Neighborhood Watch

While writing my previous post I heard a huge noise at the front of my house. I found one man being restrained in a seated position on the ground at my front door, the man who was holding him down was accusing him of theft and asking me to call the police, and a woman was hanging around and crying.

When calling the police I discovered that Optus (the Telco that provides the virtual service which Virgin Mobile uses) doesn’t accept 112 as an emergency number! This combined with the fact that CyanogenMod 7 on my phone doesn’t accept 000 as an emergency number meant that I had to unlock my phone before calling the police. Unlocking your phone late at night when there’s a situation that needs police attention isn’t as easy as you would hope. As an aside there are usually no penalties for testing the emergency service on your phone, people who install PABX systems and other significant telephony devices test emergency services calls as a matter of routine, so testing emergency calls from your phone is a really good idea. If anyone knows how to configure CyanogenMod 7 to support 000 as an emergency call then please let me know!

Anyway the man who was held down claimed that a friend of his had given him a bag containing tools that he had lugged from some place not particularly near my house. The man who was holding him down said that he witnessed the other man stealing the tools from his neighbor – not far from my house. The woman was apparently the girlfriend of the man who was accused of burglary.

The end result was that the police arrested the man who was accused of burglary and his girlfriend. He didn’t have any obvious injuries and the police said that the man who detained him did them a favor, so it seems unlikely that there will be any assault charges filed. Presumably the man who detained the burglar is explaining it all at the police station now, I hope the police gave him a chance to put on pants and shoes first.

The man who made the burglary accusation said that his house was robbed last night which is why he was more observant than usual tonight.

This makes me glad of my policy of rejecting every job offer which involves moving to the US. In Australia hand guns are really hard to get so there’s no way that a house burglary will involve a gun and there’s also no way that someone who wants to help the police will have a gun. So while it was unpleasant to have this happen at my front door it didn’t involve any risk to me. It could have ended up with someone other than me getting a beating but the probability of serious injury or death for them was quite low. As everyone knew that no-one had a gun and no-one wanted to be charged with assault it made sense for everyone to avoid excessive force. From what I saw no excessive force was used.

The police arrived fairly quickly and EVERYONE was glad to see them. All up it took a bit more than 30 minutes from the first noise to the police departing after arresting both suspects and filling out a bunch of paperwork. I was impressed by that!

5 comments to Neighborhood Watch

  • My Optus phone is running CyanogenMod 7 (unofficial Motorola Milestone port) and I just tested 112 and 000 without unlocking it, and both worked.

  • Sami Liedes

    Hmm, that’s weird. I thought that the 112 number is built in into the GSM spec so that in theory every GSM operator should recognize 112.

    Having the phone recognize the dialed number as an emergency number is also beneficial in other ways besides removing the need to unlock the phone. In GSM networks dialing an emergency number will forcibly free call slot by disconnecting a non-emergency call slot if no free slot is available; I think this requires also support from the phone. Also emergency numbers may be dialed on any operator’s network, not only that of your own, although I’m not sure if any phone actually implements this, except if there is no SIM card in the phone, in which case it will connect to the best network and allow emergency calls. (There’s a curious less known corollary to this: If you have poor signal and trouble reaching the emergency number, it may help to remove the SIM card and try again.)

  • etbe

    Jeremy: That’s strange. Maybe the Samsung Galaxy S build I’m using is defective in this regard.

    Sami: I thought the same thing until it failed. Maybe because 3G isn’t really GSM it doesn’t have to obey it.

    GSM roaming isn’t anything special (ANY call may be made on any network), even with your SIM installed you can force your phone to use a different GSM/3G network if you wish to pay for it. I don’t think that removing the SIM would do any good, it would be quicker to go to your phone config and tell it to lock to the strongest network.

    But the ability to force-disconnect other calls is important, if part of that is from the client side then it would be important to have the phone know what the emergency number is. I hope that it’s the server that determines which calls can put other people offline, otherwise anyone could hack their phone and get preferred treatment for regular calls!

  • Sami Liedes

    My impression is that the decision is neither entirely client-side nor entirely server-side, but I might be wrong. Certainly it seems to me that it could be implemented entirely server-side. But as specified, perhaps the client needs to set some kind of emergency call flag or decide to attempt the call in spite of knowing that there are no free slots available.

    It’s also a known fact that this facility can be abused even without special support from the phone, and it’s known to happen in e.g. big conferences: if you just start to call 112, a line is freed immediately. So you can (but don’t!) call 112, disconnect immediately and place a call to another number through the now freed line.

    At least where I live domestic roaming is not possible in other operators’ networks, except for emergency calls. But yes, for most phones it’s possible to force them to connect to another network; still I think removing the SIM may be simpler.

  • andrewsomething

    I know that awhile back CyanogenMod dropped support for Samsung Vibrants (a US Galaxy S) due to it not being able to dial 911 (the US emergency number). Perhaps this is related?