To Call or Not to Call — That is the Question

By: Officer Jeff Kirchman

911 dispatcher answers a call
Law Enforcement Dispatcher Kim Brunner answers a 911 call from the UWPD Dispatch Center.

Years ago, someone tried to break into my home. Luckily, I was there and scared the burglar away before they entered. With the situation resolved, I decided it wasn’t worth ‘bothering’ my local police department.

I’d been a police officer for many years when this occurred. I had counseled and, admittedly, lectured members of my community for similarly failing to notify the police. Yet I didn’t follow my own advice. So I completely understand why someone chooses not to report something.

My goal with this column is to hopefully convince everyone to become more comfortable with contacting UWPD any time they witness something that appears “off”.

My fellow officers and I have a pretty good presence in the campus area. But our footprint is small and, with so much area to cover, we can’t be everywhere all the time. We rely heavily on the thousands of eyes and ears of our community to alert us about suspicious activity and other problems.

Why don’t people call the police? Common reasons I hear include:

  • They’re unsure if someone’s behavior is an actual violation.
  • A sense that something isn’t right, but a desire not to waste an officer’s time for a minor issue.
  • Awareness of our own implicit biases, and a concern of coming across as overly suspicious.

There are many others. But we’re giving everyone permission to have suspicion. In my experience, most of us have a pretty good intuition of what’s right and wrong; “Trust your gut”, as one of my old training officers used to say.

The more our officers know about activities around campus, the better-informed our actions can be. Maybe we respond and find someone’s actions are minor and don’t warrant significant action…that’s OK, it happens all the time and we accept it as part of the job. But if we’ve had a string of recent reports for similar actions — especially about the same person or parties — it could change what action we take and how we decide to deter future occurrences.

In short: When In Doubt, Call it Out.

For true emergencies, call 911. For non-emergencies, call UWPD directly at (608) 264-2677. We’re happy to check out the situation and, if necessary, take appropriate action.