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. you ABSOLUTELY did the right thing. i’m a 911 operator and dv is, utterly? no.joke. generally the cops (*generally*) do a pretty decent job discerning what’s going on…i guess it depends on the department, state laws, etc…but fer real “let go of me”? “STOP”? those are not ok, normal argument sounds. women die because people decide to “mind their own business.” kudos to you for yer bravery.

    • I am a 911 operator, as well. *high five*

      It’s really not that big of a deal if the cops go out there and it wasn’t as reported. If it turns out to NOT be a domestic violence situation, hooray! If it turns it that it was, well, I guess also hooray because someone can get some help.

  2. My feeling is ALWAYS go with your gut and call emergency services.
    I lived next to an alcoholic abusive couple for a year and a half- they would take turns drinking and initiating fights. I never actually called the cops myself, but police came out four times in the time they lived there.

    I was mostly shocked and worried the night that the woman’s 12 year old daughter knocked on my door, sobbing, and asked to borrow my cell phone to call the police. Two days later, child services knocked on my door and asked me to recount what i’ve heard.

    I rarely got involved because from what i could hear (it was a duplex) they were both equally responsible for the fight- but a few times I did should through the wall “shut the fuck up”. it worked- but i wish i had called the cops more instead. I feel guilty that I didn’t do more to help her children. They weren’t physically abused, but verbally for sure.

  3. I don’t know how often (if ever) you see your neighbour, but some advice I was once given was if you suspect a person is being battered, say these two things to them:

    1) I am concerned about you.

    2) There are places you can go.

  4. I think you did the right thing, there aren’t enough people who do get involved. For whatever reason our society has adopted this ” I’m only looking our for me” mentality and it’s really turned us into callous cowards. Even if the fight wasn’t as bad as it sounded, what’s the harm in making a phone call? Sure your neighbors may have been irritated by it but that’s the worst the could have happened. And if the fight was as bad as it sounded then perhaps you have now opened a door for these people to get the help they needed. Kudos.

  5. I am very disappointed in your friends who said that you should have “stayed out of it.” They should think of it as….If ‘you’ had called them in a panic, would they have cared enough to call the police for you?

    You could be the one who saves her life.

    And – even if it was ‘not’ an instance of domestic violence, I would have just called for a noise disturbance anyway! No one deserves to feel unsafe, or to “even” have to listen to neighbors screaming at each other. I pay my rent the same as you, yet ‘I’ manage to not scream….so I WILL make a noise complaint if you’re loud!!

  6. You definitely did the right thing. I am a dv survivor and many times I needed the police no one called and I had no way to call them myself. My phone would be taken away and I would have been beaten worse if I tried (and was multiple times). I used to run outside to the parking lot of my apartment complex if I could and my ex would follow me sometimes standing outside my car with a baseball bat threatening to smash my windows and me and no one ever called the police to help me. Thankfully, I was able to get my phone one night and he was arrested.

    Sometimes even if dv victims want to call for help they just cant.

    You did the right thing! I wish the rest of society would change their outlook!

  7. I don’t know about the laws where you are, but where I live, domestic abuse isn’t just classified as physical fights; if the person being abused feels fear from the abuser’s actions or words, it’s considered domestic abuse in the courts. So even if the fight that you overheard hadn’t become physical (although it sounded like it had), it could still have been deemed domestic abuse and the abuser could be sentenced accordingly. All of this to say: you did the right thing. Supporting your neighbor by calling the boys in blue was absolutely right, but as many people have already said, supporting her emotionally is also important. So many domestic violence cases never go anywhere because the abused party decides they don’t want to press charges—the abuser threatened them, they tell themselves it’s the last time (when it’s not), they don’t think it’ll make a difference, etc. If this is a situation where papers need to be filed and charges pressed, she could need some serious support to do it. You might just be her greatest advocate.

  8. No one called when I needed help. Thankfully, I was strong enough to run when I could and call on the way out.

    I remember once years ago hearing a woman screaming in spanish in a very panicked manner. I ran out side to find a young lady holding her son at a full out run down my complex corridor. I didn’t think twice, I opened my door and pulled her in.

    Luckily at the time my roommate spoke spanish, we found out her husband was beating her, we hid her for an hour or so to be safe and then called the cops. I watched her pack her and her sons things and leave. I was so proud of her, I never saw her again.

    Long story short, you absolutely did the right thing. And thank you for doing so.

  9. Honestly I believe you did the right thing. I saw this video once with people playing loud music vs screaming of that sort and the neighbors called the cops for the loud music but not for the domestic violence. I recently got out of an abusive relationship and not once in the year that i lived with him did the police come to our door. The neighbors would bang on our walls to signal us to stop but that was it. I have personal called in situations like this…when you hear someone screaming in that way, you cant just sit there and put your tv up to drown out the fighting.

    To the post above me:
    GOOD! thats another thing too. people dont want to open their doors to strangers anymore even if you see the panic in them. My sister was in a car accident and didnt have a phone. She went to a few houses and even with blood falling down her face and limping they turned her down and let her walk in the street to wave down a police car.

  10. As someone who was once screaming for help, I believe you made the right choice. In my situation, no one intervened. I have been scarred for life from that experience. If you hear someone screaming to “Let go” or “Stop” you need to call the police. It’s the safer option than letting someone get raped or die.

  11. Hi. Just another person chiming in to say you did the right thing.

    My ex was abusive in every possible way. We had screaming matches that ended in me sobbing hysterically and being forced to stay in his bedroom – he would physically block me from leaving. If I tried to get away anyway, he’d start with physical and sexual abuse.
    We didn’t live together, but we were always at his parents’ house. I’m shocked that they never called the cops on him, though they threatened to a few times. I know he was their son and all, but there was no way they could have mistaken what he was doing. NO WAY. I get angry every time I think about it, because he did similar things to his parents and siblings, minus the sexual abuse, and they put up with it for longer than I did, even with a baby in the house.
    You absolutely did the right thing. I could never get to the phone to call the cops on my ex myself; he’d take it away if I tried. Once he threw it outside into the snow and almost ruined it just to keep me from calling anyone.
    Please, if it happens again, keep calling. They’ll either have to stop their fighting if it isn’t abuse, or she’ll hopefully get some kind of wake-up call. Please don’t stop caring.

  12. I think you did the right thing. Obviously if what you heard concerned you enough to make you think about calling the police then it warranted a call to the authorities.

  13. Absolutely, you did the right thing. I can still hear my father’s voice and picture the sneer on his face exactly every time he told me “I’ll break your arm before you get to the phone” in the middle of screaming at my mother, sister, and me and slapping us around. People knew what was going on; the neighborhood kids used to cross the street to avoid him. I wish someone had been brave enough to “butt in” and rescue us when we were helpless.

  14. A few years ago I was living in a semi detached house with a flat mate, and our neighbours were known for having domestics and unless they were really bothering us, we kept to ourselves. One night, however, it was about 2am and they were still going at it, we heard bags which to us sounded like gun shots, and both of them were threatening to kill themselves. It took us THREE phone calls to 000 (emergency) to get the police to come out.
    Once they did it got worse, with each of the couple blaming the other for the police visit, so we called again and from what we could hear, the male was removed from the house.

    You most definitely did the right thing. You very much had reason to believe there was a physical fight going on at the same time. It’s better to call the police when they’re not needed, than to not call them when they are.

  15. You did the right thing.

    I wish someone had called each time my ex-stepfather would beat my mom and destroy the inside of the house. He even had a gun once and was outside shooting into the air while my little sister and I hid, fearing for our lives. Nobody called the police.

  16. I am a domestic abuse survivor. There were times when I couldn’t scream for help, but someone called. If they hadn’t, I wouldn’t be commenting here. Minding your own business is for when someone has quirks you don’t like, not for when someone could need your help just to survive.

  17. You did exactly the right thing- ignore anyone who says otherwise. You had a serious concern that someone was being physically assaulted and acted appropriately. Good for you!

    My last house was in a quite noisy area- lots of screaming kids and teenagers and parents. Screaming wasn’t unusual, neither was shouting. I learnt to filter out the “normal” argument or temper tantrum screaming. One time though I was sitting chatting with my friend and we both became aware of some truly blood-curdling screams. I called the police immediately, and was glad I did- the poor woman who was screaming had been badly beaten by her partner who’d then run off when the police arrived. Thankfully she made a full physical recovery relatively quickly. I got a few dirty looks from the neighbours who were of the “a man’s home is his castle, who’re you to interfere” mindset. I ignored them. Safety first.

    Another time my then-boyfriend (now husband- yay!) and I were over at his house and were woken up to the sound of smashing glass. We looked out of his window that overlooked the back alley between two rows of houses and saw a man with a hammer smashing the kitchen window of the house opposite then going inside. We called the police who arrived within minutes and arrested the man. Turns out his on-off girlfriend lived there, he didn’t have a key and wanted to get in to see her (with no malicious intent) so decided to smash the kitchen window with the hammer he happened to have to effect an entry (!!!). The police were pleasantly surprised that we’d bothered to call- apparently most people aren’t civic-minded enough to bother.

    Bottom line- well done for caring about your fellow human-beings. 🙂

  18. If you saw someone wearing a black ski mask crawling through their window and you called the cops to report it no one would tell you to mind your own business. Domestic abuse is a crime and you absolutely did the right thing.

  19. You did the right thing. Someone (i still don’t know who) called 911 when my ex was beating the hell out of me. I think if the cops had not shown up, he probably would have killed me. So thank you for possibly saving someone else’s life.

  20. You did the right thing. I’ve called the cops twice on the same couple (who lived above us at the time) and after the second visit, the man moved out while his female partner stayed. I was so glad to see that I had maybe helped her. (I say her because it always sounded like she was on the receiving end of the abuse.)

    In times of doubt, call the cops.

  21. I was coming home from the airport once and my cab driver tried to kidnap me. I shouted out the window for help and caught the attention of some guys in suits who saw/heard me, acknowledged my cries and ignored me. In fact, the people who finally came to my aid were two petite ladies who worked in a bodega down the street. I’m still bitter towards those guys who did nothing when I explicitly asked them for help—even if I were joking, it wouldn’t have taken too much effort on their part to walk over and assess the situation. Or at least call 911. (In fact, the police didn’t do a damn thing about it either…)

    A few months later, I heard my upstairs neighbors fighting and heard screams and several crashes. I immediately dialed 911. I don’t know if they sent someone over, I don’t know if the issue was resolved, but I do know I put the responsibility of the situation into professional hands. And I know that I was at least making a good faith attempt to aid my neighbor rather than ignoring the issue. And if they weren’t fighting, then at least they got a gentle reminder about noise pollution.

  22. I agree with every single person who said you did the right thing. YOU DID THE RIGHT THING. Go with your gut in situations like these — better to be spurred into action by the fear of future remorse than to sit passively by and later have to live with that remorse because you took no action.

  23. You absolutely did the right thing. As someone who used to work in the domestic violence field, there’s many women who told me that they used to pray and wish that someone would intervene on their behalf. And, if it turns out that you just called the cops to nothing more than a loud lover’s quarrel, than what’s the worst that could happen? The cops talk to the people for five mintues and everyone’s a little bit abashed, but it’s much, much better than the alternative.

  24. I agree that you totally did the right thing. My husband and I had to do the same thing recently with the neighbors in the apartment beneath ours. They woke us up @ like 5 am on a Saturday with their fighting, the husband was yelling and she was crying and sobbing, asking him to stop. So we called the non-emergency police phone number and reported it as a domestic disturbance. They still have fights but not to that degree. Or at least if they do it is when we aren’t home. But if I was ever in the same situation I would absolutely do the same thing again. Better to do so than for someone to be seriously harmed or lose their life … how guilty I would feel if that happened and I did nothing!

  25. You did the right thing.
    In fact, I stumbled onto this website because I dialed 911 two hours ago. Best decision I’ve ever made, but I wish my reaction time was quicker because I waited until I heard the women yell, “LET HER GO!” to the abusing guy. It was obviously a nasty argument in the very beginning that could have gone wrong in a matter of minutes, but I was trying to “mind my own business.” There comes a time where you REALLY HAVE TO step in. Physically stepping into an argument or a fight is scary and not only dangerous, but the very least everyone can do is call. Remember, EVERY second counts.

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