Sitting on my balcony late one night, the peaceful silence was suddenly broken by the sound of something being thrown off a lower balcony, and then a violent argument.
It sounded close, but from my apartment on the top floor of a Guelph high rise, it was hard to tell exactly where the commotion was. Was it my building? Was it one of the high rises next door? I was in no immediate danger, but someone probably was.
A few minutes later, the location was made clear when a woman threatened to bash the windows out of a car in the parking lot below, with a baseball bat. I looked over the edge of the balcony, and saw movement around a white car in the visitor’s section. I grabbed my phone, and called the cops. The first thing they wanted was a description of the people.
“I don’t know. I hear a man and a woman. They are near a white car, but from this height I can’t see anything else. I just know you need to get here before someone gets hurt.”
After a few minutes of back-and-forth I put my phone on speaker, and the person at the desk realized that I meant business. I was relieved that my iPhone’s microphone worked that well, 100 feet above the situation. I guess I could’ve just called 911, but since no one was getting murdered at that precise moment, I didn’t want to prevent someone in even more danger from getting through.
In hindsight, it probably was an emergency. If it happens again I will, but what’s to stop the same thing from happening? Within five minutes my parking lot was blocked in by three police cars, and the domestic disturbance was dealt with.
The incident mentioned above happened several years ago just after I moved into this building. It made me realize something was missing from our local police service.
In this day and age of modern communiction, it would be nice to be able to text the police department.
For one thing, I could have given them more detail, by making a video of the situation unfolding below me. They could’ve seen for themselves, that I could not see what was going on. Being legally blind, I could have been standing right there, and my view wouldn’t have been any better. In that case, sending a video would give a description that I could not.
I experienced a similar challenge when I had to use an ATM machine in a downtown bank one morning at 5 a.m. and there was a man sleeping under a pile of blankets, under a “no loitering” sign.
As soon as I entered the bank, he started harassing me for money. I really didn’t want to be standing there with my back to him, handling cash. I stepped outside and called the police, and their first question was “can you describe him?”
I told them I was legally blind, and the person on dispatch did not know how to handle this information. She kept pushing me to describe him, and wasn’t too pleased when I simply said “he’s a male on the floor of the bank, under blankets.”
When she asked how I knew, I simply answered that blankets don’t talk. While I always remain calm in these situations, people often take these honest answers for snark. Such answers are not snark, they are honesty.
I didn’t know if the guy was black or white, how old he was, how tall he was, or anything. When I stated that I didn’t know, no one believed me. How could I not know? I was standing right there. This is another eample of “abled” people not understanding disability, or diminished ability.
Next time I am in trouble or witness a crime, should I just not say anything at all? Thinking of those incidents it made sense to me why some people take the law into their own hands. I am not advocating this, but what else is there to do if we are not believed?
An emergency texting line would work for so many different groups of people, for so many reasons. The hearing impaired could text back and forth. The visually impaired could simply snap pictures and videos, or make recordings of what they’re witnessing, instead of trying to describe it. Texting would also be a nice discreet idea for people who are in danger, and do not want offenders to hear them talking on the phone.
I remember several years ago when there was news of a gunman in the emergency room at Guelph General Hospital. This incident was the subject of the first tweets the hospital sent from their brand new Twitter account.
An emergency texting line would not only provide instant information to authorities without endangering hostages, but it would give hostages peace of mind and a feeling of security in the midst of chaos. Victims in the midst of domestic disputes could also benefit from this. Bystanders in fear of their own safety would have a discreet way of coming forward.
Until this innovation becomes reality, please understand that accurate visual descriptions aren’t always possible.
When someone says they literally can’t tell you what someone looks like, they’re not kidding.