Getting Back To Basics

I remember when I first started the job.  I loved it.  I was proud to be in a police uniform, I couldn't wait to get to work and would even do it for free.  I also remember looking at the clock near the end of my shift thinking "I still have 10 minutes to get into something."  Needless to say, after 10 years, those days are gone for the most part.  Do I still like job?  Yes.  But I'm looking for my check at the end of the week.

But one of the things we take for granted is our safety.  We're so used to people respecting us (for the most part), we become relaxed.  Besides, who wants to live their every moment looking behind their back?  I don't.  But hopefully this article will remind us of some of the dangers that are really out there.

Hidden Dangers:  About a month ago (from the time of this print), I pulled up to a 7-11 around 3 in the morning, just trying to get some coffee.  The parking lot was empty and like always, I pulled to the front doors since there were no cars in the lot.  This was mistake #1 that my being in police work so long let me drop my guard.

Anyway, long story short, I pulled up on an armed robbery in progress.  Actually, the tail end I guess.  As I exited my cruiser, I saw a man running full speed toward me from within the store.  Because the doors had posters and other signs on it, I wasn't able to see a clear view of his hands, although I knew something was wrong.

As this suspect was running toward me, I could now see that he had a handkerchief over his mouth and nose, only exposing his eyes.  He also had a sweatshirt on with the hat portion over his head.  But I still couldn't see his hands, or at least what was in them.  I think we could all assume it was a gun; but what if it wasn't?

Instinctively I knew I needed cover as a police officer, and for whatever reason, that day I was driving a police Chevrolet Tahoe, which gave me a perfect advantage over the suspect.  I knew if I had to fire, I was in a perfect position as the door to the store was to my right, and I had the driver's side of the police car and motor to cover me.  However, the problem still existed as he ran toward me; I couldn't see what was in his hands.

Naturally and without thinking I drew my weapon and pointed it toward the suspect.  Although I don't remember at the time yelling "Put your hands up!  Put your hands up!" after watching the video, I couldn't believe it because I still don't remember saying anything.  The strange thing is, you remember fine little details later, but when you watch the video, it only lasted for 2 to 3 seconds, tops.

What happened next:  In conclusion, I made the decision to duck my head for that split second when he exited the doors.  I knew that "if" he was going to shoot, if he even had a gun which I still wasn't sure of, that that would be the time he would do it.  I believed at the time he was trying to get away, not confront me.  And as luck would have it, as he was running away from me, I could now clearly see a gun in his hand.

Needless to say, I caught some criticism for "not shooting."  In fact at the time one of my sergeant's told me something to the affect of "I heard you should of shot, but didn't.  I know I would have shot."  I immediately raised my voice and said "Where you there?  No.  Then you don't know what you would have done."  I apologized later for yelling because I really didn't mean to, but it made me mad and it was just a reaction.  He understood and agreed with me.

Why didn't I shoot?  As a police officer, I'm sure I would have been exonerated if I did shoot.  However, that would require me to "shoot first, ask questions later."  Now of course I'm being threatened, but what if he had simply leaned over the counter in the store, grabbed a bunch of lottery tickets and ran out of the store?  What if it was a candy bar?  Now I'm suggesting by any means to second guess yourself; that's how police officers die.  And I know I could have died that night.  But if I have cover and I'm not sure he has a gun, I'll choose the cover.  And that was a decision made in under 3 seconds.

But back to topic: Officer safety.  I should have parked my cruiser about 3 or 4 spaces farther to the left of the building (if looking at it) as this would have given me cover and wouldn't have alerted the suspect to my arrival.  I also could have turned off my headlights before pulling in the lot, which was another mistake I made.  As for my actions, I'm not sure I would change anything.  I do however watch people's hands now, just like when I first started as a police officer.

I guess the point I'd like to make is, there are things you can do and should do when performing your duties as a police officer.  Those are all the things that you were taught in the police academy, things we stop doing as the years go by.  These tactics, although sometimes may seem unnecessary, could actually save your life that one time that you choose not to do it.

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