Spotting a man dressed in black and carrying a shotgun in the back yard could send anyone to the phone to call 911 -- unless 911 had called first to say the SWAT team was in the area.
That's what happened Sunday morning, when Cheektowaga police activated the town's reverse-911 system to alert a neighborhood to a home invasion.
The break-in occurred just after 3 a.m. at the home of a Veterans Place senior citizen. The 79-year-old woman called 911 to report someone was breaking into her home. Two intruders hit her with a gun, took some cash and fled.
One suspect was captured behind Wrazen Park within an hour. But the manhunt continued for the other suspect.
Capt. John Glascott said he authorized the use of the Reverse 911 Interactive Community Notification system about 7 a.m. Sunday to let neighbors know that police, some in plain clothes, were scouring the area for a suspect.
"If you looked out your kitchen window at 8 in the morning and saw a guy dressed in black, carrying a shotgun, you might wonder what's going on," he said.
The system called 4,600 people between 7:51 a.m. and 9:54 a.m.
"We knew time was critical to catch these guys, but we didn't want citizens to panic," he said.
If the calls reached only half the people, police had 2,300 more pairs of eyes looking out their windows for possible suspects, he said. Since about 20 people called the 911 system after receiving their phone call, Glascott said in the future police might add a telephone number for residents to call for more information.
Cheektowaga used the system once before when there was flooding, and was not happy with the results, which apparently were due to software problems, Glascott said.
It's a system Amherst Police Chief John J. Moslow heartily endorses.
"To me it's a great example of suburban community policing, us reaching out to the community to be our eyes and ears," he said.
Amherst has used its reverse-911 system on a limited basis with good results, he said. Police have used it to inform residents of an active burglary problem in one area of town, to let neighbors know their street would be closed for a race or other activity, and recently to let a neighborhood know police were conducting an emergency response test at a nearby school.
"I always envisioned it to help us inform the community that something was occurring in their neighborhood that we needed their help in," Moslow said. "I look at it as a great partnership."