Call 911 with a Singular Purpose
As we discussed in a recent post, the authorities can use an “excited utterance” as evidence against you. And that applies not just to when you’re talking to police on the scene, but also to when you’re speaking to a 911 operator. This is likely to be your first contact with authorities, and may be just minutes, even seconds, after you have survived a life-or-death encounter with a bad guy.
In your adrenaline-charged mental state, you might say or do things that give police the wrong impression or create unnecessary legal problems. Chances are that if you’re going to say something stupid, it’s going to be on that phone call.
You have no legal obligation to call 911. However, as a law-abiding citizen, it’s your duty to notify law enforcement if you’re forced to defend yourself with a firearm. So we DO recommend that you make the call. NOT making the call, or delaying it too long, could be seen as an attempt to evade authorities or a means to give you time to tamper with evidence.
And not only do you want to call 911 when a shooting occurs, you want to be the first person to call. While it’s not part of any official rule book, there’s a standing assumption that the first call is usually from the “victim” not the perpetrator. So you are enhancing your “mantle of innocence” when you report the incident first.
If the person you shot, one of his friends, or a bystander makes the first call, the initial report may work against you. “Some guy just pulled out a gun and shot me!” If this happens, police will be responding to a shooting with the shooter at large, armed, and dangerous. This is never a situation you want to be in.
Here are some things you need to know about dealing wisely with the most important phone call you will ever make.
911 calls are recorded – even when you’re on hold.
If you remember nothing else, remember this. Every word you say, every sound you make, every noise in the background, anything said by others near your phone, all of it will be recorded. The recording starts the moment the operator picks up the phone and does not end until the connection is broken.
And one big secret that most people don’t realize is that even if the operator puts you on “hold,” you are STILL BEING RECORDED! Any private remark you make to your spouse, friend, the person you shot, or anyone will end up on that recording.
Moreover, these are not old-fashioned reel-to-reel “tapes,” these are digital recordings that are part of an emergency response system that will capture the phone conversation plus display the caller’s name and address and log the exact time and duration of the call. Depending on the technology available, other information may also be available to the operator or dispatcher, including GPS coordinates. Recordings are archived for reference and evidence.
All of this is a good thing if you need help. But it can work against you if you say the wrong thing. Also, recorded calls give an incomplete picture of what is happening. People can listen to the recording and try to visualize the events they’re hearing, but every person’s imagination will fill in the blanks differently.
911 operators are trained to keep you talking.
The modern 911 system is not part of a plot to trick you into legal blunders. It’s designed to dispatch emergency personnel to assist you in a moment of dire need. But there are two sides to every coin. The good things about 911 come with potentially bad consequences.
In particular, the operators are trained to keep you on the phone and keep you talking. They do this because they want to gather as much information as possible in an effort to help responders deal quickly and effectively with the situation. But the system does not take into account your mental state or your legal rights. It’s a system set up to help you, but can end up doing you great harm.
This is the beginning of the case against you.
Because a 911 call may be the earliest report of a shooting and because of the “exited utterance” legal exception to the hearsay rule, you can expect authorities to carefully examine every bit of information from your call. All of it can be used against you. The operator can even be compelled to testify against you.
This means that when your finger touches those three numbers, 9-1-1, on your phone’s keypad, you are initiating the investigation into your self defense shooting. And when you hear the operator say, “911. What is your emergency?” the words you say in response can set the tone for how the rest of your life will play out.
So when you pick up the phone to dial 911, don’t think of it as reporting an event. For your own legal protection, think of it as a request for authorities to investigate a homicide for which you are responsible!
911 operators have no legal authority.
Let’s clear up a major myth about 911 operators. They are NOT law enforcement. They are employees trained to take calls and dispatch police, fire, and medical first responders. They cannot order you to do anything. You have no legal obligation to answer their questions or obey their instructions.
In the George Zimmerman case, the mainstream media gave people the impression that Zimmerman “disobeyed” a direct order from police when the 911 operator suggested he should stay in his truck. While it’s true that he would have avoided the entire incident if he had never gotten out of the truck, he didn’t break a law or violate any regulation. The operator simply had no authority to order Zimmerman to do or not do anything.
We mean no insult to 911 operators, many of whom do a great job and bring help to countless citizens every year. However, the fact remains that 911 operators are NOT police, have NO legal authority, and you are NOT obligated to do anything they say.
STOP. Breath. Collect your thoughts.
We’ve talked about the physical and psychological effects adrenaline can have on you. We’ve discussed how this can cause you to say and do things that lead to legal trouble. And we’ve pointed out how the 911 call is actually the beginning of a police investigation. So this is a good time to remind you that it’s wise to take a moment to calm yourself before making the most important call of your life.
Use 4-square breathing or any other relaxation technique you prefer. You can’t spend a lot of time on this, especially if you want to bring medical help as soon as possible for the person you’ve shot or perhaps even for you or your family. However, calling in a panic won’t necessarily speed up response. You need to come down off the adrenaline rush at least enough to think clearly and speak carefully.
Call 911 with a specific and limited agenda.
Your call has one purpose and one purpose only: to summon help. You’re calling to report an incident and bring responders to the scene. That’s it. You have no other objectives.
You should not make a statement, offer a reason for the shooting, plead your case, express your sorrow, or seek assurance that you did the right thing. The more you talk, the more likely you are to say something you shouldn’t say. And since you’re being recorded, every extra word increases your odds of incriminating yourself.
You should speak as calmly and clearly as you can and not allow yourself to get pulled into a drawn-out conversation about details. It’s possible the operator may
need you to repeat your name, address, or other facts. So you should be cooperative in clarifying this information.
However, once you have accomplished your objectives, hang up. Don’t ask to hang up, just hang up. Your next call should be to your lawyer or to Second Call Defense if you’re a member.
This is an excerpt from our Free Report, 7 Proven Strategies to Survive the Legal Aftermath of Armed Self Defense. Click here to request a copy.