David R. Henderson  

My Proud "Don't Call the Cops" Moment

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Most mornings that I don't teach, I go out early to the local Safeway, where there's a Starbuck's, and get my wife a Grande non-fat latte. Tip to men who want a long-term successful marriage: If there are things you can do that have a low cost to you and a large benefit to your spouse, do them.

I did so this morning. When I drove up to our curb, though, I saw something unusual in the narrow strip of land between our house and our neighbor's. It was a small suitcase, the kind I pull through an airport when I travel. It was open and some clothing looked, from a distance, as if it was strewn about.

I took my wife's coffee into her and told her what I had seen. So I went out the back door of the house onto our deck and leaned over. There, much to my surprise, was a person sleeping on some clothing and using other clothing to protect him/her from the cold. Because the head was covered, I wasn't sure if the person was a he or a she and I couldn't tell the age. I also couldn't tell whether the person was dead or alive.

I wasn't sure what to do. I went back into the house and told my wife. We discussed whether to call the police. I decided not to. I've read so many stories in the last few years about people calling the police--and regretting it forever. When you call the police, you're introducing a wild card. Who knows how violent they will get and how quickly they will get violent? A writer named William Grigg often writes at lewrockwell.com on police abuses and the bottom line I've taken from his articles is: Don't call the police. That's a relatively new idea for me, possibly due to my Canadian heritage. In any case, I've internalized it.

So I went out to the deck and leaned over the rail. "Excuse me," I said.

The person stirred. He raised his head a little and saw that it was a young man, possibly a teenager. Here's the conversation:

DRH: You need to go.
Young man: OK.
DRH [warming up because he wasn't hostile]: Are you alright?
Young man: Yes. Are you?
DRH: Yes. Do you live around here?
Young man: Yes. My parents kicked me out.
DRH: Where will you go?
Young man: I don't know.

I went back in and considered taking a $20 out of my wallet and giving it to him. Bad idea, said my wife, and I think she was right. It might encourage him to come back. I went outside 5 minutes later and he was gone.

A nice peaceful resolution without the cops.


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COMMENTS (12 to date)
Becky Hargrove writes:

I had a very similar encounter with a young man about twenty five years earlier, only he was in the house when I came home for lunch. I opened the door and saw him try to hide, unsuccessfully, behind the kitchen table. When I realized he was more scared than anything I put him at ease and asked a few questions. It turned out he had hoped a girlfriend still lived there, and he had a key.

While I did decide to call the police afterward, I gave him a good running start. Of course I had a few words for the landlord, who had not changed the lock after the girl moved out!

Frederick Davies writes:
A nice peaceful resolution...

That was a peaceful encounter, not a resolution; that guy will still need a place to sleep tonight and he will have to find it in somebody else's place. Nothing got resolved, the problem just moved somewhere else.

FD

David R. Henderson writes:

@Frederick Davies,
Nothing got resolved
Not true. See if you can figure out why.

Bedarz Iliaci writes:

Prof Henderson,
I understand that the young man was not actually in your property and if so, why did you feel that you had to call police? Why couldn't you just have let that man sleep in a vacant lot or strip?
Is there a City ordinance that sleeping in vacant strips is forbidden? Even so, as a libertarian, one might object to such an freedom-violating regulation and refused to cooperate in evicting non-violent squatters.

It was good that you did not call police but I still do not get the justification of your telling the squatter that he needs to go.

Nathan Ashby writes:

I'm sure you're far from the only person to have asked a homeless person to go away. But it's an awfully odd thing to be proud of.

MG writes:

You can also be proud that besides not calling the cops, you did not call Social Services. There is potential mischief on either side of that decision.

David R. Henderson writes:

@Bedarz Iliaci,
I understand that the young man was not actually in your property
Wrong. He was on my property.
Even so, as a libertarian, one might object to such an freedom-violating regulation and refused to cooperate in evicting non-violent squatters.
I do object to such regulation. In fact, when the Monterey City Council voted recently to make it harder for homeless people, I praised to his face the one city councillor who voted against that regulation.
@Nathan Ashby,
I'm sure you're far from the only person to have asked a homeless person to go away. But it's an awfully odd thing to be proud of.
I suggest that you improve your reading skills.
@MG,
You can also be proud that besides not calling the cops, you did not call Social Services. There is potential mischief on either side of that decision.
Good point.

Jared writes:

Shame you weren't in Cleveland this week, David. There's a family that would've liked you to sit at a gazebo and not call the cops again.

Nathan W writes:

I've called the cops three times in my life.

Once, I was working in a gas station, a neighbouring Latin bar was approaching closing time, and about 30 people poured out in a situation of a general brawl and various martial arts were on display (it was the presence of martial arts that led me to call the cops, since under the influence of alcohol they may not be restrained in not delivering deathly blows). The police never came.

A second time, I was working in a hotel and a very much crazed man who claimed significant expertise in karate was making lots of threats. Since violence appeared as the only solution, I called the police. The police never came, but the man left after I called the police.

A third time, I was working in that same hotel, and a girl said that she was unable to back out of a situation to refuse sex that evening, and that she had spoken to her brother, and didn't know if she should report it, and I said that if she wanted to report it that I would call the police for her (I had to appear for the court hearing).

A fourth time I went to the police to report harassment and stalking, but they refused to accept the report or make any appointment and told me to go to a doctor.

I never call the police on loiterers or homeless people. Most of them understand that businesses are businesses, and if you don't rush them, eventually they will respect your respect and move on. On a cold winter night, my patience easily extends to a few hours (many shelters are closed until 5-6am), but not for more than one person at a time.

Thank you, thank you, thank you for not being that paranoid type of American who would call the police when encountering this sort of situation. I would have directed him to a shelter and provided the location of an employment center, and would not have given $20 unless it was impossible to get there without some money or too much time, but if he smoked probably I'd give him a couple smokes for the walk.

Your decision not to call the police in this sort of situation could very well have "saved" his life. Going into the system is one of the surest and fastest ways to close just about every door he will ever encounter.

Pajser writes:

It was not peaceful. It was act of violence. The sentence "you need to go" contains threat of physical force which is violence according to WHO definition. If you said "we'd like you to go, but no physical force will be used against you if you decide to stay" it wouldn't be violence.

Sure, less violence than it would be if police was called immediately.

happyjuggler0 writes:

David Henderson,

I wasn't going to comment because I thought it obvious that my reaction would be the same as most others, but after reading so many people here complain one way or another about what you did, I just want to say well done.

Also, I for one understood perfectly what you said in your post.

The person who suggested directing him to a homeless shelter had a good idea, but who thinks of such things in the heat of the moment? Anyway if the young man in question had an IQ larger than a turnip then I am sure he would find his way to one sooner or later, likely sooner.

As for the person who complained about your "violence", I would simply say that you were acting in self defense of your property, and you did so in the least violent way that is reasonable.

David R. Henderson writes:

@happytjuggler),
Thanks. And I wasn’t violent at all. I was telling him to get off my property.

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