Photo by Ty Swenson
When calling 911 the dispatcher will want to know your location. A handy way to track down the block you are on can be found on power poles. In this example, you would know you are on the 8500 block of a given street.

A smorgasbord of tips on calling 911, courtesy of West Seattle Blockwatch Captains’ Network

In their monthly meeting after a holiday hiatus, the West Seattle Blockwatch Captains’ Network met on Jan. 24 to discuss mental mapping tips in remembering details of suspect and suspect vehicles when we witness a crime and call 911. Location, victim injuries and the type of crime were also covered.

Seattle Police Southwest Precinct Officers Jonathan Kiehn and Alex Chapackdee, along with Crime Prevention Coordinator Mark Solomon presented.

In starting out his presentation, Kiehn asked a female attendee to step out of the Southwest Precinct community room to gather some handouts he had forgotten to bring in. A natural human reaction, most in the room briefly glanced at the woman before looking back to Kiehn. Little did they know, there were no handouts to be had and a setup was in the works.

Kiehn asked the group to describe the woman who had just left the room, followed by silence and a few unsure comments. Her hair was short and either blond or gray, they said. Her jacket was either pink or purple, not sure on that though. She was wearing glasses and a lot of makeup, one attendee said. She seemed athletic and possibly in her 50’s, others said.

As the woman came back in, the group had done decently well. Her hair was indeed short, although not blonde but dark with a few streaks of gray. Her jacket was magenta, somewhere in between pink and purple. She had no glasses and a modest amount of makeup.

The exercise illustrated the difficulty in quickly identifying important characteristics of a suspect before calling 911 to report a crime.

As Blockwatch Network co-chair Deb Greer put it, “In the heat of the moment it is hard to gather all those details.”

Before making the call
Kiehn recommended a nice deep breath before calling 911 in order to calm the nerves and collect your thoughts. In addition to a suspect or vehicle description, dispatchers will want to know your location and what crime you think has occurred. While the exact location is ideal, Keihn said a street name and block number is second best, followed by a nearby intersection and lastly a nearby landmark. A handy tip in quickly locating your description: Look for a nearby light pole and you’ll notice a tag with orange lettering on a black background (see the photo above). This will tell you the block, for example the 5400 block of 35th Ave S.W. Solomon added that it is best to let the dispatcher guide the conversation – let them ask the questions and answer in kind.

If someone is hurt
If someone is hurt (and this could, of course, happen outside of criminal activity), Kiehn said dispatchers will need to know the age and gender of the patient, nature of their injuries and whether they are alert and conscious.

Suspect descriptions
If a suspect is involved, Kiehn suggested the following pattern:
- First describe things they cannot easily change (race, gender, age, scars, tattoos, distinct marks, height, weight)
- Then describe their clothing from top to bottom and inside to outside. This is how police relay information over the radio, so giving the information in that order will save time. (Kien’s example: blue hat, white t-shirt with a black jacket, blue pants, white socks, grey tennis shoes)
- Last describe characteristics that make them stand out (walking with a limp, no teeth, sweating profusely)
- And finally, last know direction the suspect headed

Suspect vehicle descriptions
Kiehn suggested using the acronym CYMMBALS in remembering a vehicle involved in a crime:
- Color (if you don’t know the specific color, even a “dark” or “light” helps)
- Year (if you don’t know, even a decade estimate like “80s sedan”)
- Make (Ford, Chevy, etc)
- Model (Taurus, Impala, etc)
- Body style (2-door coupe to SUV)
- Accessories (roof racks, tinted windows, etc)
- License number (Kien’s suggestion: “Say letters first, then whole plate. We tend to remember numbers more easily. By reading the letters first, you reinforce the memory then add it to the entire plate”)
- License state (if you notice it is out of state, even if you don’t know which state, mention it to the dispatcher)
- Beyond the acronym, Chapackdee recommended making a mental note of any oddities on the car like a broken taillight, unique stickers, antenna balls.
- How many passengers were in the vehicle? (from Solomon)
- And finally, last known direction of the vehicle

Towards the end of the meeting, Kiehn asked a man to leave the room. Of course, attendees were well aware of what was happening this time around, but the description was far more complete than the first time around, even down to the clothing from top to bottom.

Additional notes from WSBCN
- Spots are available for upcoming Seattle Police Community Police Academy sessions
- Any blockwatches or neighborhoods interested in meeting police officers assigned to protect their area can contact Southwest Precinct Officer Alex Chapackdee (206)-255-8302 or to set up a Seattle Police Department Living Room Conversation – a chance to meet in a casual environment (possibly your living room!).
- The blockwatch network secured a grant and is planning a spring/early summer event to celebrate long-time blockwatch captains and police officers. Anyone with ideas on who to honor or great ideas for a great party should contact WCBCN.
- The Code of America Blockwatch Captain database is in need of someone with technical prowess to help clean up the database. Also, anyone interested in helping blockwatch captains navigate the database and set up their groups should contact WSBCN. A tutorial is available here.

There are many avenues to contact the West Seattle Blockwatch Captains’ Network. They meet on the fourth Tuesday of each month at the Southwest Precinct Community Room:

Phone: 206-424-0040
Monthly Meeting: 4th Tuesdays, 6:30-8 PM, SW Police Precinct Meeting Room (2300 SW Webster Street)

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