Home / National News / Family Chases Alleged Phone Thieves Despite 911 Dispatcher’s Protests


(SEATTLE) — When thieves smashed a car window in Seattle last month and snatched a purse with a cellphone inside, Danny Westneat and his family took matters into their own hands.

Using the “find my phone” feature, which allows a person to see where their phone is on a map in real time, his 14-year-old daughter helped them track down the alleged thieves.

“I’m not some vigilante. … When you get your stuff stolen, you’re supposed to call the police,” Westneat told ABC News on Tuesday. “All our stuff — our credit cards, our money, our phone — [were] 20 feet away in a van.”

While making multiple phone calls to 911, the family followed the stolen phone for nearly three hours through city streets, eventually stopping at a parking lot.

“We were following the people around and: Can we get a police officer?” Westneat’s wife, Sarah, asked the 911 dispatcher. “We have been following them for an hour and they stopped, and they keep going.”

Westneat said Tuesday that the family could not get any officers to come to the scene and that they were told to file an insurance claim.

One dispatcher even made a plea for the caller to stop following the alleged thieves.

This particular dispatcher had taken the call from David Peterson, 54, who had been fatally shot in February, allegedly by a teenager, after he’d refused to give up his cellphone. Peterson had been killed near where the family was following its alleged cellphone thieves.

“Let me tell you something. … I’ve been on the phone with someone just like this … and I really don’t want that to happen to you, OK?” the dispatcher said.

Police acknowledged the victims’ frustration but insisted that chasing down thieves was a dangerous roll of the dice.

“We want to get them [citizens] out of that position as quickly as possible,” Detective Patrick Michaud told KOMO News. “We want them to be as safe as possible.”

The family reluctantly gave up.

Westneat, a columnist with the Seattle Times, later expressed his frustration with the Seattle Police Department in an article. He said Tuesday that he’d react the same way if his phone was stolen again.

“You see your phone moving across town and you’re like, ‘Hey, let’s go check it out.’ … I wasn’t going to ever confront them. I knew that, and I didn’t,” Westneat said.

In the meantime, the police department is considering a review of how police respond to similar crimes — an act sparked by Westneat’s column.

Suspects eventually were arrested after authorities tracked the car’s license plate.

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