On March 11, 2011, employees at the Apple store in Bethesda heard screams for help and sounds of a fight but did nothing.
The next day, Apple employees were shocked to discover police officers investigating a murder that occurred next-door at the Lululemon store. At sentencing for the murderer last month, Montgomery County Judge Robert A. Greenberg delivered an impassioned speech that included mention of the Apple store employees: “the callous indifference of those Apple store employees,” Greenberg said. “They did not do a blessed thing.” The best and easiest thing would have been for witnesses to call 911.
Unfortunately, societal indifference is more common than we would hope. In October 2011, a toddler in China was repeatedly hit by traffic on a busy street. More than 18 people witnessed the accident without rendering aid or calling for help. This calloused behavior is referred to by psychologists as “bystander effect.”
The most famous example of “bystander effect” in the United States was the stabbing murder of Kitty Genovese in March 1964 in Queens, NY. More than a dozen people heard Genovese’s screams, yet there were not a dozen calls for help. Psychologists have noticed a trend of “diffusion of responsibility” in crowds or groups when an emergency occurs, yet no one acts. Inaction in a crowd is contagious and provides justification to others in the crowd that action is not needed. The U.S. military noticed this unfortunate trend as well; the military even developed “bystander training” to fight against witness inaction.
To insulate ourselves from diffusion of responsibility or bystander effect/indifference, each of us needs to be cognizant of when it is appropriate to call for help. We may not be required to involve ourselves in dangerous situations, but with the constant police presence in Chevy Chase, help is always a call away.
Montgomery County Police Sgt. Jennifer McNeal explains that the public should not feel they are inconveniencing law enforcement by calling 911 for suspicious circumstances.
“It’s our job,” said McNeal, “to make sure people are safe.” McNeal recommends that citizens call 911 immediately if they see a crime being committed or “if you see someone needs help or hear anything that requires police investigation, such as a gunshot, screams, sounds of a struggle or if something catches your eye as out of ordinary, please call 911 so that we can investigate,” McNeal explains.
In fact, police departments in the area have taken part in the “If You See Something, Say Something!” campaign to encourage citizens to report emergencies, suspicious behavior, unattended bags or other events/activities that authorities should investigate.
Below are the phone numbers and other methods for contacting local police departments in the Chevy Chase area. (You may wish to store them in your phone's memory.)
Chevy Chase Police Department
Montgomery County Police, District 2 (Bethesda/Chevy Chase)
- Text “MCPD” to 274637
- Submit a web tip
Maryland-National Capital Region Park Police
Remember, if you encounter anything suspicious, call 911. As a community, we all have a moral imperative to help one another in a time of need, even if it just means dialing 911.