Should You Hang up on the 911 Operator?

Over at The Truth About Guns blog, they’re having a running discussion on this question: In the case of a home invasion (or similar situation), after calling 911 and giving them the relevant information, should you hang up the phone, or stay on the line?

TTAG’s Robert Farago opines that you should hang up. Self-Defense Tip: Hang Up On the 911 Operator (V2). But a 911 operator posted a guest article a while back at TTAG strongly disagreeing: TTAG Reader: Follow the 911 Operator’s Instructions.

Farago reasons that the role of the 911 operator is to send help. Once they have the necessary info — name, address, nature of emergency — they are able to do that. He says that if you leave the line open, you might say something that can be used against you in a court of law.

I understand what he’s saying. Self-defense is messy. In the abstract, it’s indisputable that an innocent person who is attacked with deadly force may morally and legally use force in self-defense. But the exact situation can be complex. An overzealous prosecutor in a State that hates guns might claim excessive force. An attacker who is injured might later misrepresent the situation and sue for damages. As absurd as that sounds, our legal system lets anyone sue almost anyone for almost any reason. So TTAG has a point.

But my opinion is that you are usually better off leaving the line open. Yes, the call is being recorded. But you know it is being recorded, so you can use caution as to what you say. You can shout a clear repeated warning to the attacker that will help establish your innocence if the case goes to court.

You can put down the phone in such a way that the attacker might not know the line is open. He might say something that incriminates himself, thereby strengthening your case in court. For example, after giving the 911 operator the relevant information, you could put the cordless handset under a napkin or hand towel. Your attacker’s words will be recorded without his knowledge. That could be very useful.

But there may be some situations where it would be best to hang up the phone. Your attacker might have seen you call 911. If you leave the line open, he could misrepresent the situation by what he says, trying to fool the 911 operator. Or, you might be in a complex situation with a family member, where you would try to reason with the person. But you would not want the personal conversation recorded for both your sakes.

So typically, in my view, you should keep the line open. However, in some situations, you might be better off hanging up after giving your information. Just my two cents.

– Thoreau

2 Responses to Should You Hang up on the 911 Operator?

  1. Concern centers around the possibility that you might say something on a recorded line, that might be included in a police investigation that might make you look bad while you were under stress during a life threating encounter and that an overzealous prosecutor might charge you, and that an over critical Grand Jury might indict you, and that an apparently idiotic trial jury might find you guilty, and that a hateful and oppressive judge might actually sentence you to jail. Seems like an awful lot of “mights” if it’s truly a self-defense issue… But by hanging up you will lose unbiased documentation that would tend exonerate you by showing you were in fear, that someone was placing you in a life threatening situation, and that you took action to defend your life, that of your family or some other innocent party; you will also lose the ability to coordinate with responding law enforcement who in the heat of the moment who may mistake you for the offender – with potentially tragic results. I guess it comes down to do you trust your local criminal justice system, your neighbors and yourself. If not don’t call until after you’ve shot and be done with it.

  2. How many ‘witnesses’ do you want?
    3? (Perp, 911, & you)
    2? (911 & you)
    Or just 1 (you)?