In the days after 9/11, a New York advertising executive came up with a phrase to help New Yorkers stay vigilant after the terrorist attack. The phrase caught on and is now used throughout the country, including here in Milton: “If you see something, say something.” The phrase has expanded beyond terrorism and is applicable in all sorts of prevention contexts. I use the phrase myself all the time, from putting it on Facebook posts to talking about bullying with fourth graders during Lunch with a Cop. I tell the fourth graders that if the people that care about you don’t know about a problem, then they can’t help.

I recently had a conversation with someone about this concept. The person saw some pretty poor driving behavior and wondered whether they should call it in or not. The question basically was, “Should I really say something about this?” I thought it was a great question and one worthy of further exploration.

If you see or hear about illegal, dangerous or improper behavior, never be afraid to give us a call. Precisely how to do that is covered down below. However, just as importantly as making a call, give us a call as close to the time of the incident as possible. In all three of the police departments I’ve belonged to, I’ve been frustrated to hear something like this from a community member: “Hey, I wanted to let you know that last night about twelve hours ago, I saw _________. I figured I better let you know about it since I saw you today.” That kind of information is certainly useful to us, even hours later. But what would have been even better is to get the call while the incident is occurring. Calling immediately may give us a better chance to catch a suspect. It also could potentially prevent victimization if we either catch or scare off the suspect in the act of committing a crime.

Please understand, though, that this may not mean calling us for everything that grabs your attention. Again, in all three agencies I’ve worked for, I’ve responded to countless reports of suspicious people. Sometimes, these reports involve a person in a public space they have the right to be in and doing activities that are completely legal. In too many of these cases, here and around the country, the person is also black or brown. I’ll never forget the frustration and pain expressed by an African American student at UW-Platteville who was reported to the police for working on homework in an open classroom. The staff member who called the police didn’t think he “looked like” he belonged there. Please make sure you that when you do say something, you are reporting because of the behavior you are observing, not because of how the person looks.

Finally, I want to remind you all on HOW to make a call. The best way to reach a police officer 24 hours a day is through the Rock County 911 Communications Center. Of course, call 911 if it’s an emergency. However, beyond emergencies, the Communications Center answers all non-emergency calls and dispatches for us and every other emergency services agency in the county. The non-emergency phone number is 608-757-2244. Calling us here at the police department for routine or business related things (report requests, citation payments, etc.) is appropriate. However, if a police officer needs to be assigned to the call, it still needs to be routed through the 911 Center to begin the record keeping process. If you know you need to speak with an officer, call there first and it will save you some time. The Janesville Area Crime Stoppers and their P3 smartphone app is also an option if you need to get us something anonymously.

Finally, the message of this phrase is truly about engaging the community in collective safety. Thanks for all YOU do to help protect the community and keep one another safe. The dedicated staff of the Milton Police Department can’t be everywhere at once and we depend upon your help to help prevent crime in our area. If you do see something, say something, and please stay safe.

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