I called 911 last week because I saw a crazy person.
I live in New York, no big whoop right?
OK well I didn’t call 911 exactly, but rather I was transferred to them. Here is how it happened.
I was leaving work on a summer Friday and was strolling along Central Park South, enjoying the sunshine, heat, and smell of horse manure from the handsome cabs lined up to squire tourists through the park.
I was walking amongst said tourists when I saw him heading my way. It was obvious he was very out of place.
He was a tall fellow, with long hair, a beard, and eyes that did not seem to be in agreement on which way to look. He was shuffling his feet and appeared to be extremely out of it.
What was most noticeable about him however was the fact that he appeared to be wearing 2 hospital gowns and he had a very recognizable hospital bracelet on his arm.
I couldn’t help but stare at him as he shuffled toward me. In passing I was able to absorb everything I just mentioned, while also at the same time taking an extra step or two away from him because the guy just looked crazy.
I passed him in a few seconds and looked over my shoulder to stare for a few seconds more. The hospital gown in and of itself could have just said homeless person to me, but the bracelet, that really through it over the edge.
And I started wondering if I should do something or call somebody.
Now, New York promotes safety and awareness by proliferating the phrase “If you see something, say something.” It is a great slogan, but this is a busy city. There is a LOT to see. So much so that it becomes hard to distinguish what you should actually say something about.
There are many things to see in New York. For instance, when I saw that man who was walking a dog who had a cat sitting on its back who had a mouse sitting on it’s back, I felt inclined to say something.
The time I was walking through Times Square and the black superman selling t-shirts pulled me in for an unexpected hug and I accidentally bit his head, I felt inclined to say something.
And recently, and perhaps most horrific, was the 300 pound woman I saw in Brighton Beach wearing a bikini. That was like 5 something’s, and I really wanted to say something.
But a man in a hospital gown with a hospital bracelet? Now that seemed like genuine cause for alarm. You don’t see that every day on Central Park South, or anywhere for that matter.
I had walked another 2 blocks before my paranoid conscience got the better of me. I figured it was best to do something as opposed to just wondering if the guy shuffling down the street was a violent criminal.
So I called 311.
For people living in New York, 311 is like the Google of questions and complaints. New York City promotes the number as pretty much a go to for anything and everything. Need the city to fix a pot hole? Call 311. Not sure when the buses are running? Call 311. The posters are everywhere.
So I figured I would call them.
After a fairly rigorous automated menu I finally got an operator. Seeing as this was my first time calling 311 I tried to keep a pretty level head. The conversation went something like this:
Operator: Hello 311 assistance how may I help you?
Rich: Hi, I was just walking on Central Park South and I saw a man in a hospital gown with a hospital bracelet and he looked pretty out of it shuffling along and I didn’t know if that was something I should tell you about.
Operator: You saw a man who looked like he escaped from a mental hospital? Yes absolutely.
So immediately I got a little nervous because the operator was kind of putting words in my mouth. I myself did not know if he had escaped per say, but rather, just maybe he was just not in the hospital where he should be currently residing.
Maybe he was one of those patients they let out for walks and he just got confused and walked out an open gate or something.
So the operator asked me some more questions before deciding that this was a police matter.
Operator: OK this is a police matter so I’m going to connect you to 911 and speak when they pick up and transfer it to you.
Whoa! 911? Really? Did we have to call them right away? That seems pretty serious. Couldn’t they just send over an intern or somebody in one of those 3 wheeled police cars to check things out?
I mean it’s not like the guy was running anywhere, he was just… shuffling.
So the operator connects to 911 and immediately starts off by giving them my phone number.
Now I’m really panicking. What if they can’t find this guy? What if they do a couple laps around the block and decide this was all a hoax and then track my phone number to my apartment? Then what? Am I going to be arrested for… I don’t even know what!
Fake seeing an escaped mental patient?
So the 911 operator comes on and now it’s my turn to speak. I give my spiel again and tell her it looked like this guy was out of it.
911 Operator: So you saw a man on drugs.
Whoa operator lady! Again, stop with the putting of the words in my mouth. I did not say he was on DRUGS, I just said he was out of it.
I mean there have been a couple of times I have walked around this city after a night on the town when people could have said I looked out of it. Maybe a little bleary eyed, limping a bit from dancing too much, and wearing a drink bracelet and some shirt that looks a lot cooler at 11 pm than 9 am.
Person: Yea I want to a file a report.
Operator: What did you see?
Person: Well I saw a fairly gangly German walking up 2nd avenue in what appeared to be a sparkly shirt carrying 2 umbrellas.
Operator: Yes that’s definitely something you want to report, tell me your location.
I know nothing about drugs. I don’t know my opium from my oolong. So now I’m stuttering.
Rich: Well I mean, I don’t know that he was on drugs, just, I mean, like, he just looked out of it, and I mean I just saw him in passing, but…
I started looking around me halfway thinking I was going to be the one they were looking for.
911 Operator: Alright we are going to see an EMT truck to that location and have them check it out.
At least I had been downgraded from a police officer to an EMT person. I was pretty sure an EMT couldn’t arrest me if the situation called for it.
Did they ever find that possibly crazy man? I’ll never know. But I can be proud that when I saw something, I said something.
And also that nobody has reported me to the police… yet.