortof stopped, and I’m just now trying again. It’s a difficult process.

      • I definitely agree with learning ways to figure out how to tell the other “Hey, we’re getting too emotional and heated. Let’s back off and address this in 15 minutes.” And then also respecting it if the other calls a time out, even if you feel its unnecessary at that point.

  11. Based on what you heard, I agree that you did the right thing. I had a similar experience about a year ago that involved children to. My neighbors were screaming at eachother and the two little girls ( 3 and 5?) were crying for help. Their bedroom window was open and I went by and tried to ask them if they were ok. My boyfriend was with me. The little girls put their arms out and said they needed help. The mom them turned on the room light and I asked if she needed help. The guy couldn’t see me or my boyfriend. The lady told me to go tue hell away and turned off the light. I told the little girls where my apartment was and went back and called the police. The cops came shortly after and ha to bust tue door in. The guy had warrants so he was arrested. The next day I called the landlady to see if she heard and she informed me that it wasn’t the first time a tenant had called the police for their fighting. In Oregon, if the cops show up 3 times from complaints, the landlady can evict them. My landlady encouraged me too. I was also feeling encouraged to call child protection services but I never heard anything out of them again for the remainde of my living there. If I recall, the guy was in jail for most of it.

    • Please excuse all of my typos! I’m sending from my iPhone and didn’t go over the submission! Haha

  12. I wish someone would’ve called the police when I was screaming “let go of me” and getting hit and locked in the bathroom. You definately did the right thing. Even if it’s “just an agument” I would still call the police, the worst that can happen is the police check up on them, maybe calm them down before it escalates. no harm no foul, but if no one calls and something were to happen that would be bad

  13. I train people in how to recognize and report abuse. Granted, in my field I am generally concerned with children, the elderly, and people with disabilities, but it can apply to anybody.

    First, it is your duty to report any suspected abuse. As long as you have reasonable cause to suspect the abuse, you will not be prosecuted. Meaning if abuse is happening, you just saved a life. If abuse isn’t happening, well, nothing happens. It’s a no lose situation.

    Educate yourself on the signs of abuse and neglect. I’ll be honest, me and my fiance have had a couple of tickle fights that led to thumping and yelling “Get off of me!” and “Stop it!”, but there was obviously no abuse transpiring. Keep an eye out, not just for your neighbor, but for all the people in your life.

    • So true! My sister gets in some RIDICULOUS tickle fights with her boyfriend. As her roommate, I find it simply irritating, but I can see how a bystander could find it concerning!!

    • Oh dear, I just realized how terrible my tickle fights with my fiance must sound xD Well it’s more like he tries to give me raspberries on my stomach and I haaate it (yet like it?), so I try my damnedest to keep him off my stomach. I scream (but they’re giggly screams!) and he laughs evilly…oh dear xD

  14. Wow! I just got an ad for soundproofing on the mobile version of this site. Google fail!

    I agree that you did the right thing. This happened to my aunt a year ago. She hemmed and hawed and finally called the police. Turns out someone had broken into her upstairs neighbor’s apartment and was brutally attacking and robbing her. The cops came and they ended up catching the guy after a high-speed pursuit. You could have saved her life. If anything you have a right to a quiet apartment.

  15. The one time I needed to call the cops it was on a couple in a neighboring building, I saw them come and check it out, and thankfully the abuser had left, but later that night the woman had packed up a pretty large bag and packed her young child into the car. I’d like to belive that because the police came in and interviened I had helped her get out of a potentialy more harmful situation. In most cases I’d say go with what your gut says. When you hear or see it get physical call the police. And the disbatch will always tell you if there was a call made already.

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

    This is the clincher for me. If you feel this way – then call the police.

    I had a similar dilemma when I saw a load of young teenagers (in couples) breaking into a public garden late at night. I knew it was pitch-black in there, and there were large ponds. I debated it for a while – and then called the police (non-emergency number, though they actually put me through to 999).

    Because how would I have felt if I had read later that one of those kids had drowned? As it was, the police couldn’t see any evidence of a break-in when they arrived (they texted me to tell me the result, which was kind of cool). But it was still the right thing to do.

    And in your case – there’s often a problem with domestic abuse because the abused partner does not report it to the police, and then it’s very hard to prove there was any violence at a later date. You calling the police could supply much-needed evidence of abuse another time, such as in a custody case. Of course, I would hope it doesn’t come to that.

  17. I’ve been the one in desperate need of help. The neighbors just continued walking their dog while my exhusband punched me and I was bent over protecting our 2 year old son.If these callous people who lived two doors down turned around and called the cops, then maybe things would have been different.
    I think what you did was ABSOLUTELY the right and caring thing to do! Bravo! And I hope that your neighbor will get the help and support she needs.

  18. Can I just say that the honesty, courage, integrity, and support in this comment thread is seriously inspiring? You guys rock. <3

  19. You did the right thing. And if anyone tells you otherwise, use the stories you read above and mine to defend yourself.

    Almost two years ago, my best friend was murdered in her sleep. She was stabbed in the back and neck over 40 times. When the police questioned her neighbors, they said that they heard a ‘disturbance’ that night but didn’t think anything of it.

    I don’t know what happened that night. I don’t even know if she woke up or not. But right now, I really wish she did live next to some asshole neighbors who called the cops over any sort of noise. It might not have saved her life, but it would have had police presence. Maybe they could have even caught the guy when he was leaving. Maybe her body wouldn’t have been left in her room for over 36 hours.

    When these things happen, you change how you look at things. I would have done the same as you. So, don’t let anyone make you feel bad about what you did. For all you know, someone might be thanking you right now.

    • Oh, this is so terrible to read. I’m so sorry for the loss of your friend’s life. I can’t even imagine having to live through that. I’m just so sorry.

      • Thanks for that. 🙂 It was hard, and still is at times. I sometimes feel bad telling her story, feeling like I’m intruding on someone’s happy little world, but if it can put some perspective into someone else’s life, I feel like it’s worth it. It may not save a life, but at the very least it can help someone appreciate theirs a little more.

        • I know what you mean. I’m a rape survivor, and telling someone new about the experience, having to see their reaction of sadness and despair, can sometimes feel like I’m burdening them. But then other times, I’m glad to know that they give a shit! Thanks for sharing. 🙂

          • *patpat* I can totally relate. And honestly, that’s why you tell people your story when you’re able to. So it’s made real for them. When things happen to people you don’t know, you may feel the urge to mind your own business because it doesn’t effect you. But when it happens to you or someone you know, it gives you the urge to stop it from ever happening to anyone else again. Or at least, that’s how I feel.

            So, if sharing your story can help save another person from having to experience it, then that awkwardness is totally worth it.

  20. You did absolutely the right thing. As a domestic abuse survivor, I wish someone had called the cops then. If there really is no problem (if she has a rape fantasy, etc.), they will have no problem proving that.
    Thank you.

  21. O_O Google fail indeed!

    Thank you for choosing to NOT go that direction and taking the correct one 🙂 I visit a friend of mine on and almost weekly basis and at her old house, the first family that lived above them would thump and thump around and you could hear the kids upstairs crying–wailing, even. And here I am, a guest in my buddy’s house, and even I feel bad about not calling someone.
    The even shitier part is that my friend DID call one day, and the abuseive bf found out, so he was an even bigger piss ant to my friend (and, undoubtedly, his family).

  22. There has been 2 occasions where I should have called the cops and have not done so because I was a young female home alone in a new neighborhood and scared for my own safety. In both cases I thought someone else would call and they never did. I was lucky in that no-one was hurt in either case, but I still feel guilty for not doing something and the next time I will.

  23. I think you did the right thing — I was in an almost identical situation with downstairs neighbours a few years ago. Their lounge room was directly below my bedroom, and at about 2-3am after a party, while I could hear their friends in the same room, a fight escalated. I heard all the friends go silent – there’s not a lot they could do – and I could hear him hitting her and her screaming to stop. I called the cops (VEEEERRRY quietly), but they took too long to get there. They moved out not long after – she wasn’t even supposed to be living there (breach of the tenancy agreement he signed); due to his disrespect for the rest of us neighbours (regular parties til 4am on weekdays, setting off fire sirens for the whole building, etc). I’m glad I did; I think they broke up after that incident because she didn’t visit anymore. I think he may have also lost a few friends from it.

    • I should certainly hope he lost some friends. I can’t understand how you wouldn’t intervene, especially if you knew the couple.

      • And by you, I mean editorial “you” not you personally. Just to clarify! 😀

      • Same here. I don’t care how good a friend I consider you. If you start hitting your SO in front of me, I’m going to intervene.

  24. You absolutely did the right thing. Our society subconsciously (though consciously, many folk will insist they’re more enlightened than that, thank you very much) likes to hang onto a general policy that what goes on between a couple or family behind closed doors is their business, and no-one else’s. But this is the very attitude that makes it possible for openly abusive relationships to continue for years, and it is my firm belief that every fundamentally good person has a moral obligation, if they hear or see what they believe to be someone in genuine danger, to make a real effort to conquer the paralysing panic of “What if I’m wrong?” or, worse, the fear of, “What if [violent person] finds out and turns their aggression on *me*?” and inform the police. After all, they may well be saving someone’s life.

  25. Calling 911 was the right thing to do. it accomplished many things.

    A) it told them that someone is watching out for them.
    B) it told them that you heard it, and you know. It also says to STFU for things like make up sex and TV volume.
    C) it lets the cops know whats going on with the couple. What if (heaven forbid) something worse happen a week from then? they have a log that gives them a direction to head in from your call.
    D) it gives you piece of mind that things are ok since the cops are on their way.

    not saying anything would only worry you, allow them to continue, and allow them to continue to be obnoxiously loud. so what if they get mad? it raises a flag for them that maybe they should look at whats going on and fix it.

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