perldiver: A false-color multi-spectrum image of Sol. (Default)
perldiver ([personal profile] perldiver) wrote2010-05-17 03:46 pm

What to do if a crime occurs near you

A week ago, there was a domestic violence incident two doors down from me. The woman was (non-sexually) assaulted by her boyfriend; he pushed her down, twisted her arm, wrenched her neck, broke her necklace, then pushed her out the door of the apartment and locked her out. I invited her into my apartment and gave her my phone so she could call 911. They came, arrested the boyfriend, and took him for a psych eval.

The next day, an SFPD Inspector (which is what San Francisco calls Police Detectives) called me and took my statement over the phone. An hour ago, the public defender's rep came by and took it again.

Here are some realizations I've had, which come out as bits of advice if anything similar ever happens near you:
  1. Get involved.
  2. Stay involved.
  3. Keep a timelog of events as they happen. 
    1. Use video if you have it.  If not, use Voice Memos.  Lacking that, write it down.
    2. Your smartphone probably has video and/or Voice Memos.
  4. Volunteer your name and contact information to one of the responding officers and state that you will testify.
  5. Consider carefully what you say to officials: be factual, and do not answer leading questions.

  1. Get involved. When K (the woman who was attacked) was locked out, I was the only person on our floor that stepped outside despite there having been clear shouts of "Stop! You're hurting me! Help!" If I hadn't gone out, she would have had no shoes, no phone, no wallet, and no coat on a chilly night. It wouldn't have been life-threatening -- she could have walked a couple of blocks to a restaurant and used their phone -- but it would have made a bad experience even worse.
  2. Stay involved. Once the police arrived, I hung back in my apartment out of a sense that staying outside would be like standing around at a train wreck. What I didn't realize is that train wrecks and crimes in progress are different -- there is nothing a civilian can do at a train wreck except be in the way, but at a crime scene you can be a witness. By not staying involved I was not an eyewitness to the really key events -- namely, the entry to the apartment and the arrest. Most of the testimony I'm able to provide is based on what I heard, which is more open to interpretation.
  3. Keep a timelog of events. Once the police arrived, the most useful thing that I could have done would have been to write down the sequence of events with timestamps, as it all happened. I could have stood with K and the police outside her apartment with a pad and a watch, noting down what I heard and writing down the time. For that matter, I have a Voice Memo feature on my phone and a digital Dictaphone recorder on my shelf -- I could have kept a spoken record of what I was seeing, so that my eyes were up the whole time. I don't have video on my phone or I could have used that.
  4. Volunteer your name and contact information to one of the responding officers and state that you will testify. I don't remember actually giving my information to any of the officers on the scene; I assume the Inspector got it because it was my phone that called 911.
  5. Consider carefully what you say to officials: be factual, and do not answer leading questions.  I have no doubt that K was actually attacked and that her boyfriend needs some kind of help.  But however strongly I feel about that, I can't know it for a 100% certainty -- that's why we have a criminal justice system.  While talking to the Public Defender rep I tried very hard to keep my testimony unbiased and factual.  At one point, he asked me to speculate on her state of mind at the time; I chose not to answer because I felt that this was a weasel question -- granted, it's the Public Defender's job to find whatever escape hatches he can for his clients, but I don't need to help.

Obviously, this advice doesn't apply just to domestic violence calls -- you could do the same for a fender bender or any other situation where there are going to be legal issues involved later. 

One final thing I note -- the police took my statement the next day, while my recollections were fresh; they did it over the phone and recorded it.  The Public Defender's office did not get to me for a week when some details had gone fuzzy; they sent someone to my home to take my statement in person and the rep took everything down in the form of written notes.  Most likely, these differences are due to different staffing levels, different workloads, the time it takes for the case to get through processing and passed from the SFPD to the PubDef office, etc.  The effect, however, is that it makes it easier for the Public Defender to cast doubt in witness's minds about exactly what happened, when, and how.  Keep this in mind while giving your statement.

Post a comment in response:

Anonymous( )Anonymous This account has disabled anonymous posting.
OpenID( )OpenID You can comment on this post while signed in with an account from many other sites, once you have confirmed your email address. Sign in using OpenID.
Account name:
If you don't have an account you can create one now.
HTML doesn't work in the subject.


Notice: This account is set to log the IP addresses of everyone who comments.
Links will be displayed as unclickable URLs to help prevent spam.