The Police Shootings You Never Heard About – Because They Didn’t Happen
I have to believe that with the recent shooting in the Minneapolis Police Department interview room that once again there will be a hue and a cry to stop the police shootings. Without seeing the video and talking to everyone involved it is impossible to speculate on what happened. I would like to offer the following stories from my own career because I think I was like most cops in terms of what I faced and how I reacted.
A rookie cop is with his senior partner. They are walking through the IDS on the skyway level when they see a young man that they know is a suspect in a burglary. The young man knows the cops and reaches into his right jacket pocket as they approach and then pushes the pocket toward the officers in what looks like a gun pointing at the cops. It’s lunchtime, the skyway is packed with people and the cops quickly move at the suspect from different directions and grab his arms. There is no weapon in his pocket. His response “I wanted to see if you would shoot me”.
This same rookie cop now has about 2 years on the job when he is in plain clothes in McDonalds on Hennepin Ave on a Friday night with the same senior officer. The restaurant is full of people sitting and waiting in line. The rookie is approached by five young men who offer to sell him hashish. The rookie’s partner is putting in his order at the counter and doesn’t see the offer. The rookie, and at two years you are still a rookie, sits down at a table with the five men and when they produce the hashish he produces his .357 magnum and a badge and tells them they are under arrest. One of the men grabs the rookie’s gun and the fight is on. The gun never leaves the rookies hand, but it gets pointed at his chest several times as they grapple and spin around struggling for control of the weapon. The rookie is forced to hold down the hammer and grip the cylinder with his free hand to keep it from firing. People are screaming, running for cover and diving under tables. The rookie’s partner gets a bearhug on the suspect from behind and the man is disarmed and taken to jail. The hashish is fake.
One year later. Roll call information is that there was a child kidnapping in California and the armed and dangerous suspect is thought to be in Minneapolis. The officer and his partner find the car in an apartment parking lot near Loring Park. He and his partner investigate and determine that the suspect, and a very young girl, are in an upper level apartment. They get a key from the caretaker and are careful to approach the apartment and open the door. When they enter and announce themselves the suspect steps behind a curtain covering a walk-in closet and points what looks like a long barrel weapon against the curtain toward the officers. The officers take cover and talk the suspect out of the apartment. The “weapon” was a broom handle. This was a parental kidnapping. The child was in no danger.
Several years later the officer is flagged down about a drunk that has been thrown out of the Skyway Bar after being overserved. He is leaning over with his head resting against the building. As the officer approaches, the drunk swings his right arm around at the officer, drunkenly, with a knife in his hand. The officer uses a defensive tactic to keep him spinning around, slams him against the building and then disarms and handcuffs him. The knife has a 6-inch blade. Suspect goes to jail. Later, that same evening, a man runs from a fight when the group flags down the officer’s car. The officer pursues on foot and the fleeing man turns into an alley. The officer follows, but makes a wide turn into the alley and avoids the man standing with a knife in his hand but he is close enough that the man lunges at the officer. The officer uses his momentum to do a front kick to the mans lower abdomen and the fight is over before it begins.
A few more years go by, a radio dispatch says a kidnapping of young woman by an armed suspect just occurred in South Minneapolis. Shots were fired. The car is a brown 67 Pontiac Bonneville and the license plate is given. The car is downtown Minneapolis, immediately in front of the officer going northbound on 7th St. As the officer broadcasts that the car is in front of him it suddenly pulls to the curb and a large black man jumps out of the car and runs toward the officer’s car. The officer exits and pulls his weapon but doesn’t shoot, even though the suspects left hand is in his pocket. He waits, and the suspect stopping about 10 feet away says “The gun is in the trunk. My daughter is in the back seat. I had to shoot my way out of that pimp’s apartment. She’s only 13 officer”.
The officer makes sergeant. He has two new officers on his shift who have just finished their field training and are “technically qualified” to work alone. They want to work together on this night and the sergeant lets them, although he has reservations. They get a call in the early morning predawn hours to respond to the third floor of an older triplex home where a man is threatening suicide with a knife. The call is assigned to the rookies and the sergeant tells them to wait outside the house till he gets there. The sergeant assigns two senior officers to go to the front door of the unit while he goes up the narrow back steps to a very narrow and flimsy back door. The rookies are behind the sergeant. Dispatch is doing an excellent job of keeping all officers informed about what is happening inside and as everyone gets to their doors dispatch says “I think he did it. He dropped the phone and I heard a loud thump”. Officers at the front door attempt to force open the door and the sergeant, with one kick, takes out the back door only to see an elderly white male running at him with a long-bladed fillet knife in one hand and a butcher knife held to his throat. The sergeant draws his weapon with his right hand and uses his chemical aerosol with his left hand aiming directly into the man’s open mouth and eyes, dropping him literally at his feet. There is so much Freeze+P© (CS and Pepper Spray combined) in the air that officers can barely breath or see but they still have to fight with man on the floor to get the knives away from him. The man goes to crisis and the hospital and the officers go back to work. The sergeant should have shot the man. But he chose not to.
The sergeant is walking a beat by himself in downtown Minneapolis and walks into Moby Dicks Bar. He makes his way to the men’s room and finds a drug deal going down. He ends up in a fight for his life with the drug dealer as he attempts to arrest a man almost half again his size and 10 years younger. He calls for help but his radio is disable as it is ripped out of his hand by the drug dealer. Multiple blows to the face and head are traded and the officer finds himself “out on his feet” and waking up several times, but he is still holding onto the suspect with one handcuff on the suspects wrist. During a brief pause when the sergeant has the suspect on the floor, he out his chemical aerosol and discovers that in the fight the aerosol can has been crushed and the top broken off. It’s useless. The suspect sees the aerosol but doesn’t realize it is inoperative. He pleads with the sergeant not to use it and he gives up. He goes to jail (once again the drugs are fake), and the sergeant goes to the emergency room for blunt trauma to his face and head.
The sergeant is in charge of a robbery decoy unit that identifies crime patterns with the help Mr. Doug Hicks of the MPD crime analysis unit. (This is many years before New York claimed credit for inventing the process.) The sergeant is the decoy on this night. Every officer takes a turn at it. The sergeant is sucker punched to his right temple and the blow drives his head into a brick wall to his left and for a few seconds renders him unconscious as he drops to his knees. He sees the suspect approaching and planting his feet as if to kick him in the head. He rises to his feet, gun in hand, and grabs the suspect and throws him against the building. The suspect grabs the sergeant’s gun with both hands and once again the fight is on as the gun is turned toward the suspect and then back toward the sergeant. The sergeant starts to black out from the punch and he collapses against the suspect, never letting go of the suspect’s shirt or his gun. The sergeant collapses to the ground on top of the suspect only to find that his gun has fired a round next to the suspects ear as he fell. Now the sergeant finds himself with his finger on the trigger of a gun that has gone into single action, pointed at the suspects head from only inches away as the suspect gropes for something inside the waist area of his pants. The sergeant makes his gun safe and orders the suspect to show his hands. The suspect pulls out a small baggie of marijuana.
Two teenage suspects were wanted after several violent robberies where they attacked women in downtown Minneapolis with rebar, hitting them in the head to get their belongings. One was still in critical condition in the hospital. Officers are out at night searching the homeless campsites for suspects under the freeway bridges when a large older man comes out from behind a concrete pillar with a six-foot metal pipe and starts toward the plain clothes officers yelling “I’ll kill you”. The officers back up and yell “Police, Put it Down”. They have to back up about 50 feet before the drunken suspect drops the pipe and apologizes.
Looking for the same two suspects the next day near 3rd Avenue North and 5th St. downtown Minneapolis, the officer gets in a foot chase with a possible suspect. The suspect disappears around the corner of a building and the officer makes a very wide turn and with his gun out orders the suspect, who was standing at the corner of the building butcher knife in hand, to the ground. The suspect apologizes and throws the knife down begging the officer not to kill him. The suspect repeatedly says “I didn’t know you was cops”.He has no warrants and is not the suspect the officer was looking for.
These stories are all true and they are not meant to brag. Many cops face much worse circumstances every day. My point is that all officers face similar or worse situations during their career and seldom, if ever, do they result in the use of deadly force. The officers find another way, not just because they have to, but because they want to. Are there cops that have used deadly force just because they could under the law? Absolutely true. Are they, in my opinion, sometimes getting away with murder? Yes. But they are not most officers.
These experiences that I shared are not unique to my career. They are part of being a cop. I could have made a legal argument in each case that the use of deadly force would have been justified. In the case of the suicide by cop I was wrong to assume that the chemical aerosol would work. The rookies behind me tried to shoot him but I was in the way and they were smart enough not to shoot and possibly hit me. I taught the use of chemical aerosols (Mace©) and I always taught that it is not a good defense against a knife. Should I have shot the man? Probably, I put other cops at risk by not shooting, but that is what cops usually do. They risk their own lives to protect others.
I know that some folks are throwing out the number of suspects killed by Minneapolis police officers as if those numbers alone are evidence of police misconduct. If you want to talk numbers, take the instances I shared here where I could have used deadly force and assume that I did. I had a pretty normal career. Now multiply that by every sworn officer who has ever served in the Minneapolis Police Department since 1975, when I started my career.
That is probably the best estimate of lives saved by Minneapolis Police Officers.
What was that number again?