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What Is a Police Welfare Check?

House with porch

If you have a family member, friend, or neighbor that you are concerned about, it may be time to contact the police to do a welfare check. Whether it is an elderly person that may have passed away in their home, a person having suicidal thoughts, or a neighbor that appears to be in danger, a wellness check can be a lifesaver. In this article, we will discuss what a welfare check is, when it is appropriate to request one, and how to ask the police for one.

What Is a Welfare Check?

A welfare check, also known as a wellness check, is when police stop by a person’s home to make sure they are okay. Requests for welfare checks are made by friends, family, and neighbors, typically after someone unexpectedly stops answer their phone or getting in touch with others.

Most people think of the police as patrolling the streets looking for wrongdoers or responding to calls. What many people don’t realize is that the police in their community are also available to conduct welfare checks. This essential law enforcement function is an important tool for building safe communities.

When to Request a Wellness Check

Wellness checks were once associated with the elderly, but have recently been a critical tool for the safety of many young people in the country. With the rise in suicide rates among adolescents and young adults, police are doing welfare checks more and more often for those who are at risk of taking their own lives.

Here are common reasons to contact the police about a wellness check are:

  • You normally see your neighbor, but it has been an extended period of time since you have. You call him or her and knock at the front door, but there is no answer.
  • Your grandpa calls you at least once a week, but you haven’t heard from him. When you try to call him, he doesn’t answer either. He has a heart condition, so you begin to worry.
  • You know of a suicidal friend who lives alone. She sent you a text message that causes concern, and you stopped hearing from her after that.
  • It’s late at night and you notice suspicious activity at your neighbor’s home.

Regardless of the situation, it is important that you are certain a loved one is in danger before you request a police welfare check.

How to Ask for a Welfare Check

The first step is to get in contact with local law enforcement authorities. You may call 911 if you have reason to believe that there may be an emergency situation in progress. However, you can also contact the police through a non-emergency phone number. Either way, you will need to get in touch with the local police department in the person’s town where the welfare check will be conducted.

If you live in that same area, you may be permitted to accompany the authorities. It is also possible to request a welfare check in another jurisdiction. For instance, if a relative living in another state has not responded to your attempts to contact them for some time, you may want to ask for a welfare check at their residence. It is important to proceed with caution. You’ll want to be reasonably certain that your relative’s behavior is out of character and have reason to believe that something is truly amiss before calling the police.

Legal Considerations

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.

What Happens After a Police Welfare Check?

At the time of the call, most people don’t think about what’s to follow after the authorities check on the individual. If the police go to the location and find that the person is in good health — and it was likely a miscommunication why you were unable to get ahold of him or her — they will notify you to let you know. However, if the police find the person injured, sick, or already deceased, they will call for medical assistance immediately, as well as contact you to come to the scene (they will stay at the home until you arrive). And lastly, if the individual is found dead and there was any foul play involved, a criminal investigation will follow.

And while there are countless reasons why someone may request a police welfare check, the most common reason is to check on an elderly person who lives alone.

Police Wellness Checks In The News

If you’ve never requested a welfare check or experienced one yourself, you may have seen this topic covered on the news. One of the most broadcasted police wellness checks was done at actor and comedian Pete Davidson’s home. Most people know Davidson for his time on Saturday Night Live, as well as his short engagement to Ariana Grande. Following their split last winter, Davidson shared some disturbing thoughts via Instagram, prompting someone in his life to call the police and ask them to check on him. Davidson posted the following cryptic message:

“I really don’t want to be on this earth anymore, I’m doing my best to stay here for you but I actually don’t know how much longer I can last. All I’ve ever tried to do was help people. Just remember I told you so.” Fortunately, an officer from the New York Police Department did a wellness check and later reported that Davidson was out of harm’s way.

Another welfare check that made the news recently didn’t end as well as Davidson’s. According to CNN, a wellness check went “deadly” when police went to check on 28-year-old Atatiana Jefferson in her home after a neighbor requested a welfare check for her. Upon arriving at her home, an officer shot and killed Jefferson.

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This article contains general legal information but does not constitute professional legal advice for your particular situation. The Law Dictionary is not a law firm, and this page does not create an attorney-client or legal adviser relationship. If you have specific questions, please consult a qualified attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.