12 Things To Do Instead of Calling the Cops

For many of you, this is your first time living in Philly.  As newcomers, especially positioned as a Penn student within West Philly, it is crucial that everyone understand the ways that our presence serves to gentrify and displace the predominantly Black, Working Class communities that lived here before through economic and physical violence (see: article on Black Bottom and gentrification).  This means that it is essential to do everything in our power to mitigate this harm.  The Penn and Philadelphia police departments are here not to “serve and protect” communities, but to facilitate the aforementioned harmful projects.  It may feel like although the cops are flawed, they are necessary in our communities.  Here are 12 ways to change our relationship with the police and to keep communities safe from them:

  1. Don’t feel obligated to defend property – especially corporate “private” property. Before confronting someone or contacting the police, ask yourself if anyone is being hurt or endangered by property theft or damage. If the answer is “no,” then let it be.
  2. If something of yours is stolen and you need to file a report for insurance or other purposes, consider going to the police station instead of bringing cops into your community. You may inadvertently be putting someone in your neighborhood at risk.
  3. If you observe someone exhibiting behavior that seems odd to you, don’t assume that they are publicly intoxicated. A traumatic brain injury or similar medical episode may be occurring. Ask if they are OK, if they have a medical condition, and if they need assistance.
  4. If you see someone pulled over with car trouble, stop and ask if they need help or if you can call a tow truck for them. If the police are introduced to such a situation, they may give punishments and unnecessary tickets to people with car issues, target those without papers, or worse.
  5. Keep a contact list of community resources like suicide hotlines. When police are contacted to “manage” such situations, people with mental illness are sixteen times more likely to be killed by cops than those without mental health challenges.*
  6. Check your impulse to call the police on someone you believe looks or is acting “‘suspicious.” Is their race, gender, ethnicity, class, or housing situation influencing your choice? Such calls can be death sentences for many people.
  7. Encourage teachers, coworkers, and organizers to avoid inviting police into classrooms, workplaces, and public spaces. Instead create a culture of taking care of each other and not unwittingly putting people in harm’s way. If you’re part of a group that’s holding a rally or demonstration, DON’T get a permit or otherwise cooperate with the police.
  8. If your neighbor is having a party and the noise is bothering you, go over and talk to them. Getting to know your neighbors with community events like block parties is a good way to make asking them to quiet down a little less uncomfortable. Or find another neighbor who is willing to do so.**
  9. If you see someone peeing in public, just look away! Remember, for example, that many homeless people do not have reliable access to bathrooms.
  10. Hold and attend de-escalation, conflict resolution, first-aid, volunteer medic, and self-defense workshops in your neighborhood, school, workplace, or community organization. When possible, donate to these initiatives so they remain recurring.
  11. Don’t report graffiti and other street artists. If you see work that includes fascistic or hate speech, paint over it with friends.
  12. Remember that police can escalate domestic violence situations— especially those involving people of color. You can support friends and neighbors who are being victimized by abusers by offering them a place to stay, a ride to a safe location, or to watch their children. Utilize community resources like safe houses and hotlines.

Calling the police often escalates situations, puts people at risk, and leads to violence. Anytime you seek help from the police, you’re inviting them into your community and putting people who may already be vulnerable into dangerous situations. Sometimes people feel that calling the police is the only way to deal with problems. But we can build trusted networks of mutual aid that allow us to better resolve conflicts ourselves and move towards forms of transformative justice, while keeping police away from our neighborhoods.

* Some hotlines are legally required to report calls to the police; do research on particular hotlines prior to calling.

** Obviously this one gets tricky in the days of COVID.  We certainly do not condone partying in this moment, especially considering how rapidly COVID is spreading on campuses due to student parties.  However, we must not take our condemnations of parties and turn them outwards towards the communities Penn seeks to displace. Even without joining parties we can communicate with residents without needing police intervention, especially given the ways that police have been so disproportionate in enforcing social distancing rules on Black people.  

May Day Collective



Washtenaw Solidarity & Defense


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