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This page is designed for neighborhood activists who are calling the Baltimore City 911 system to report  a crime, especially to report drug dealing.  It does not discuss whether to call 911 in the first place.

How can I keep the drug dealers from finding out that I call 911 on them?

To remain anonymous, the most important thing you can do is never hang up on 911.  When someone calls 911 and hangs up, the operator may fear that the caller is under attack and send a police car to the caller’s door to investigate.  That identifies the caller.

If you call 911 and ask to stay anonymous, the police officer should never know who made the call.  If this rule is violated, you can call Internal Affairs at 410-396-2300 to register a complaint.

You can also call your police district (the number will be in the blue pages of your phone book) to register as a blockwatcher.  Blockwatchers are given numbers by the police and make 911 calls using that number without a name.

How can I get a quicker response to my 911 calls?

911 will never get a car to show up immediately.  The police may be busy elsewhere.  If a police car drives by, it may not be responding to your call at all – it may be heading somewhere else.  But sooner or later, an officer will check on your call.

The police are more likely to treat your call with the seriousness it deserves if you make clear that your concerns are about drugs and make clear how you know drugs are involved.

If the police won’t come rapidly, what’s the point?

911 is more than just a way of summoning a police car.  The police and courts also use it to figure out what the problem areas are in their community.  So even if a car doesn’t come immediately, making a 911 call about drugs at a building or a corner lets them know they should watch that area for drug dealing.

Of course, you should never make a 911 report that isn’t true.

What do I need to say to the 911 operator?

The first thing the operator needs is the location of the problem.  The best thing is to give them a street address.  If drug dealers are standing in front of Mike’s Liquor at 1234 Main Street, say “1234 Main.”  That helps the police find the drug dealers, and it helps them figure whether Mike’s Liquor is a problem. If you don’t have a street address, you can give a business name.  The operators know the addresses of many city businesses, but they don’t have phone books handy.  So they may or may not know where Mike’s Liquor is. If you don’t know a street address or a business name, you can give a corner - like “12th and Main” – or a block – like “the 1200 block of Main Street.” 

What should I say about drug dealing?

You must make the operator realize that you are calling about drug dealing, not just ordinary loitering.  If the police know there is drug dealing, they have more rights to stop people in the area.
First, you should say right from the start you are calling about drugs.  Second, give the operator all the details you can about how you know the people are dealing drugs.  For example, be sure to mention if you see people:

  • Leaning into the windows of cars;
  • Shouting “five-oh!” or another warning when police approach;
  • Shaking hands in a way that looks like they’re passing drugs;
  • Going into a vacant building;
  • Or even if you see the same people at the same place every night and you know they’re dealing drugs.

What other details should I mention?

The more details you mention, the better.  In particular, the police will need to pick the drug dealers out from all the other people in the area.  A description of clothing is good, but slick drug dealers may change their clothes or all dress alike.  If someone has, say, a limp, that may be the best way to identify them.  Describing shoes and hairstyles can also help.

Best of all, if you can see or guess where the dealers stash their drugs, let the police know.  Even if the police don’t find the dealers, they may find the drugs and so you will deny the dealers their profits.

Are there other numbers to call?

If there’s an urgent problem, call 911 first.  But to get more investigation of drug dealing, you can also call 410-666-DRUG for a squad that specializes in that.  And if you have the license plate of a drug dealer or buyer, you can also call your local police district to make sure they run the plate.

After I call, what more can I do?

Be prepared for your next call.  Write down what you called about and when in a log, so you can check later whether the information got through.  And if you didn’t know the address where the problem was, check it out later and make a note near the phone so you can give an address next time.

To fight crime in the long run, you should join with your neighbors.  Make sure they call too.  If there’s not a community association already, you and a few friends can form one.  Together you can get police officers to come to your meetings and answer questions.  Associations can even sue the owners of problem properties.


This page is a joint product of the Community Affairs Division of the Baltimore City Police Department (410) 396-2515 and of the Community Law Center, Inc. (410) 366-0922

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Is this legal advice?

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