It could have been bad.....

And It Could Have Been Bad

It was July 24, 1977 and I was on my way home from the hospital having just witnessed my daughter’s birth. It was almost noon and already the temperature was very warm. I was on an emotional high that only comes a few times in a man’s life. As I stopped at the red light I looked over to the little grocery store across the street and saw a man standing in the entrance whose head was rotating quickly left and right, scanning up and down 50th street. He had a stocking hat pulled down to the top of a huge pair of black sunglasses. He was wearing a long black overcoat but his arms were not in the sleeves, rather the coat was buttoned in the middle and he appeared to be holding something long that was causing a bulge in the coat at his knees. Then I realized it was a person I knew, having arrested him for robbery.

The light turned green and I turned the corner rather than go home and I saw an old ford 4 door with a male driver that I also recognized as one of a pair of twins that terrorized a section of south Minneapolis. The car was running and had expired California plates. This was before the age of cellphones so I quickly drove into the gas station at the corner and dialed dispatch to tell them I thought there was a robbery in progress at Calhoun Food Store #2. Dispatch told me there were no squads available to respond.

I was carrying my chief’s special .38 caliber revolver and I was wearing jeans and a white t-shirt. I pulled up across from the food store. Took out my handgun and got behind my car for cover, expecting the worst. The lookout either recognized me or at least realized I was a cop and he began banging on the store’s front window with his elbow. Two more men, one of them a twin of the driver, immediately emerged dressed just like the lookout and after pointing at me across the street they ran around the corner to the ford. They drove by me at a high rate of speed and I immediately ran to the store to check on the owner. He was fine. No crime had been committed. When I identified myself and told him what I had witnessed he told me that the reason they left was he yelled at them to buy something or leave. He went on to say that he had a machete behind the counter in case of trouble and he would have taken care of them. All I could think of was the old “Knife to a gunfight” joke.

My emotional high was gone, replaced by an adrenaline dump and now I was just trying to come down from what could have been a really bad encounter with three men with what I assumed were long guns. What was interesting as an afterthought was this. This was a busy intersection. Many people saw me standing behind my old red 72 pontiac catalina with a gun in my hand, in plain clothes, crouched down, and nobody said a word to me. Nobody called the cops. Some folks had walked passed me and it was obvious that they saw the gun but all they did was pick up their pace.  No bystander intervention by the public here.

Skip ahead to August 15, 2015. I am on my way to my grandson’s birthday party, my daughter’s youngest. As I am driving on a busy street in a local suburb that has seen their crime rate rise steadily over the last few years I look across the divided 4 lane and see a uniformed police officer chasing a man at gunpoint. The man is about to run directly toward me across two lanes of traffic. I slam on the brakes, open the door of my truck and step out onto the cement median. The cop doesn’t see me but the man does and he stops and throws up his hands. Whether it was me deterring him or the cops commands I don’t know. What I do know is that now I see a group of 4 men start to move toward the cop and they are not friendly. They get way too close; one of them almost behind the cop. The cop has to order them away as he handcuffs his suspect. I anticipate that this is not going to go well as they are yelling at the cop. Then the group sees me and directs their anger at me with strings of obscenities and threats of great bodily harm (assume the worst kind of language). Two of them start to cross toward me. I pull my fanny pack holster out of the car and start to put it on as I yell “You should talk more respectfully to the police.” and they immediately get back up on the sidewalk. Yelling “He gots a gun”.

By now the cop has his suspect locked up in his car and the group of men are yelling at the cop that “that old white MF’r says he’s going to shoot us.” The cop calmly tells them to stay on sidewalk. I ask him if he is “Code 4” and he indicates he is ok. Then he walks over. I repeat what I said to the angry group and show him my retired MPD id. He thanks me for stopping and walks back to his car. Now I can hear the backup car coming with sirens going and I leave for the birthday party.

Several things struck me as I drove away. First, my hands were shaking from the adrenaline charge. Second, here I was again celebrating a birth day of my youngest (grandchild this time). And once again I was lucky enough to be armed, to be ready, and in the right place at the right time. Had I not witnessed this event and not inserted myself into the problem it might have ended exactly the same way. We’ll never know.

The third thing that struck me was the unexpected rage that coursed through me as I listened to the threats and obscenities directed at me by this group. As a uniformed cop I was usually prepared mentally for threats; it came with the job. However, it has been many years since someone threatened me like they did and I was more than willing to respond in that moment in a way that would have ended very badly for any of them that attacked that cop or me. My anger and the threat I felt from this group would have made the decision very easy.  Hard to know if the Grand Jury would have seen it the same way. It was a couple hours before I got control of the anger and the adrenaline.

Lastly, if I had not pulled out my fanny pack with the weapon, and there was a weapon (9mm semi-auto with 16 rounds), would they have backed off or would I have created a worse situation for the cop as the group came after me, because I sure as hell was not going to leave until that cop felt it was safe for me to go.

Policing is a tough job. I would always tell the new recruits that it is the unexpected incident that is most likely to cause you a problem. When they would question some of the officer survival training scenarios I would remind them that as outlandish as they may seem, they are all based on real incidents. When I would make them angry and ask them to control their emotions and reactions there was a reason. It’s not easy.

Recently, in New Orleans, two cops called out a third who apparently was angry and was getting out of control. You can see the article at Kudos to the cops who intervened.

On this job we really are our brother’s keepers and when things are bad we must be able to depend on each other. Sometimes we protect each other from bad guys and sometimes we protect each other from ourselves. Like the oath says “I will always have the courage to stand by you and for you.” It doesn’t end with retirement. There will come a time for each of us when we will probably be more of a hindrance than a help but I know that for me it will only end when I am no longer able to stand.