A basic principle that underlies NCPC's work is neighbors watching out and helping out. One of the first public service announcements starring McGruff featured an elderly woman, Rose, who spoke into a gigantic walkie-talkie to report suspicious activity—an apparent burglary—at a neighbor's home. In our lessons and activities for children, a core message is tell a trusted adult who can help you feel safe.
And so, this weekend, I was deeply saddened to read about the deaths of two young people that could have been prevented if someone had just called for help. In one case, a college student killed himself in his father's bed as people watched a video feed of the suicide online. Some viewers thought the act was a joke; others sent messages encouraging the suicide. After many hours, one viewer finally notified authorities and police were sent to the boy's home, but it was too late to save his life.
In the other case, a girl overdosed on heroin while texting with her boyfriend. The boyfriend asked friends to check on the girl, and when the friends saw her unconscious, they called the police. By the time police arrived, the girl was dead.
The initial question you may be thinking—why didn't anyone take the warning signs seriously and call for help?—can really only be answered by the individuals involved. Maybe the Internet viewers didn't call because they questioned the authenticity of the suicide attempt. Maybe the boyfriend didn't believe that the girl could really be dying. But as crime prevention practitioners, the more important issue is how we can motivate individuals to call the authorities when they see something suspicious.
First, we need to educate them on who to call. In addition to 911 and the police, are there hotlines or other community service agencies they could call? A domestic violence or suicide prevention hotline, for example, may be a good resource. Second, we need to continue to build relationships with community members, especially young people, so they have a positive connection to those who can help them before they need the help. And third, we should continually remind others that everyone has a responsibility to keep the community, and its members safe. We should make sure that if anyone sees a crime, or worries that someone is being abused or hurt in any way, they should just make a call to the authorities. That call just might save a life.