911 Call Center. David Burnett Photo, Courtesy U.S. LawShield
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PICTURE THE SCENE: You’re about four minutes into your worst wak­ing nightmare. You had to pull your gun and use it; that’s the bad news. The good news is, you’re still alive. You know that because you can still smell the gun smoke and feel your heart pounding with adrenaline. The would-be offender is dead, or at least isn’t moving. It was him or you, no doubt about that. And because you’re confident you’re justified in your actions, it’s time to fulfill your obliga­tion as a responsible and law-abiding person and notify the police.

But not so fast. You may have pro­tected yourself against a deadly threat, but now it’s time to protect yourself against potential recrimination. Ev­erything will be scrutinized by police, prosecutors and maybe a jury, starting with the call you’re about to make. For you, and almost every other defensive shooter, 911 is the first point of contact with the justice system. What you say matters. Get this one wrong, and your 911 call could play out on broadcast news , turn your community against you and feature prominently for some enterprising prosecutor who might have crowed in the last election that getting guns off the street is a priority, but doesn’t distinguish between crimi­nals and law-abiding gun owners.

You can’t panic. It’s just the rest of your life that could change based on the words you pick…at exactly the time when your nervous system is still try­ing to claw itself back down to normal from almost dying.

Don’t blow it.

HISTORY

The use of a three-digit emergency number got its start in the United Kingdom with the advent of the 999 call system. Under the Johnson Admin­istration, the Federal Communications Commission hatched a plan for the 911 call system with AT&T in the late 1960s. Soon after, states began building their own networks. While only half of resi­dents in the United States had access to 911 by the end of the Reagan Admin­istration, most of the U.S. is served by some form of the system today.

And yes, despite what you may read on the windows of pickup truck cabs or at gun-friendly thrift shops, most people do call 911. (Those stickers can potentially create trouble for you by the way in the event of a defensive shooting, but that’s another story for later.) According to the National Emergency Number Association (NENA) there are more than 3,000 911 call centers in the United States, field­ing some 240 million emergency calls each year.

If your scene is safe and the threat is contained, it’s time to make an impor­tant call.

 

911 Fact: When Does the Recording Begin?

Everything you say on the 911 call will be recorded and submitted as evidence. To the surprise of many, though, that recording begins the second you push that last 1. Before the operator even picks up the call, the recording has begun. It’s important to know this because you may be having a private conversation with someone about the event and potentially say something that can be caught in a recording and be used against you in court.

WHAT SHOULD YOU SAY?

First, let’s establish that 911 should be your first call.

“Not only is it likely that you or someone else needs medical atten­tion, but the sequence here matters,” says Colorado attorney Doug Richards. “If this goes to trial, your phone will likely be searched. If you called anyone else first, or delayed calling without a good reason, it won’t look good.” He notes that most of the calls his office receives are about altercations in public be­tween at least two parties.

In the event you are involved in a defensive shooting, 911 should be your first call. 911 Call Center. Michael Gordon Photo, Courtesy U.S. LawShield

“You probably won’t be the first one to call 911, but if your neighbor, a bystander or even the perpetrator calls 911, you should call them too, and be the first one, if possible,” Richards, who is an Independent Program Attorney for U.S. LawShield says.

Next, you should know that 911 starts recording as soon as you dial, even before dispatch picks up.

“That means what you say can come back to bite you, even if no one is on the line,” says James Phillips, a Florida-based U.S. LawShield Inde­pendent Program Attorney. If (like one defendant) you’re heard profanely saying to yourself while waiting for the 911 operator to pick up the person shot “deserved to die,” it won’t play well in court.

Since even a justified shooting is likely to leave you frantic and agitated, one defense attorney with U.S. Law Shield I spoke with advises you to keep things simple and to the point, using the acronym: NASH’D. This stands for:

NAME,

ADDRESS,

SHORT TRUTHFUL STATE­MENT of what happened,

ask for HELP,

and DISCONNECT.

There are other mnemonic devices with acronyms that can help you re­member the precise points to share on 911 and to go no further, but this is one of the easiest to remember. The basic rules of what to say and how much or little follow:

YOUR NAME because there’s no reason to conceal your identity, and it will help police properly identify you once they arrive.

THE ADDRESS of your house, or the cross streets closest to the incident— will help authorities arrive as quickly as possible. There’s an old joke about the driver who hit a pedestrian and calls 911. “Where are you located?” the dispatcher asks. “Eucalyptus Street,” the man replies. “Can you spell that?” the dispatcher asks. “How about I just drag him over to Oak Street?” the  driver offers. (Of course, you’d never tamper with physical evidence, but the lesson stands: Have an address ready for dispatch if at all possible.)

THE STATEMENT AND ASKING FOR HELP It may be tempting to describe yourself so police will know who you are, but knowledgable self-defense attorneys point out that 99 percent of the time, the descriptions police get while en route to a crime are of the suspect.

“You may not want police arriving with an image of you in their minds,” says Richard Hayes, a program at­torney in Texas.

The statement should be very short and focused on what happened, something like, “A crime has taken place,” or, “A person was attacked,” or, “Shots have been fired.” Avoid reporting your own actions (e.g., “I just killed somebody”) and avoid ex­pressions of guilt, remorse or fear of consequences that prosecutors could later use as the evidence of a guilty conscience.

“Even the tone of your voice may betray emotion,” says Phillips. “It may be justified by circumstances, but it will still look bad, or at least require work to overcome.”

Likewise, it’s best to avoid dispar­aging the perpetrator—such as one 911 caller who, when asked about the shot intruder, exclaimed “I don’t know if he’s alive or not, I don’t care!” In the courtroom calculus of a hostile prosecutor, that could look like callous disregard for life.

You may want to avoid canned expressions like, “I feared for my life.” This is a common instruction in self-defense classes, but attorneys say at this point such phrases sound rehearsed, like that South Park episode where poachers shout, “He’s coming right for us!” to justify killing endan­gered animals.

Ask 911 to send two ambulances if someone has indeed been shot or hurt–one for the person who attacked you and now lies wounded and one for you–you’ve just been what is likely the most traumatic event in your life. Cardiac issues and other health issues are not uncommon at such moments.

DISCONNECT Then, politely inform dispatch you’re going to hang up now, and disconnect.

“It may feel counterintuitive,” Hayes acknowledges. “But if the threat is con­tained, your next goal is staying out of court, and the longer you’re on the line, the higher the risk you’ll say something you shouldn’t.”

After a defensive shooting, call 911, provide them with the basic information they need and hang up. David Burnett Photo, Courtesy U.S. LawShield

Dispatch will call you back repeat­edly; they’re trained to get as much information as they can.

But you aren’t required to give it, or to keep a recorded line open for authorities to collect evidence. You’ll be frantic enough as it is, and even something as simple as excited breathing can make you look psychotic to jurors listening from the tranquility of the jury box. So, you aren’t going to answer.

Besides, you’ve got another call to make.

LAWYERING UP

Your next call should be to your attor­ney. If you’re a gun owner, given the heightened responsibility and possibility of using a gun to defend yourself, you should have one already in mind. For members of services such as U.S. LawShield, this next move is made easy. The number located on the back of your U.S. LawShield membership card gives you direct, 24/7 emergency access to an attorney, and now is the time to use it.

When the attorney answers, be calm, alone and honest. Be calm, because the lawyer wants to help, and needs you to communicate clearly. (Start with the basics: your name, location and a good emergency contact.)

Be alone because attorney-client privilege might not apply if the whole neighborhood is listening in. If you can do so safely and authorities permit, go somewhere private to speak with your attorney.

911 begins recording the call the second you dial it, so always watch what you say. Michael Gordon Photo, Courtesy U.S. LawShield

Be honest because conversations with your lawyer are legally protected, so you should give them as much infor­mation as they ask for, good or bad.

With all the stress, it’s tempting to regurgitate everything that’s happened, but that can be difficult to follow and wastes precious time. The attorneys are likely to ask you if police are there yet, and if you have privacy. Listen carefully to the attorney’s instructions, and respond directly to their ques­tions, because each one is calculated to extract specific information to provide the best advice possible.

TOMORROW: What To Do When Police Arrive

Article courtesy of U.S. LawShield (Disclosure: U.S. LawShield is a sister company of TTAG.)

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39 COMMENTS

  1. my land line (with no phone or other device connected) has been dialing 911 randomly. had a tech out yesterday, hope that fixed it. six times in the last year, our finest were very professional and courteous, thankfully.

    • That brought back a memory. Before mobiles. I had a similar incident. Only happened the one time.

      At home, relaxing when there came a heavily armed group of badge wearers to my door. Dispatch had received a 911 call from my number. I was home alone and had not touched the phone.

      Only the one time.

    • This happened to me a couple of years ago…land line dialed 911 in the middle of the night, car (in the dark) in my driveway, flashlight moving around. It was a police car/officer. Not great.

      Turns out I learned that portable phone sometimes dial 911 as their battery dies. We got rid of the portable phones in the house. Has never happened with a cell phone.

        • Single sentence comment. No long speech.
          No mention of J!m Crow or Nahtzis.
          No attached YT video of a famous personality espousing such topics.
          No jabs directed at Geoff.

          Not sure if this is the real Debbie, or her impersonator who sometimes comes around.

      • Wonder if that was why ours dialed 911 one day when we were not home. We thought maybe the cat had somehow activated the phone laying on a chair arm. So not have a landline anymore so problem was solved.

  2. Don’t.

    Just shoot, shovel (or leave the area) or shut up.

    Clearance and arrest rates are so low that the majority of homicides are never solved. This is particularly true for cities such as Chicago. Unless you shoot a friend or family member, there is near zero chance that you will be identified as the shooter. A random career criminal carcass discovered on the street that has suffered multiple gunshot wounds will be dismissed as misdemeanor murder by the police. You are extremely unlikely to be identified as a suspect unless you call the police.

    Of course a shotgun loaded with “harmless buckshot” has the advantage of leaving little ballistic evidence that might incriminate you.

    • Wow Elmer! I never heard such poor post shooting advice in my life. There was a homicide in Tallahassee a while back. Among other things, one of the reasons the suspects were arrested, and subsequently convicted, was that the CCV on a city bus got the tag on the rental car they were driving. Cameras are everywhere. Remember even if you don’t call 911 someone else may be doing it. Someone you don’t see. If they describe you doing what you suggested and you are found; you’re going to prison. However, the author’s advice is spot on.

    • That is some insane advice my man. Haha. There is actually a hell of a good chance you will get caught between all the cameras, likely witnesses, neighbors, cell phone triangulation, etc. If it’s legit self-defense, I’ll take my chance with a good lawyer if I’m in the right. That’s why it’s a good idea to understand the law.

      • Well Golly!

        One would think that with all of those cameras, shot spotters and the like that are so prevalent in big cities, the clearance and arrest rates for homicide would be nearly one hundred percent. Actually; the clearance rates for homicides in big cities are down around one-quarter to one-third.

        • Well, Elmer, go ahead and follow your own advice if you’re involved in a self defense shooting. See what happens next.

  3. Amen about hanging up. My next door neighbor who had cognitive issues showed up at my doorstep blabbering incoherently about his wife. I called 911. The dispatcher must have had me on the phone for 20 or 30 minutes and I was about to confess to the Lindberg kidnapping just to get off the phone. Relay your message and hang up.

    • That one made me laugh man. Thank you. Most of these comments just depress me given all the bickering back and forth about unrelated topics, but yours is a gem.

      • douger, you must have seen what i had to do to get two short paragraphs up last week. i was not moderated, i was vaporized. until i s p a c e d out certain not particularly incendiary words.

  4. Saying as little as possible during the 911 call is good advise.
    There will be plenty of time later to further expound.

    Shoot, shovel and shut up is the opposite of a smart.

  5. I’m curious what those of us in states that have made carry insurance illegal (“murder insurance” they call it. F’ing idiots) are best to do?

    I don’t “have a lawyer”. I’ve never even spoken to a lawyer in a professional way.

    Do average, normal people pay a lawyer a stipend just to answer the phone on the extremely unlikely event that they are in a DGU? Or a car accident or end up in jail for some reason?

    • You could always put one on retainer just to have them at the ready for should you need to call. You’ll still be on the hook for any time and other costs that may come with defending you should the need arise. At the very least, shop out some lawyers and know who is a good one to call in the event something happens.

    • “Do average, normal people pay a lawyer a stipend just to answer the phone on the extremely unlikely event that they are in a DGU? Or a car accident or end up in jail for some reason?”

      First, its not “unlikely” in the sense of never. Its actually very likely in the sense that its around every day and people just don’t notice it, its just a matter of the bad guy deciding when and where and that’s something you don’t control. People need to realize this, its simply a matter of chance that you do not control. For every 6 hours a person spends in ‘public places’ they are targeted as a potential victim of a violent crime at least three times – in an urban environment a person will encounter in some way (e.g. in traffic, in the grocery store, walking down the sidewalk, even in the work place sometimes, etc….) at least 28 violent offenders in an 8 hour period in public places – its just a matter of the criminal deciding to do it or not and when and where.

      There are various ways to get a lawyer. Some people pay a monthly or annual fee for an ‘insurance thing’ thing that will pay for or supply you a lawyer and for your legal fees.

      Then there are the attorney fee agreement types of plans like, for example, ‘Attorneys on Retainer’ that can also be had for a monthly or annual fee. These can cover you in states that do not allow ‘self-defense insurances’ because they are not ‘insurances’

      There are lots of ins-outs, various details, people have questions. Ignore the internet BS for pros and cons, most of these will lay things out on their web sites or you can call them so do your own research and pick the one that’s best for you.

      There are also lists of attorneys that specialize in such cases.

      • “For every 6 hours a person spends in ‘public places’ they are targeted as a potential victim of a violent crime at least three times.”

        How do you know this?

    • Some employers offer lawyer services as a benefit. I have signed up for them before (and used once). It’s handy if you’re the sort of person who updates a will regularly, is approaching the part of life where you think medical powers of attorney and such might be needed, or you have hobbies that might involve legal wrangling. There are some places that have these plans without having your employer involved, too.

      Then, of course, there’s the self-defense attorney setups. Yes, LOTS of firearms carriers pay for those services. Heck, I know some hunters that do, just because they travel in places where a cop could provide extreme annoyance in their life just based on the fact there’s a rifle and ammunition in the vehicle. (Yes, some of those gun attorneys handle that stuff, too.)

  6. You’ve shuted the breaker inner robber fly and now it’s time to get out the Vizquween role the carcass over on it and drag it over to the bathtub.
    Knives sharp and start the boiling water.
    Humans need to quit wasting emu if all they are gonna do is call the cops so the cops and their buddies can make off with the groceries.
    The reason the cops get all pissy and ask a bunch of questions on these shutings is to get you confused and scared instead of being mad the meat wagon just hauled off dinner.
    Times are tuff.

  7. “… at exactly the time when your nervous system is still try­ing to claw itself back down to normal from almost dying.

    You’ll be frantic enough as it is, and even something as simple as excited breathing can make you look psychotic to jurors listening from the tranquility of the jury box.”

    alluding to whats called the ‘stress response’ AKA ‘fight or flight’

    The stress response > https://www.thetruthaboutguns.com/guns-for-beginners-never-shoot-to-kill/#comment-6729367

    “DISCONNECT Then, politely inform dispatch you’re going to hang up now, and disconnect.

    ‘But if the threat is con­tained, your next goal is staying out of court, and the longer you’re on the line, the higher the risk you’ll say something you shouldn’t.”

    Yes! Absolutely! Call – report as article stated – then hang up….and do not answer the phone when 911 calls back. The investigation began when you called 911, not when the police roll up. Everything you say on 911 can be used as evidence, you do not want anything captured on the recording other than what you reported per the article. Its not good to let the statements of bystanders or even the bad guy (assuming they are not dead) to be captured on the 911 recording, and its not a good idea to let something you say inadvertently to be captured on the 911 recording – hang up one you report and that’s it. Do not answer questions from the 911 operator, except your name and location and giving that in the response in the article. Do not say you shot someone.

    The 911 script is designed to keep you engaged with the 911 operator to keep you on the phone. Don’t fall for it. Hang up.

    There is no law in any state that requires you to stay on the phone with 911 or answer call backs from 911.

    “Besides, you’ve got another call to make.”

    yep, that’s to your ‘self defense attorney supplier entity’

    But you might not be able to make the call right then after you hang up on 911 on your own phone. Why? There is this system in most areas where when you call 911 they can lock your phone so that the only call or text you can make or receive is to and from 911. This can last until the system releases your phone and they might not do that for a while. So try to find another phone to use if you can (e.g. friend, family, maybe a bystander) or wait until police release you or if detained then at the police station or have plans for a family member or friends to make the call on your behalf.

    “Ask 911 to send two ambulances if someone has indeed been shot or hurt–one for the person who attacked you and now lies wounded and one for you–you’ve just been what is likely the most traumatic event in your life. Cardiac issues and other health issues are not uncommon at such moments.”

    You always want to go to the hospital. Tell the cops and paramedics you want to go to the hospital to get examined by an actual doctor even if they say there is nothing wrong with you or you are not injured. The cops will try to keep you on scene, tell them you demand to go to the hospital. You do not need to give a specific medical issue – you just need to tell them due to the stress of being a victim you need to have your health checked by a qualified physician. You can also use this time at the hospital to call your ‘self defense attorney supplier entity’ and to calm down and avoid questioning by police.

  8. Author is sorely lacking in his advice. That 911 call is your opportunity to manage the expectations/get on record who is the good guy/victim and who is the bad guy/perp. The first call starts that management, even if it is the bad guy.
    Specify that you are the victim of an attack/threat. You were in fear for your life/great bodily harm at the will of the aggressor. You had no other choice than to defend yourself.
    Only then, repeat the victim is me…. give NAME
    The aggressor is wearing clothes description, he is down or moving off in stated direction via stated mode. (Don’t describe your clothes, you don’t want dispatch/police to get descriptions reversed, they will have adrenalin pumping as well.)
    Then, give address to where police need to respond.
    Request ambulance services.
    Hang up, don’t answer callbacks. Only consider staying on the line if perp is mobile, a continuing threat.

  9. I would be concerned that hanging on up on 911after a bare bones description of the incident might cause the cops to consider me a potential threat when they arrive at the scene. They don’t know what’s going on in the house, who’s armed and who isn’t, who’s a bad guy and who isn’t.

    • That’s why you give the bare bones info, though.
      “An intruder entered my house and threatened me directly, and I had to defend myself. He is down on the floor, not moving/fleeing down the street in X direction/all four of them scattered. He is dressed like this and looked like this. I need the police and at least two ambulances, please, as soon as possible.”
      Then, “I’m going to hang up now so I can deal with the police or neighbors or whatever happens next. Please hurry.”

      You’ve told them there was a use of defensive force. You’ve told them what to expect concerning the bad guy and a description. You’ve informed them you are hanging up because you need to pay attention to your situation.

      But, one of the things that I’m sure will be in the next installment is how to handle the police who are rolling up and might be primed to shoot someone – anyone – at the scene.

    • Also, giving the police lots of information might keep them from rolling up hot. But, then again, it might not.

      All of those things you’ve just experienced because you had to defend yourself? The cops are experiencing them, too. And if they’re the sort who are gung-ho it might not matter how much detail you’ve given the dispatcher.

      I would say that you might want to listen to the first questions from the dispatcher and use them to ensure you’ve given good, limited info. But do ensure you keep it limited.

  10. I was in a class in Gainesville Florida earlier this month and was told by the host that if you call 911 in that and at least surrounding counties your phone will be locked and unable to disconnect from the 911 operator. So much for being able to call your attorney. I wonder if this is happening across the country?

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