Fact Check

Response Time

Rumor: A man who couldn't motivate police to respond to a break-in on his property reported that he had shot the burglars instead.

Published April 19, 2002


Claim:   A man who couldn't motivate police to investigate a break-in on his property reports that he had shot the burglars instead.


Example:   [Collected via e-mail, 2001]

How to call the Police...
True Story From the Meridian, Mississippi STAR

George Phillips of Meridian Mississippi was going up to bed when his wife told him that he'd left the light on in the garden shed, which she could see from the bedroom window. George opened the back door to go turn off the light but saw that there were people in the shed stealing things.

He phoned the police, who asked "Is someone in your house?" and he said no. Then they said that all patrols were busy, and that he should simply lock his door and an officer would be along when available.

George said "Okay," hung up, counted to 30, and phoned the police again. "Hello. I just called you a few seconds ago because there were people in my shed. Well, you don't have to worry about them now cause I've just shot them all." Then he hung up.

Within five minutes three police cars, an Armed Response unit, and an ambulance showed up at the Phillips residence. Of course, the police caught the burglars red-handed. One of the policemen said to George: "I thought you said that you'd shot them!"

George said, "I thought you said there was nobody available!"


Origins:   The above-quoted gem about a Mississippi resident's scheme for getting a quick police response first garnered our attention in November 2001. A version variously titled "How to work the system" or "How to speed up a 911 call" was subsequently presented as a first-person piece rather than a news account, but it was the same story, just told in a different way. Some of those versions ended with the tag:

Like I've heard my cop friends say many times, if you're one of those people (i.e., gun-control nuts) who wants to abdicate responsibility for your own safety and leave it to the "proper authorities," try this: call the cops, call for an ambulance, and call for a pizza — then wait and see who shows up first.

Despite claims of this story's having been run in the Meridian Mississippi Star, searches through the online

archives of that paper failed to turn up the piece, and the writing style used in the item should have discouraged anyone from believing a journalist penned it. But

just to be sure, we contacted the editor of that paper to ask if the piece had ever appeared in their pages. His response was a short, succinct, authoritative "No."

Funny stories are often presented as news items because some find "wacky news" tales far more appealing than they do plain unvarnished jokes. The "false but authoritative-looking attribution" is a common device in such presentations, one the savvy Internet user learns to watch out for.

Although the familiar version of this story might be a bit of fiction, could something like it have happened anyway? Since we penned this article in April 2002, a few real-life incidents matching the basic elements of the tale have taken place:

  • In September 2003 a minister in Odessa, Texas, who felt police were not responding quickly enough to his call about a burgled church 40 minutes later followed up with a second phone call in which he reported he was holding hostages and threatening to kill them at that location. The three police officers who were pulled off other cases to converge on the hostage call were not amused by the ruse and arrested its perpetrator, Paul Weymouth, the 63-year-old pastor of Heights Christian Church, on charges of filing a false report.
  • In November 2009, an East Texas man called 911 to report that he'd just committed a murder and was still armed. Several officers from the Tyler, Texas, police force sped to his address in cars with emergency lights and sirens blaring, only to find that the 911 dispatch had been a ruse: the caller had been assaulted earlier in the day and wanted to file a complaint, so he'd fabricated his claim about killing someone in order to prompt a quicker response from police. Officers took Mark Anthony Johnson into custody on charges of filing a false report.

The concept of telling a lie to get the police to a crime scene more quickly keys on a basic yet false assumption that if officers of the law are tardy in responding to a summons for aid, their seeming non-response is prompted by sloth. Police have to prioritize calls for assistance based on the comparative severity of presenting events and/or the potential for further harm to those involved. Under such a formula, investigating a stolen car report will never be on par with breaking up a domestic disturbance, because the vehicle will remain just as stolen even if the investigation does not begin for another two hours, whereas the screaming and shoving match may turn into an assault with a deadly weapon if not broken up immediately. Likewise, putting officers on the still-hot trail of a rapist or drunk driver makes more sense than does sending those same officers to look into a "strange noises in my shed" situation — the one may get a danger to society off the streets before he harms anyone else, while the other might only net a miscreant making off with a garden hoe.

Moreover, the caller who falsely reports that he is armed and has shot people not only risks the safety of responding police officers but his own as well, as noted in a response to the above-referenced false murder report of November 2009:

Tyler Police Department Public Information Officer Don Martin said the incident could have proved deadly because officers rushing to the scene could have had an accident or the suspect could have been injured by officers responding to what they believed was a scene with a shooter.

"During a call like that they're all in the frame of mind they have an active shooter who has killed someone. They don't know what the person is thinking or what might happen," he said.

This tale might be a great story for telling, but not for taking as advice. Not unless one has a hankering to spend a night in the hoosegow, keeping the bedbugs company.

Barbara "known by the company you keep" Mikkelson

Last updated:   14 April 2015


    Dean, Kenneth.   "Man Arrested for Falsely Telling Police He Had Committed Murder."

    Tyler Morning Telegraph.   10 November 2009.

    Lee, David.   "Minister Charged with Making False Report."

    Odessa American.   12 September 2003.

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