Around 2007, I had been a developer in Adobe Flash for a few years and was working from home for a little startup, building online video editing software. We had a tiny office in Seattle, but most of the employees were scattered throughout the world. Our server team worked out of Argentina, we had a developer or two in Pakistan, one from the Ukraine and a couple others from countries I can no longer remember. The project manager, I’ll call Kevin, lived in Vancouver British Columbia, which is about a three hour drive from Seattle. I lived in Bellingham, Washington, halfway between Seattle and Vancouver.
So communication was often a difficult issue for us with language, time-zone, and distance issues to deal with, so Kevin decided to get all of us Vonage phone adaptors and buy into a special deal that would let us do conference calls at a very low price.
But Kevin didn’t want to pay international shipping twice, once to have them shipped to Canada to his home, and once to have them shipped out again to all the employees. So instead, he had all of them shipped to my house, then drove down to Bellingham to pick them up before shipping them off to my co-workers.
I set up my Vonage adapter within a day or two of getting it and had no problems. A week later, everyone else received their adaptors, but all seemed to have considerably more problems. I watched them testing it in our chatroom, saying ‘okay, call me again’, ‘nope still not coming through’.
So I left around noon to grab a lunch special at the Thai restaurant down the street. When I came back forty-five minutes later, I saw a couple cops at the next house, but didn’t think much of it.
I went inside and within moments of taking off my shoes I heard a knock on my door. I immediately thought it would be the police, though for what reason I could not imagine. I looked around at all my marijuana paraphernalia and High-Times posters, knowing that I’d never have enough time to hide them all.
So I answered the door and sure enough, there were the two cops. They asked my name and whatnot, then explained that a 911 call had gone out from my apartment.
“Huh?” I said. “No, I was at lunch.”
“Yeah, we saw you come home just now. Is there anyone else in there?”
“No,” I replied. “Just me.”
“And you don’t know how a 911 call could have come out of your home here?”
“No,” I said, “Do you know if it came from my cell phone or some kind of land-line phone?” I pulled out my cell and checked it to see if I had somehow accidentally made a call.
“We have no way to tell that,” the first officer replied.
“Well, it’s gotta have something to do with my new Vonage adaptor I got for work.”
“Oh yeah?” the said.
“You ever hear of Vonage adaptors mysteriously calling 911?”
“No,” they replied. “We need to come in and check your apartment and make sure you don’t have anyone tied up in here or something. Are you sure no one is in your apartment? This is very serious. We need to know if anyone else is in there. You can be charged with obstruction if you don’t answer truthfully.”
“No,” I said, my knees visibly shaking. “Unless someone broke in and made some calls while I was away, there’s no one in here.”
“Okay, well we’re just gonna come in and check your cabinets and under your bed and stuff just to make sure you don’t have any dead bodies stashed, okay?”
“Um…” I balked, trying to think back to the information I’d read about Marijuana Law. Paramedics, police and firemen have a right to enter a person’s home without permission if they have probable cause to believe someone’s life is in danger. Otherwise, they can’t enter without either a warrant or the resident’s permission.
But was a 911 call and a shaky knee probable cause?
“If you have drugs in there, we don’t care. We won’t arrest you even for a few crack rocks. We just want to check for dead bodies. That’s it. Then we’ll be out of your hair.”
But only a fool blindly trusts the cops when they say they won’t arrest you. “Do I have to let you in?” I asked, having no idea of the safest thing to say. “Like you can legally just come in without asking me?”
“We’re coming in whether you like it or not,” one of them replied.
So I shrugged and backed off from the door to give them space to enter.
Thinking back I realize I played it rather stupidly, and my shrug could have been construed as permission to enter. Instead I should have clearly said, “I won’t give my consent, but I’m not gonna try to stop you.”
So I turned quickly toward my bedroom, and tried to throw a blanket over my little coffee table covered with marijuana pipes, a hot-plate for knifers, my plate with a pile of shake on it, my drug-dealers scale, and a couple ounces of pot.
But one of the officers caught me. “No. You just sit down. Don’t try to hide the drugs. We don’t care about that.” He pointed me angrily toward a chair then stood over me, glaring, keeping a hand over his gun.
The other officer went first into my kitchen, looked under my sink and in a couple cupboards, then came back to my bedroom, glanced for a few moments at my table of paraphernalia, then passed my computer table, carefully stepping over my bong to get to my closet. He looked in the closet for a moment, then peered under my bed, where my gravity bong was still sitting ready for its next use. He looked for a long moment, and I figured he was debating whether he wanted to dig into my storage bin.
“Nope,” he said. “No bodies here.” He returned to the living room.
“Thanks for your time,” they said and briskly left, clearly annoyed at the whole situation.
“Okay, have a good day, guys,” I said as they left.
And I just had to shake my head. Not even a mention of the drugs I had scattered throughout the house.
So I got back online and tried contacting my co-workers to find out if they knew anything about faulty, 911 calling Vonage adaptors.
Most of them had gone to lunch though, but after a half hour I got ahold of Stanislav, who worked from the Ukraine, and went by Stan when dealing with people in the states. Unfortunately I forgot to save the record of our instant-messenger chat, but it went something like this:
Me: Somehow these new Vonage adaptors made a call to emergency services from my house… I don’t know what to do. Do you have any idea how a 911 call could have been made from my house when I wasn’t here?
Stan: I have no idea. You called emergency?
Me: Yeah, but not on purpose. I don’t know how it happened. The cops came and searched my house.
Stan: Police came to your house because you called emergency? Who did you talk to to get them to come over?
Me: I didn’t talk to anyone. They just showed up. Somehow a 911 call went out from my house and I need to find out how it happened to keep it from happening again.
Stan: You called 911?
Me: Not on purpose.
Stan: What a coincidence. I too called 911.
Me: Wait? What?
Me: You called 911? Say that again.
Stan: Yes, I called 911 to test the Vonage adaptor. It didn’t work so I hung up.
Me: Why are you calling emergency services to test your phone?
Stan: I never called for emergency. I called 911.
Me: 911 is emergency services.
Stan: Oh, I see.
Me: So that’s how it happened. Your phone is still registered to my address.
Stan: You only have emergency number over there? No other services?
Me: We have 411 for information.
Stan: Oh, I see. Separate numbers. In Ukraine we only have 02.
Stan: Yes, you dial 02 and wait for answer, then you ask for emergency services and they transfer you… then they call you back four or five times to ask you where you live. Police never come to your door.
Me: So why didn’t you just dial 02?
Stan: I did. It didn’t work, so I thought since Vonage is from states it might connect to the US line.
Me: Okay, well, lets remember that 911 is only an emergency line, and I can get in a lot of trouble if you call it again.
Me: Okay, so seriously, no more 911 calling, okay?
Stan: Ok, no problem.
I talked to Kevin about the incident, and he agreed to change the address registration on everyone’s phone adaptor, and make sure everyone knew that 911 is not an information line. Fortunately he knew that I smoked a lot of pot and that I usually had paraphernalia sitting out, so he fully understood why I expected him to take this seriously.
Later I did a little research about police policies on drugs and 911 calls, finding that it’s standard procedure in almost all departments across the United States to ignore minor drug crimes in 911 calls, all the way up to sellable quantities of crack and cocaine. It’s a stated policy in many cities because they want people to feel that they can call 911 without risking imprisonment for unrelated things.
So it was nice that I didn’t get arrested for all my pot, but at the same time, it bothered me deeply, because it seems that through these policies, the police are openly admitting that there is nothing wrong with doing drugs in your own home. They know that there are so many people doing this kind of thing that our emergency systems would be notably compromised if police actually enforced the law in these situations. They are openly admitting that there are other things in our society that are significantly more important than fighting drugs, and that drug users are at least enough of a part of the community that we deserve the right to call 911 safely.
To me, this is blatant dishonesty and hypocrisy, and is just part of the careful balance that they must maintain to keep the public from recognizing just what a disgrace the drug war really is to our society.