Kate is married to a seasoned police officer for the state of California.
It's another weeknight trying to fall asleep to the sounds of your rowdy neighbors, but tonight they're not just enjoying another full-volume Netflix binge while stomping popcorn into the floor above you. This time, it sounds like they're fighting.
Besides the fact that the noise is super annoying, should you call 9-1-1? Is someone in danger - or are they just going to think you're being nosy? Here's what I've learned about whether or not you should call the police on your noisy neighbors from my police officer husband who's responded to more than his fair share of noise complaints and loud domestic disputes.
When to Call - A Quick Guide
|Situation||Should You Call?||Why...|
Your neighbors are yelling at each other in varying tones of loud and obnoxious.
Because unless your neighbors are audibly saying things like "I'M GOING TO HIT YOU" then you don't have any evidence that violence is occurring, and it's not illegal to argue in your home.
Your neighbors sound like they're throwing furniture while simultaneously screaming at each other.
Are we just talking slammed doors so someone can get some space or is stuff being thrown against walls? If furniture is flying, you should call the police before (or in case) someone is hurt.
You hear someone crying for help.
Uh, yes. Get off the internet and call.
Because someone calling out for help is a pretty clear sign that someone needs help. If ever there were a time to call 9-1-1 now would be it.
When Should You Call the Police About Your Neighbors Fighting?
So, you get the gist, right? If you have any reason to suspect your neighbors are in physical danger, you need to call the police. If you feel your neighbors are arguing about who forgot the to-go box at Chili's then no, you can probably save that call for another time.
But when is that time? Sometimes it's hard to tell if something insidious is going on next door and if you have a hunch that there is but don't have any proof, keep an eye out for ...
Signs of Violence
Here's some signs of physical abuse to watch and listen out for that can help you determine whether or not to call 9-1-1 about your neighbors' altercations.
- Visual signs of injuries on a person such as bruises, cuts, or broken bones.
- Sounds of obvious physical pain such as screaming or wailing.
- Verbal threats or descriptions of violence.
- Sounds of weapons such as gunshots or blunt objects being swung against other objects.
- Sounds of objects in the home being broken or thrown.
- You see them hitting, shoving or otherwise being violent with each other.
- Sudden unexpected silences after what sounds like a physically violent outburst.
If you see or witness any of these signs of violence get yourself to a safe place and call the police.
When You Should Call the Police
The reality is, people fight and bad neighbors don't give two shakes if they're annoying you with their name calling. Just the other day I saw on an acquaintance's Instagram story that her and her ex got into a screaming match on the lawn (Oh, Instagram..). I imagine her neighbors were probably put in the awkward position of peering from behind curtains and listening from the edge of their garage while internally debating whether or not to call the police. If you're in the same position and you see or hear obvious signs that your neighbors are in a physical altercation then you need to call 9-1-1 now.
When You Shouldn’t Call the Police
Now here's when you shouldn't call the police:
- If you have absolutely no visual or audible signs of violence and you're just calling on a hunch.
- If you hear yelling, but otherwise have no reason to suspect violence or threats of violence.
If your neighbors are just being loud because they're rude (like stomping around or yelling across their apartment for the other one to throw them a roll of toilet paper).
Police are busy people and they want to help, but they don't have time to investigate calls by purely nosy or irritated neighbors.
Making an Anonymous Report
You can report a crime anonymously, and if your neighbors are indeed violent, you'll probably want to. Just call the police and tell the dispatcher that you want to remain anonymous (by the way, this won't work completely if your phone number is registered with Smart 911). You can tell them you want to be completely anonymous or just ask the officers not to reveal your name to the suspects.
Other ways of reporting crimes anonymously include calling the police station from someone else’s phone, blocking your phone number before calling or calling from a payphone (if you can find one...).
How to Avoid Retaliation
Worried that calling the police on your fighting neighbors will result in violence or retaliation? The best way to avoid (or be prepared for) retaliation is to:
- Make the report anonymously.
- Ask the dispatcher to tell the police not to come by your house. Often times the police need more information from the person who reported the crime. If you choose not to report anonymously ask the dispatcher to have the police call your phone if they need more information from you and not to stop by in person so that they won't draw attention to your house and give you away.
- Stay in your house. Seems obvious but if you're poking your head out to watch the police, or standing outside and watching, it isn’t going to be hard for your neighbor to figure out it was probably you who called.
Keep a log. Write down when and why you called the police. Angry neighbors will retaliate in small ways. If they start acting maliciously, write each incident down in a log. If it ever gets to the point of needing to get a restraining order then you’ll have some proof of why you need it.
By the way, and I feel like this is obvious - but as my husband has vented many an evening, it's not - don't call the police on your neighbors for every little thing. Make sure your complaints and concerns are legit.
Will the police tell your neighbors who called them?
The police will generally not tell your neighbors that you called them unless they are acting out of protocol. If you don’t want the responding officers telling your neighbor that you called, asked the dispatcher to keep your name confidential, or you can choose to make the report anonymously.
Will your neighbors be able to find out who called the police?
It’s up to the responding officers to decide whether or not to tell your neighbors that you called. Generally, the responding officers will not disclose who called them. However, if your neighbor is charged with a crime, their defense attorney will be entitled to this information.
© 2018 Kate Stroud
Don Shepard on November 07, 2018:
Good discussion on what can be a tough subject at times. Personally, I just go and ask them if everything is ok. But, I can certainly see how some might not want to do that.
Great point by ptosis. Wealthier hoods, with more spread our houses and such, don't get the police involved as much over domestic disputes. I'd also bet that those in less wealthy hoods are more likely to go to jail when the policy arrive at such calls.
ptosis from Arizona on November 04, 2018:
The trailer park effect of fighting couples spreads like a virus because everybody hears everything and brings up harboring grudges in the neighbors who hears.
First one trailer, then thee next trailer then spread to 2 trailers. Like Ebola.