Must I respond to a police "welfare check?"
September 6, 2016 8:36 AM   Subscribe

I am on vacation and received a voicemail on my cellphone from an officer with my local police department, saying that he went by my apartment to conduct a welfare check on behalf of "Mr. Max" and asking me to call back to confirm I am okay. I do not know anyone by that name, and I am in regular contact with normal friends and family (needless to say, I am fine).

I am concerned that "Mr. Max" may be an unhinged ex and I am inclined not to respond at all, but I do not know what the chain of events is from here (will the police break down my door? when?).

Can anyone advise? Many thanks in advance.
posted by argonauta to Law & Government (20 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
How do you know for sure it was a police officer? Are you able to confirm (eg by calling the station directly and checking the officer's name/badge number)?
posted by handful of rain at 8:39 AM on September 6, 2016 [19 favorites]

Could this be a scam of some sort? I would not dial the number left on voicemail but instead look up the local police department nonemergency line and call them directly and report/ask about this.
posted by tipsyBumblebee at 8:40 AM on September 6, 2016 [37 favorites]

First, DO NOT return the call to the number he left. Call your local police department's publicly listed phone number and ask for the officer by name.
posted by raisingsand at 8:40 AM on September 6, 2016 [51 favorites]

If you can, visit your local precinct and ask to speak to a supervisor (you might even want to ask to speak to a female supervisor and/or have a female officer in the room). If you can't do that (or don't feel comfortable doing it), call them (look up the number; do not call back the person who called you). Explain the situation and give them any information you have on the person who contacted you.
posted by Etrigan at 8:41 AM on September 6, 2016 [4 favorites]

My first thought is, someone is casing your home for a robbery and wants to make sure you're out of town. That's a worst-case scenario, but I wouldn't discount it.
posted by showbiz_liz at 8:43 AM on September 6, 2016 [30 favorites]

It depends on the country/city/state but I believe if they're doing a welfare check at an apartment and never get an answer, they may ask to be let in by the apartment manager to see if you're alive/responsive in the apartment. But, like others have said, I'd call the station directly, as well as informing them of the situation with the ex to make sure they don't give away the fact that you're on vacation or that the cell phone they called is indeed your cell phone. If they do the welfare check correctly, I believe they will just confirm to "Mr. Max" that you're alive and in no danger.
posted by bluecore at 8:45 AM on September 6, 2016 [7 favorites]

Call the police department's non-emergency line. Impersonating a police officer is a crime, and that may be what's going on here. If it's legit, explain the situation with the ex and ask them what they can do to prevent any information being given to that person.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 8:48 AM on September 6, 2016 [7 favorites]

Contact your local precinct directly using their listed number, and once you track down the officer, tell them you don't know anyone by the name of Mr. Max, that you're in regular touch with friends, family, and work, and tell them you DO NOT authorize them to pass on ANY information on your whereabouts or status to "Mr. Max" or anybody else.

I wouldn't ignore the call because if it's really the police, and someone is telling them you're missing or whatever, they aren't going to drop it until they confirm you're alive.

If it's NOT the cops, they need to know about that, too.

If your gut is telling you this has something to do with an unhinged ex, I'd listen to that. Could also be a mix-up or scam.
posted by kapers at 8:51 AM on September 6, 2016 [10 favorites]

I am a social worker and I have had to request these for clients from time to time. If there is no answer at the door, the officer simply reports that to me, and they do not pursue it further. You are under no obligation to respond or return the call. It might be different where you are--I am in Washington State.
posted by reksb at 8:52 AM on September 6, 2016 [7 favorites]

And to answer your question: I doubt you are obligated to respond but it'll be the fastest way to clear this up.
posted by kapers at 9:03 AM on September 6, 2016 [2 favorites]

Assuming they haven't had other contact with you, it is unlikely that the police would have your cellphone number --- 'reverse lookups' can find a landline phone number with nothing more than a street address, but not a cellphone. Also, welfare checks are more normally done by an actual officer physically knocking on your door, to visually confirm the person in question is indeed okay.

Do not respond to the number left on your cell; call your local police non-emergency number to confirm, but agreed with the folks above: this is either a scam or your ex.
posted by easily confused at 9:15 AM on September 6, 2016 [4 favorites]

Just as an FYI, though, "reverse lookups" can easily find a cell number, IF it was ported over from a landline. I had a landline for a couple years and then ported it to a cell, and it's still easily found in reverse lookups.

Call the local police non-emergency number and go from there.
posted by Slinga at 9:38 AM on September 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

I tried googling to see if a welfare check is legally enforceable, and came up with this:

"No court order is required for the police to conduct a welfare check. Essentially, as long as they have reasonable grounds to believe that an inhabitant in a residence in endangered, they can legally enter the premises. They typically knock on the door and await a response before announcing their law enforcement affiliation. If they still receive no response, they may enter the property. This is particularly useful when someone inside the house is unconscious or otherwise unable to respond. The ability to enter the property without permission means that emergency aid can be rendered. In some cases, this is a life saving intervention."

I also tried looking at the website for my own city but they don't have a public policy on the topic posted.

I will tell you anecdotally that when we hadn't seen our neighbor in a few days and called for a welfare check they only came by, knocked on the door, and left. It wasn't until a few days later, when there was an unmistakable smell, that they forcibly entered the premises.
posted by vignettist at 9:40 AM on September 6, 2016 [2 favorites]

Ambulance worker in the UK here - don't know where you live but hope this is still helpful. We often get called by the police to such things. Police can force entry to your premises if they have good reason to believe you are collapsed inside. They are generally quite reluctant to do so and one phone call with a dodgy sounding name is unlikely to be enough. However, you not responding to a phone call would be more evidence that something is wrong, so on that basis I would call them back. As others have said, the whole thing might be a scam, so be sure to use the normal non-emergency number and not any other number they've left on your answerphone. When you call them - assuming it really was the police who called you, tell them you suspect a hoax and ask them not to tell the origin caller they have contacted you - they will respect that. They can also get a tag put on their computer system so if they get another call to your address they are prewarned that someone is hoaxing you.
posted by intensitymultiply at 11:16 AM on September 6, 2016 [3 favorites]

Report this suspicious activity to your local precinct ASAP!

- It's a crime to file a false report, so this "Mr. Max" is not on the right side of things. File your own report.


- The local police may go to your home and look for signs of a break-in based on the situation, go ahead and ask for that if you feel the need.

Please do follow-up directly with the police. Whatever this is, you want it on record.

For real when you get home, have an officer escort you inside. Why take the chance? What a bummer, though.

I'm so sorry. It's hopefully nothing, but like, just call the police and make sure you weren't burgled or being stalked or whatever.

Hopefully, they'll have nothing to report back and you can continue your trip with confidence.
posted by jbenben at 11:31 AM on September 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

IF your actual PD when called at their actual number which you independently look up confirms the welfare check, it will be helpful to them and "Mr. Max" to learn you are the wrong address.
posted by bearwife at 3:10 PM on September 6, 2016

Oh, and if this the fakery it sounds like your actual PD would also likely be very interested to learn of this effort to phish by pretending to be them. And if this is an effort to ascertain if you are home, that this might mean criminal activity is afoot.
posted by bearwife at 3:15 PM on September 6, 2016

Agree with the advice to call the publicly available police number and ask for the officer by name, then go from there. You could also let your apartment manager know what's going on so they can keep an eye on your place in case somebody is casing it for a robbery, or on the off-chance that the policy do come by and want in.
posted by rpfields at 4:20 PM on September 6, 2016 [2 favorites]

Thanks to all for the advice, insight and support -- I appreciate it so very much. It turns out that the officer was legit, and "Mr. Max" is someone who lives in the apartment below me and requested the check because he had moisture damage in his ceiling and I didn't answer my door. I'll just leave it at that.
posted by argonauta at 5:27 PM on September 9, 2016 [5 favorites]

Glad it turned out well, although maybe this'll let Mr. Max know that perhaps he should've called the landlord first: a police welfare check was a tiny bit of overkill on his part!
posted by easily confused at 12:25 AM on September 10, 2016

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