Listen to the 911 operator, but blindly obey them? Well…

You call 911 for whatever reason, usually because something bad or dangerous is occurring.

What is the 911 operator going to do? They’re going to ask you a lot of questions. They have to ask questions because they aren’t there with you – they don’t know what’s going on and have to rely upon you to tell them. They are trying to assess the situation to determine who to send (police? fire? EMS?), and then to help relay as much information as possible to the responders so the responders can respond accordingly and know what they are about to walk in on.

This is quite reasonable.


I am of the opinion that you do not and SHOULD not BLINDLY follow the directions of the 911 operator.

Should you listen to them? Yes.

Should you work to be as helpful as possible? Yes.

Should you risk your own personal safety? No!

Case in point (and what motivated me to write this).

Friends of mine woke up to a truck idling outside their house. The truck’s front bumper was pressed up against the tail their son’s car (parked on the street). Car running. Driver passed out.

911 operator told them to turn the car off.

Nope. Sorry.

That would require  me to approach the vehicle. That would require me to reach into the truck and/or open the door, and otherwise interact with someone that is demonstrably not within normal faculties.

Consider as well there have been numerous events where people have observed crime occurring, reported to 911, and the 911 operator tells the caller to follow the criminal! Often the caller proceeds to follow the criminal, risking their personal safety.

For example, Paul Saustrop was an Austin, Texas CHL holder who 911 dispatchers told to follow the attacker that had threatened him and his wife because there were no officers available four blocks from the police station. It resulted in a defensive shooting where the press crucified him for “chasing down the victim”. All kinds of errors there:  starting with listening to the dispatcher and following the threat. (h/t to John Kochan for jogging my memory on this event).

Why does this happen? One explanation is obedience to authority figures. See the Milgram Experiment.

Of course, it’s your choice to actually follow-through with any request from the operator because you are there and have better knowledge and context about what’s going on. Just remember, while the 911 operator may have requested it, if you feel it’s a risk to your personal safety, exercise judgment and politely refuse.



3 thoughts on “Listen to the 911 operator, but blindly obey them? Well…

    • Copy/paste error. Updated.

      Basically, there were many errors in what happened in that event, starting with blindly listening to the dispatcher, and then following the threat (putting himself in danger).

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