The Joy of Serving Search Warrants

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Searching someone’s home for evidence of a crime is no picnic. Not even close. Well, there is a chance you’ll encounter a host of warm and fuzzy creatures of various types, similar to those you’d expect to see in the great outdoors or in cages marked KEEP AWAY: DANGER TO HUMANS!!!

And, you might find yourself wishing you were outside enjoying fresh air instead of the thick funk that sometimes lingers in and around the interior of the places some people call home sweet home.

For example, during the executions of search warrants and looking for bad guys who might’ve been hiding out beneath someone’s bed, I’ve discovered:

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  • While searching a bedroom dresser drawer for stolen jewelry I found a pair of dirty underwear wedged in a back corner. When I say dirty, I mean the wearer had not made it to the bathroom in time to … well, you know. So they simply removed the soiled panties along with their contents and shoved them in with the clean clothes where they’d remained until I discovered them.
  • I opened a closet door and thought I heard the sound of raindrops hitting a tin roof. I pointed my flashlight up toward the ceiling and saw thousands of roaches dropping from the ceiling to the shelves and floor below. By that time my clothing was covered with them. I could not get out of there fast enough.
  • Let’s just say it’s never a good idea to lift the cover from any five-gallon bucket found inside a house with no running water. It’s the “bathroom.”
  • Yes, those dozens upon dozens of marks in the grease on top of the stove and inside the frying pan were indeed the footprints of mice/rats. And those thousands of tiny black things scattered about were not pieces of pepper.
  • Mice and roaches crawling across the flesh of babies lying on the floor, in cribs, on mattresses, etc.
  • A dead woman perched in a recliner. She’d been dead for several days and the family simply left her sitting there. And, they’d been watching TV and eating meals with the dearly departed grandma not more than ten feet away.
  • A small dog who wanted to play and would not take no for an answer. So between searching closets and dresser drawers I was forced to play fetch with mini-Rover. It was either that or listen to nonstop barking and a constant tugging on the cuff of my pant leg. If I ignored the little pooch for too long it grabbed a shoestring and backed away until my laces became untied.
  • A small kid who called me daddy, over and over again. I promise, I’d never met his mom nor had I ever been to the house before. But the lad was equally as insistent as the little dog who wanted to play fetch. He did not untie my shoes, though.
  • A toilet tank is a favorite hiding spot for evidence, so they were one of the first places I looked. One house, though, almost broke me of that habit because the bowl was so “full” the residents of that charming abode had resorted to using the floor to do their business. I’ve walked through cow pastures that were less booby-trapped.
  • Speaking of restrooms, there was one where the homeowner kept a mini-fridge on the floor beside the toilet. It was stocked with soft drinks, beer, and assorted snacks. A stack of magazines and books occupied the space on top. The man told me he spent a lot of time in there.
  • A 21-foot python curled up in the bathtub of a mobile home. I almost wet my pants when I pulled back the shower curtain.
  • A really nice and well-cared-for pot plant decorated as a Christmas tree. It was beautiful. Even had a train running in circles around the base. Presents for the kids, too.
  • The home had no heat so the residents burned open fires in the living room inside a metal washtub. No chimney. No fireplace. Just the tub and stack of firewood.
  • A bunch of young kids, all under the age of 9, who’d learned to cook and care for themselves because their parents left them alone approximately six weeks prior to a neighbor calling us to check on the children.
  • The house with the carcasses of dozens of dead animals throughout the place—dogs, cats, iguanas, rats, a couple of snakes (not sure if they’d been pets or were there to feed on the weakened animals), and what appeared to be a raccoon or opossum. The mummified and/or skeletal remains were just there, willy-nilly. On the floor, atop a twin bed, in a chair, etc. Bizarre. Really bizarre. And the person who lived there simply stepped around them when leading us through the house.
  • An entire room packed from wall to wall and floor to ceiling with unopened packages of toilet tissue and paper towels.
  • A full-size Harley motorcycle in an upstairs bedroom.
  • A naked man hiding in a closet. He didn’t live there and the woman who did claimed to not know him. Her husband seemed as surprised as I was to see the guy step from behind the dresses and pants suits.
  • A human hand in the freezer.
  • Pot plants growing all around the house, pruned like shrubbery.
  • A room set up like a doctor’s office. The woman who lived there performed minor procedures such as Botox injections, removal of varicose veins, etc. By trade she worked in a doctor’s office as a medical assistant. She stole supplies from her workplace and used her “vast” knowledge of medicine to cure the sick from the comfort of her own home. She also performed minor surgery on animals.
  • A root doctor who assembled a variety of concoctions to ward off the evils of life. We found the 4′-11″ woman boiling chicken feet and small human bones together in a large stew pot. The human ingredients were stolen from local cemetery and a funeral home.
  • Two men having sex in a bedroom (didn’t want to stop even after we’d opened the door) while the wife and children of one of the men watched TV in the family room. The family dog gave us the “please get me out of here” look the moment we first stepped inside.
  • A very old and very naked woman seated in a wingback chair while eating ice cream and watching Jerry Springer. The rest of the family carried on like naked grandma was an everyday thing. I suppose it was.

Once, I served a search warrant for drugs and actually found drugs and nothing more. Just gobs of drugs. No odd people. No soiled panties. No one was naked. And no roaches. It was weird. Really weird.

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What’s it Like to Kill Someone? Well, It Ain’t Pretty

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Five rounds. Five pulls of the trigger on my SIG Sauer, the pistol given to me the previous Christmas. That, the firing of those five rounds, was all it took to forever change my life.

The SIG was gifted to me by my wife, Denene, who, by the way, has never been a real fan of guns. However, she gave me the weapon because the 9mm issued to me by my department was in such a state of disrepair that we weren’t sure if I could depend on it to save my life if called upon to do so. Something inside rattled and the barrel was sort of loose. I managed to qualify with it each year, still …

The day I killed the guy started out like all the others back then. Sure, I was in a rut. I suppose most people are when they become comfortable with their lives. Wake up the same time each morning, feet on the floor, the usual bathroom rituals—toothbrushing, showering, shave, a minute or two with the blow dryer, dress, etc.

My routine also included tying a tie, slipping the SIG and its pancake holster through my belt loops, clipping a gold badge to my belt, and looping a pair of handcuffs over the rear waistband and belt. Next came my jacket, grab a Pop Tart (brown sugar and cinnamon) and a bottle of juice, pull my portable radio from the charger on the kitchen counter, and head out to my unmarked police car that I’d parked in the same spot, day-in and day-out. And so it went, every single day of my life.

No vest. I was a detective who rarely found myself in dangerous situations with bullets zipping by my head. So no vest.

An hour later, however, I was involved in a deadly shootout (remember, no vest) where glass was exploding from the windows of police cars, bullets ricocheted from nearby concrete pavement, sending hot bits of lead and copper into tires, fenders, and doors of parked vehicles.

The man crouching behind his car was hellbent on killing cops and simply would not stop shooting. POW! POW! BANG! BANG! POW! POP! BANG! RAT-a-TAT-TAT, and BANG, POP, POW! Over and over again, and again.

So the moment I had a clear shot I took it, hitting the bad guy in the side of the head just below his left cheek bone.

The SIG did its job. I don’t know if it rattled or if its barrel was tight. My best guess is that the pistol, the SIG that fit my hand like a glove, did exactly as it was supposed to. It sent a round directly to the spot where I’d aimed it. Just like at the range. Not a fraction of an inch off in either direction.

But the shooter continued to shoot, sending even more bullets zinging and zipping by, plucking leaves from trees, plowing tiny trenches in the dirt near my feet, and sending looky-loos running for deeper cover. I had nowhere better to hide than my current spot, behind a tree that was barely larger than one of my legs. The bad guy was grinning like, as some country folk have been known to say, a mule eating briars.

My 9mm round punctured the man’s head sending a thin trail of blood down the side of his face like a red raindrop sliding down a pane of glass. But he continued his effort to kill me by turning to face me to fire even more rounds.

POW! BANG! POP! BANG!

More dirt and grass and leaves and ricochets. More sounds of bullets hitting metal and glass.

I fired again. This time placing a bullet nearly dead center of his chest. Center mass. Center mass. Center mass. Stop the threat. Stop the threat.

He went down.

There were no sounds. No pops or bangs or pows.

No birds chirping. No car sounds.

No talking.

No yelling.

Then he popped up and …

POP! POW! RAT-a-TAT-TAT! BANG!

I shot him again. In the chest. Near the spot of the other wound.

A red, wet flower bloomed on his t-shirt, spreading outward away from the center of his chest. The blood on his face had already dried. The rusty-red line stretched from that wound and dipped under his jaw to his neck where it disappeared beneath the collar of his shirt.

He fell.

Quiet. Pure and crystal clear silence, much like one would expect to be found in deep space, or in a vacuum chamber at the south pole. My heart, apparently, didn’t know about the “silent” rule because it was attempting to thrash and pound its way out of my chest. I could hear it franticly beating and throbbing against the inside of my ribs.

Up he came once again, like the eerie clown popping up from the inside of a child’s Jack-in-the-Box. Was there a chorus of Pop Goes the Weasel playing but my stress-induced hearing loss simply wouldn’t allow me to hear it?

POP! POW

I shot him again.

POP! BANG!

And again.

Quiet.

Quiet.

Quiet.

Finally, somewhere around me, a bird chirped. A dog barked. The sounds of people talking began to worm through my ears and into my brain.

Then the shooter leapt to his feet and ran.

I and another officer tackled him.

During our struggle with the man he continue to pull the trigger on his gun.

Click. Click. Click.

Over and over again, he pulled the trigger, until we wrestled the gun away from him.

It was empty.

No more rounds to fire.

I handcuffed his wrists behind his back and immediately EMS workers began their efforts to save him.

I walked away, back to my car where I leaned against the driver’s door to take a breath and to get away from everyone. I needed  moment to myself.

I didn’t know how to feel.

I still don’t how to feel.

I do, however, know what it feels like to have pulled a trigger on a pistol when that split second of action took the life of another human.

It was a hot August day. The grass was extremely dry and brittle, like brown slivers of glass reaching up from the soil. A couple of clouds mottled an otherwise perfectly-painted sea of blue. No wind. Not even a slight breeze. The humidity was high. Sirens yelped and wailed in the distance.

And I killed a man. I sure did. And I later read the headlines and heard the whispers. “The cops murdered another one.” “Why didn’t they use a TASER?” “Why didn’t they just run over and tackle him?” “Why not shoot him in the leg?” WHY? WHY? WHY?

Well, why was he shooting at ME? 

And YOU, the armchair critics, were not there. You did not feel the fear that comes with someone shooting at you.

This was not an easy thing to do, especially for me. I’m the guy who’ll move a bug off the sidewalk to prevent someone from stepping on it. I catch flies and set them free. I feed birds. I give to the homeless. I don’t like to see people hurt or suffer.

But the man I shot, well, he lay bleeding on the ground, in the dirt and the tall weeds, seeing the blue sky, and seeing all of us, the officers and other first responders standing over him. I saw his eyes focus on the man who was working frantically to stop blood from leaking from his wounds. He looked over to me and then over to another officer who’d just arrived. Then his gaze slowly fixed on a something far above us. A couple of seconds later I saw life drain from those same eyes that had looked at me so intently just a few minutes earlier when he was trying so hard to kill me.

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It was as if that specific place in the sky above him was the designated destination for his soul to travel. As the focus left his eyes it seemed as if a peace and a great calm filled the void in his body left behind by the soul that once occupied it. And with that departing soul went a part of me. A part that has never returned to this day.

So yeah. I killed a man. It was part of my job to do so, and he forced me to do it.

I didn’t leave home that morning, with Pop Tart and juice in hand, thinking I would kill someone. I really don’t remember what I was on my mind, but I’m sure my thoughts were most likely on the softball game my daughter was scheduled to play, or maybe a case I was working, or perhaps about my wife who was soon to receive her PhD in pathology. Whatever I was thinking, though, was certainly not about killing a man before my first appointment of the day.

But he wouldn’t drop the gun and he just would not stop shooting at me. I yelled and begged him to stop, but he wouldn’t.

He wouldn’t stop and to this day—today—he’s still trying to kill me.

Every single day of my life.

So yeah, that’s what it’s like to kill someone in the line of duty.

Those who think cops enjoy that part of the job, well, I feel sorry for them.

But I’m glad they don’t have to live my life.

Sure, sometimes I think about the “what if’s”

But there was no other way.

I did eventually learn where the dead guy’s soul went to live.

He’s inside my head …

Clawing and scratching and banging and digging.

I wish he’d find his way out.

But …

I know other officers in the same situation.

It’s a horrible thing to live with, a dead guy inside your head.

But I understand that others don’t understand. Those who don’t know.

But they don’t, and they seem to only feel for the dead, not the person who survived the encounter.

The person who was almost dead.

The person who no longer lives a normal life.

Because of the person who started it all by trying to kill someone.

So yeah, I killed a guy who was trying to kill me.

And a piece of me died that day too.

And I still move bugs off the sidewalk.

And I still worry about other people.

Even though they don’t care and they don’t know what it’s like.

They simply don’t know.

Click. Click. Click.

Horrible sounds, those clicks.

Click. Click. Click.

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Violence, Prison, Race, and Death – Time for a Front Porch Sit-Down

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Much has been said recently regarding the prison population in the United States. This volatile conversation has also encompassed the hot-button topics of police shootings, arrests of persons of color, and the believe that police target and kill people of color for no reason whatsoever other than the color of their skin.

Before I continue, though, PLEASE, this post is not an open invitation for cop bashing, race bashing, political bashings or an argument about gun control. Instead, here are a few facts for you to ponder. A conversation about the issues is welcome, but not arguments based on “media-based” misinformation or personal biases.

Please, please, please, let’s avoid the arguments.

Here goes (I’m sighing in advance) …

First, the population of inmates in federal prisons is largely white.

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Federal Bureau of Prisons chart and graph

Nearly half of all prisoners occupying bed space in federal prisons are there for drug offenses (46.4%).

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Federal Bureau of Prisons chart and graph

Whites make up approximately 64% of the U.S. population. Blacks = 13% of the population.

Overall incarceration percentages in both jails and prisons:

2.3 million people are incarcerated in the U.S. on any given day. Of those 2.3 million …

  • Whites = 39% of total prison population.
  • Blacks = 40% of total prison population.

What Do These Numbers Tell Us?

Whites and blacks make up practically equal proportions of jail and prison populations, BUT, the ratio of U.S. population by race is not equal. In fact, there are far more whites in the U.S. than blacks. So why more arrests of blacks and violent encounters between blacks and police officers than whites?

Well, many factors come into play, but before we go any further, let’s leave racism totally off the table for a moment because we have no data to back up any claims of arrests or shootings based solely on the color of someone’s skin. Therefore, we’ll stick to what we know and that’s crime and why people are approached and arrested by police.

Per FBI data for the year 2015:

There were 10,797,088 arrests in 2015. Of these arrests, 505,681 were for violent crimes, and 1,463,213 were for property crimes.

The highest number of arrests were for drug abuse violations (estimated at 1,488,707 arrests)

The estimated arrest rate for the United States in 2015 was 3,363.0 arrests per 100,000 inhabitants. The arrest rate for violent crime (including murder and nonnegligent manslaughter, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault) was 157.2 per 100,000 inhabitants.

First of all, police officers may not pick and choose which laws they can enforce. Laws are laws and it’s an officer’s job to enforce ALL laws. And it doesn’t matter whether or not they believe those laws to be just. If it’s a law and someone chooses to break that law, well, cops are sworn to do their duty.

For example, you’re an officer. You wear a uniform, badge, and gun strapped to your side. You attended the training academy and your instructors taught you to arrest people who’re in possession of marijuana. Sure, marijuana is legal in some states, and you approve, but it’s not legal in your state. In fact, your state laws require that you arrest anyone found to be in possession of even small amounts of the drug. After all, pot is still classified as a Schedule I drug according to federal law, and that’s what you have to go on. Pot is illegal in your area. It is a crime to possess it.

Anyway, you see a subject sitting in his car smoking a joint. You know this is marijuana based upon your training and personal knowledge of how marijuana is smoked. Not really a big deal, though. It’s just a joint, right? Besides, you have other business at hand. However, while observing the dope-smoking, you also notice a gun on the seat beside the guy who’s toking away while listening to Pink Floyd on the 8-track player in his car.

Okay, now you have to act because, even though you work in an open carry state (let’s use Va. as an example) and smoking a joint is so not a big deal these days, the fact that there’s a gun associated with the pot-smoking the situation has now become one that requires the officer to act. And he or she must do so because the two together—gun and pot—constitutes a felony. Remember, marijuana is a Schedule I drug.

§ 18.2-308.4

Possession of firearms while in possession of certain substances

A. It shall be unlawful for any person unlawfully in possession of a controlled substance classified in Schedule I or II of the Drug Control Act (§ 54.1-3400 et seq.) of Title 54.1 to simultaneously with knowledge and intent possess any firearm. A violation of this subsection is a Class 6 felonyand constitutes a separate and distinct felony.

 So you do your duty and arrest the guy. Make sense?

Suppose the guy picks up the gun and gets out of his car with it in his hand as you approach? You have no idea of his intentions so you draw your weapon (wanting to live another day and all that, you know), and you order him several times to drop the gun, but he refuses and starts backing away. You order him to stop, several times, but he doesn’t. Then he makes a very slight move upward with the gun, in your direction. Do you let him bring the weapon up in a position that would enable him to kill you, or do you fire, fearing that he may shoot you, your partner, or an innocent bystander, one of many who’ve now gathered to film the incident?

This is now a life-threatening situation that started out as a lone guy minding his own business while smoking a joint. However, he, the joint-smoker, turned something very minor into a death sentence for someone, and in this case that someone is him. But race played absolutely no part in this. None. In fact, I didn’t mention race at all. Did you imagine one based upon some sort of preconceived notion in your mind? Well, the man in this scenario is merely a nameless, faceless, raceless guy with a gun who broke the law. Had he not been doing something illegal the officer would’ve never given him a second glance.

But he did break the law, and that’s the reason for the initial encounter.

If you attempted to read between the lines to see the suspect’s race, well, that’s sort of the point of this article, as we’ll see in just a moment.

So let’s move forward by getting back to the racial make-up of prison and jail population, and the arrests of people along racial lines.

Percent of Arrests by Race

Again, per FBI data – In 2015, 69.7 percent of all persons arrested were white, 26.6 percent were black, and the remaining 3.6 percent were of other races.

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So why is it that we seem to believe that blacks are arrested more often than whites?

Blacks often reside in more densely populated urban locations, and densely populated equals a larger police presence than we see in rural areas or even city suburbs. Therefore, more people and more police in a compact area is a perfect storm for more noticeable arrests. Why? Because crime is more apparent in a compact population, and cops are able to catch the suspects quicker because the suspects are more readily available as are witnesses and evidence of the crimes.

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Whites are often the predominant residents of suburban areas where investigations are much slower-paced due to smaller populations and larger search areas for both suspects and evidence. Think of an Easter egg hunt. It’s more difficult to find the eggs when they’re hidden in a large yard than it would be to grab a handful from the basket before they’re spread out and concealed in a broad area.

Obviously, smaller populations = less arrests and less contact with police. More contact = more opportunity for arrests. And, when a population of an area leans more heavily to one particular race then those are the people who generally commit the crimes in those areas and are therefore subject to arrest.

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Cultural differences and the way these urban areas are policed also has great deal of bearing on the rates of arrests and on the violence between blacks and police, and I’m basing this on my own experiences. I have seen this stuff first-hand, meaning I’m not relying on government or political or activists’ statistics to make a point or to push an agenda (I do not push agendas. Never).

But, the following is an offering of my professional opinion. Again, this is based on what I know from personal experiences.

I’m a firm believer of the notion that police officers need to park their cars and get out and walk the streets in the areas they patrol and work. They need have meaningful conversations with residents. Go up on the front porches and sit down to talk with the residents. Learn from them. Listen to what they have to say. What are their needs? Are their kids in school? Playing sports? How’s grandma? Is her sciatica acting up again? Do they have heat? Food? Are they being bullied? How’s their week going so far? What can you do to help?

Be seen as a person, not some sunglass-wearing robot who passes by once in a while in a patrol car. Be there for them, but not just during the bad times. Besides, a “drive-by” cop is a total stranger—an outsider who makes people feel uncomfortable. Residents soon begin to feel as if they’re being watched instead of protected. Actually, I totally understand that feeling.

I rarely see a police car pass through our neighborhood. I may have seen one drive through within the past two years. And then, the officer who did drive by my house didn’t look my way or return my wave. I was standing in my front yard, not twenty feet from him as his sunglass-wearing-self drove past. I tried to speak to an officer in the grocery store one afternoon. She walked past without so much as a kiss my a** in response to my greeting. No eye contact because she wore dark sunglasses inside the store.

My point is that I don’t know the officers who patrol my neighborhood. Not a single one. On the other hand, our chief is one of the finest men I know and he’s a people person whose office door is open to all. But he’s not the officer who’d respond to my house if the crap hit the fan, and that’s a problem because those officers would not have a clue about me, my special needs, if any, etc.

COPS NEED TO KNOW THE PEPOLE ON THEIR BEATS.

Officers also need to talk to known criminals. Let them know they’re there to protect the residents and that they won’t tolerate trouble. Look the bad guys in the eye. Get a feel for them and how they operate.

Violence often occurs because one person doesn’t truly understand the other, and that lack of understanding sometimes brings about fear. And, of course, fear brings about the need to self-protect.

Let’s face the facts. White people are often culturally different than black people and black people are sometimes culturally different than white people. Our lifestyles often differ. Our histories are sometimes from different pages in the books. However, we’re all equal and everyone should be treated equally. As I said, sometimes our cultures and lifestyles differ from one another. That doesn’t mean one is better than the other because it’s not and neither is better or worse than the other.

Therefore, attempting to make someone look, act, talk, and seem like something they’re not will never work. Instead, we all need to accept one another for who we are, and police officers absolutely must do the same. Learn the people in the areas where they patrol and work. I can’t stress this enough.

The same is true in reverse, though. The public needs to understand that officers, who are nothing more than specially trained PEOPLE, are there to protect and serve, yes, but part of that “service” is to enforce the laws that are on the books. The public also needs to understand that breaking the law, whether or not you agree with a particular law, is cause for arrest, and that’s part of an officer’s job—arrest law-breakers.

Violence in either direction—officers toward citizens or citizens toward officers—is not acceptable. A huge step toward quelling at least some of the violence, some of the masses of people behind bars, and deaths of both citizens and police officers, is as simple as taking the time to talk and listen.

Yes, a simple, heartfelt conversation on someone’s front porch could mean the difference in life or death.

So, respect your fellow man and obey the law. Officers—respect your fellow man and do not abuse your authority. It’s that simple. Really, it is.

Oh, and the officer who refused to speak to me in the grocery store and the one who drove past my house and did not bother to acknowledge my presence … you are part of the reason people feel as if you’re out to get them, not to help. But I know better. I know cops, for the most part, are wonderful people who’ll come running when a citizen calls. But people need to feel safe all of the time, not just when their house is burning or after some crazy guy shoots innocent people in a mall.

We can’t change yesterday, but tomorrow is a blank page. Let’s write a different story.

#respect

#frontporches

#obeythelaw

#losethesunglasses

#sayhowdy

#PEACE

#blowininthewind

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**UPDATE** – Tulsa: The Shooting of Terence Crutcher … #STOP!

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**UPDATE**

Tulsa police officer Betty Shelby has been formally charged with manslaughter in the shooting of Terence Crutcher.

~

I rarely speak out about police shootings until ALL facts are in, and I don’t for good reason … because I, like the rest of the population, was not there, meaning I do not know any more than my neighbors, you, or anyone else who wasn’t at the scene. I also cannot begin to know what was going through the officers’ minds at the time the triggers were pulled.

Even when a shooting is captured on video we still don’t have all the facts, and we certainly do not know what the officers were experiencing. And people who have not been trained as police officers absolutely have no clue what police officer training entails. Not. A. Clue. So for those “not in the know” to say that police officers receive poor training is an irresponsible statement at best.

However, in the wake of the shooting of Terence Crutcher in Tulsa, today I have to somewhat/sort of agree with a portion of a comment posted to Twitter by Middleton, Ohio Police Chief Rodney Muterspaw.

As an officer I am so sick and drained of some cops doing things like this. You are making us all look bad. STOP.  #TerenceCruthcher

— R_Muterspaw (@RodneyMute) September 20, 2016

Here’s where the chief and I agree, and that’s in the sense that everyone needs to STOP … but to examine all facts before making decisions.

The shooting of Crutcher is a situation entirely different than other recent police shootings. Entirely different.

Crutcher, as you’ve probably seen by now, held his hands high in the air while walking away from officers, disobeying several commands to stop. The reason for the officers’ interaction with Crutcher has been described as “a vehicle broken down in the roadway.” Crutcher was the driver of the disabled SUV.

There’s no doubt that Crutcher was acting oddly and the vial of PCP found in his vehicle could certainly explain the behavior. But is odd behavior alone just cause to prompt the use of deadly force?

Let’s take a quick peek at what we know based on a few minutes of video from the scene, along with post-event statements made by officers who were actually on the scene.

Crutcher was first TASERED by one officer and then immediately shot by Officer Betty Shelby when, after walking slowly away from the officers, he reached the driver’s side/door of the SUV. Remember, this was not a criminal suspect, nor was Crutcher doing things like making threats, charging the officers, reaching to his waistband (a convenient spot to hide a firearm or other weapon). Nothing remotely close either of those things. He simply walked to his vehicle in disobedience to what the officer commanded him to do, which, by the way, she had just cause to do. She needed information about him, the driver of a car parked diagonally in the center of the roadway, crossing a portion of both lanes. This is not how a rational person parks a vehicle. Even if it had stalled, why stop in the center of the roadway, partially blocking all lanes?

Officer Shelby said she thought Crutcher reached inside the vehicle to get something and it was that particular action that caused her to fear for her life. At the same moment that Crutcher reached for the car door, window, or whatever it was he reached to do or for, one officer deployed a TASER. Officer Betty Shelby then fired her pistol, shooting Crutcher. He died.

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This is a perfect example of two officers perceiving a threat differently. Entirely different, actually. One officer, the one who used the TASER (a less than lethal weapon) apparently saw Crutcher as someone who was disobedient but needed to be detained by using a device designed to bring about compliance.

The second officer, Betty Shelby, thought deadly force was warranted. The difference between the two reactions is H.U.G.E. HUGE!

As a former police academy instructor who taught officer survival and defensive tactics, the two distinct differences in reactions is extremely troubling to me, and it’s confusing. What did she see that the others did not? Why was she concerned and fearful that Crutcher planned to severely injure or kill her or the other officers? Why did one officer believe all that was needed to quell the situation was the use of a non-lethal weapon, while a fellow officer believe she needed to stop a “threat” with the use of deadly force? This is totally a case of apples and oranges. Polar opposites that I believe could aid in the prosecution of Betty Shelby, someone who is most likely about to become a former police officer.

I have no doubt in my mind that the officers on the scene that day each received very similar, if not identical academy instruction. They each went through practical, hands-on training that includes role playing and firearms simulation training (those of you who’ve attended the Writers’ Police Academy have seen first hand what this training involves and how extremely realistic it can be).

Officers are tested and tested and tested and they must pass each portion of the training before they’re certified as police officers. Again, they must successfully pass each portion of the testing process. If not, they’re discharged from their employment.

Once the new recruits pass all tests and become certified police officers, they work under the direct supervision of field training officers for a lengthy period of time. Afterward, the officers go out on their own to perform their individual duties as police officers.

Officer Shelby was not a rookie by any means, and that includes my “5-year rule of thumb” guideline, the time it seems to take many officers to finally transition from rookie status.

So what happened that caused Shelby, a seasoned police officer, to pull the trigger? Could it have been the sound of a TASER deploying? They are a bit noisy and, if your nerves are already on edge due to all the recent cop shootings/ambushes, the sound could have been the catalyst, possibly? Did she actually believe that Crutcher was reaching for a gun, something she couldn’t have possibly seen because there was no gun found, yet a threat seemed very real to her.

I do know that it’s impossible for us or even the officers on the scene to know how Betty Shelby perceived the situation that unfolded so quickly. But I do wonder why she was the only officer out of four who fired her pistol. Actually, she fired her pistol, one officer deployed a TASER (pictured center below), another had his pistol in-hand and aimed at Crutcher, while the fourth officer had a hand on her/his gun belt and a radio mic in the other hand while standing in a hot/danger zone (dangerous if the suspect was a threat to life, and the latter—one hand on the belt and the other holding a microphone—is absolutely not a response you’d expect to see in a deadly force encounter).

The officer standing to the left in the image, the one speaking into her/his microphone, is the one that makes this entire incident seem so odd to me. Again, I wasn’t there so I have no way of knowing how either of the officers perceived the situation. But standing in the wide open spaces, unprotected from what appears to be a threat to the other officers, makes no sense, at least not to me.

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So four very different responses to the identical situation. Which was the right one and which was wrong, if either was wrong or right?

Perception is key. How did the Betty Shelby perceive the encounter? Did she fear for her life or the life of others? Or, did she respond to a sound (the TASER)? Did she shoot because of a “fear” living in her mind, the thoughts of recent officers killed in the line of duty?

If an officer fires her/his weapon because of a fear that’s frantically clawing at the inside of her/his skull, a fear that’s based on an incident not relevant to the one at hand, well, police work may not be proper line of work for that particular individual.

Sure, officers must be mindful of all potential threats, and they must use past experience as a guide as to what could happen “if,” but they absolutely must treat each individual incident as what it is at the precise moment it occurs.

Why Betty Shelby fired her weapon is a question each officer must think about right now … today. And, like Chief Muterspaw said, “Stop!” Because you’re not trained to shoot people when a situation clearly calls for other solutions.

So yeah, STOP!

And to the media who have no clue about what they’re pushing as “news” … you need to STOP as well. Spend a few days at police academy. Ride with cops for a few nights. The same goes for the armchair and Monday morning quarterbacks. STOP!

In fact, everyone needs to STOP. Take time to think before reacting with such hate, fear, and anger. Don’t let agendas shape your thoughts. Think for yourselves.

To my fellow officers who’re still out there on the streets. Remember and use the training you received at the academy. I know it’s tough and sometimes scary, but you do what you do because you love your jobs and you truly love people. If that’s not the case, then please do STOP right now and seek other employment.

Those who do belong behind a badge, well, be safe, wear your vests, and watch the hands. Always watch the hands.

Remember, if or when a suspect’s thumb and forefinger move inward toward the center of the body and the elbow moves outward, away from the body, then there’s a good chance they’re going for a weapon of some type.

Watch the hands.

Good point to consider when examining the shooting of Terence Crutcher. Where were his hands and what did Officer Shelby see, if anything, that her fellow officers did not? The answer to this question could either save or destroy Betty Shelby.

Either way, Terence Crutcher is dead.

#STOP!

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Okay, I’m Going There: Bathroom Breaks – Where Do Officers Go?

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Sure, duty calls, but so does nature. And sometimes nature calls quite loudly. In those instances, it is imperative that an officer find the proper location to meet the need, especially in this dangerous times where ambushes are, sadly, a very real possibility.

So how do cops handle those “immediate needs?”

Well, deputy sheriffs are most often found patrolling rural areas.

Therefore, a stop …
 

On a dark desert highway, cool wind in my hair
Warm smell of colitas, rising up through the air
Up ahead in the distance, I saw a shimmering light
My head grew heavy and my sight grew dim
I had to stop for the night …

 
to “water the cacti alongside Route 66” is more often the norm than not. Of course, if the deputy, especially a female deputy, is able to hold on until they reach the lobby of the Hotel California, well, I hear the restrooms there are nice, and they have real towels available instead of those hot blowy things mounted to the wall.

Sometimes, when stopping at hotels for “the break” hotel staff will offer a free cup of coffee and maybe a freshly-baked (microwave) cookie, if you’re lucky. But yes, roadside watering is a regular thing for those who wear the star. It’s as much a part of the job as arresting drunks and … hmm … those who urinate in public. Well, that’s awkward.

  • Go home! Yes, deputy sheriffs are fortunate because they often have the option of using the restroom in the comfort of their own homes, or the homes of family and friends.

Officers working in urban areas have to be a bit more creative. Sure, there’s always a dumpster to pee behind or …

He goes on the prowl each night
Like an alley cat
Looking for some new delight
Like an alley cat ~ Bobby Rydell

And there’s always:

  • the firehouse
  • the police department
  • all-night diners
  • truck stops
  • construction site porta-johns (while your partner stands guard at the door, of course)

Keep in mind, though, that other bathroom concerns are:

  1. Ambush while your gun and other tools are not at your side (you have to remove the gear from around your waist—all of it).
  2. While standing in a stall, you are typically facing away from the door.
  3. While sitting in a stall you must do something with your gun belt. Hanging it on the wall or door hook makes it practically impossible to access your gun. However, it would be easy for someone to reach over the wall/door to steal the entire belt leaving you with your pants down around your ankles. There would be nothing worse for the ego than having to chase after guy who’s stolen your gun belt, especially while your pants are dragging the ground and your bare hind parts are jiggling and wiggling around for all the world to see. It wouldn’t be a pretty sight. And you’d never live down the exposure of your strategically placed butterfly, Disney Princess, and I “Heart” Mom tattoos. Oh, the same would be true for the female officers.

And, then there’s a bigger problem. One of huge proportion—female officers and their bathroom needs!!

Watering the cacti is not an option for female officers, with the exceptions of extreme and dire emergencies. Neither are peeing in alleys and behind dumpsters.

Gun belt placement while tending to personal needs is always a concern for female officers, and truck stops and other places of similar … well, let’s just say they’re not always “lady-friendly.”

So what are the options for female officers?

  • police department restrooms
  • home
  • businesses (while your partner stands guard at the door, of course)
  • fire stations
  • construction site porta-johns (while your partner stands guard at the door, of course)

And … Go Pants.

 

 

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I, Too, Took a Knee … But for a Different Reason

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I remember the day quite well. Hot and humid and both made worse by the fact that I was wearing the brown over khaki polyester uniform of a sheriff’s deputy. I also wore brown shiny shoes, a leather gun belt with a basket weave pattern imprinted on it and the attached tool holders—holster, handcuff case, etc.

Since we often worked an entire county alone, I carried a leather SAP in my back pocket, the kind with the spring-loaded handle, and a kubotan with an attached key ring stuck between my gun belt and the belt holding up my pants, the trousers with the dark brown stripe down the outside of each leg. I sometimes used the kubotan as a means of persuading criminal suspects to see things my way when they opted to resist arrest by doing things such as refusing to release the death grip they had on my throat.

Hey, when you’re alone and the difference between survival and its opposite is to deliver a tap on the noggin or a bit of pain to the wrist, well, it was what it was and I’m still here. With lots of scars, but here.

But back to the day in question.

It was shift change time in the sky. The sun was on its way down toward the horizon and a nearly full moon was well on its way upward. In fact, when I arrived on the scene, the location where a high-on-crack, uzi-toting, barricaded suspect had taken his girlfriend and small children hostage, the large, whitish-yellow moon was peeking above the rooftop of the two-story ramshackle farmhouse that sat at the end of a long dirt lane off the blacktop country road.

The moment my car stopped in the driveway to the right side of the house, the suspect, the shirtless man with close-cropped hair and muscles any pro-wrestler would love to show off, fired a few rounds in my direction.

Not being a guy who enjoys searing-hot puncture wounds, I climbed across the center console and out the passenger door. Once outside I sort of “duck-walked” to the rear corner of the car, near the trunk, and called for backup. Unfortunately, my location was 40 minutes away from the nearest deputy or trooper.

The man fired again. I took a knee and kept my head down. I did, however, take a few quick peeks to see if I could pinpoint the shooter’s location. Pow, Pow! Two more rounds. A scream. Children crying.

Just my luck. He was in the room nearest my patrol car. I was seriously wishing dispatch had provided me with a few more details. Important information like, “Female caller states the suspect is ARMED!!!”

I knew I had to get closer, so I kept low and waddled to the right front of my car behind the wheel and tire, where I again took a knee and kept my head down. It was slightly comforting to know the engine block was between the suspect’s gun barrel and my flesh.

POW, POW, POW!

This time I saw chunks of dirt and dust kick up not more than five feet from where my knee rested on the ground.

I took a quick look and saw the shooter turn away from the window, so I ran as fast as I could toward the house while crouching down. I stopped directly below the window where I’d last seen the man. I took a knee below the window sill. My heart thumped furiously against the inside of my chest wall—so hard that I seriously wondered if the bad guy could hear the beating.

Inside, the suspect yelled at his hostages between firing a few willy-nilly rounds. Next I heard a loud THUMP followed by sobbing. Then quiet.

The front door opened and the man stepped out on the porch. He began yelling and firing more rounds in the direction of my patrol car. Obviously, he was not aware that I’d taken position beside the house where, by the way, I was still resting my weight on my knee. The position provided stability for both my body and to help with steadying my aim. Yes, at that point I’d trained the barrel of my own weapon at the corner of the house where it met the porch. I was prepared to shoot the suspect, if necessary, and it looked as if that would be the case.

POW, POW, POW!!

Surely, he’d run out of ammunition at some point. And certainly backup would soon arrive. I so longed to hear the sound of sirens wailing and yelping. Until then, well …

I carefully eased along the front wall toward the porch. Still on one knee with my pistol aimed ahead. Left foot forward followed by the right knee. Slowly and quietly.

Pieces of gravel dug into my knee and I had to be careful to not cry out when a jagged piece of broken glass worked its way through meat and into bone. But I pressed on and I remained on the knee. I had to focus. One mistake and the people inside could die, as could I. And I was a single dad at the time, raising a young daughter.

Ten feet from the corner. POW!

Seven feet from the corner and the man started yelling. Then …

POW, POW, POW!!

I remained on one knee.

POW!

Then he stepped out into the yard.

I quickly holstered my pistol and tackled him.

POW!

We wrestled for the gun.

POW!

I knocked the gun away and we wrestled some more and more and more.

The guy was tremendously strong. Far stronger than I and at the time I was bench-pressing just under 400 lbs.

I managed to apply handcuffs to his wrists.

Again, I took a knee. This time I did so while gathering my strength and to allow my straining lungs to suck oxygen like the bellows of an antique pump organ.

The battered girlfriend and her kids came outside where she begged me to not take “her man” to jail. She cried and bawled like a baby, and she hugged and loved on him, and she spit and cursed at me, while the kids stood there watching. She called me names and praised him as a “good man” who was being arrested solely because of his race. Not because he’d beaten her and the children and shot up the place and taken wild shots at me. Not for beating on me and for trying to take my gun from its holder. Not for punching my face until it was so swollen I could barely see out of one of my eyes.

I stood up. My legs felt like rubber, I was filthy, my hands shook a bit, and my uniform was a mess. The pins and medals and my badge were torn from the shirt. My shoes were dusty.

My pants were grass-stained and the left knee was blood-soaked and tattered. The flesh beneath the mangled cloth, the knee that had supported my weight while bullets zipped by me and while I feared that I and the innocent people inside the house might be killed at any moment, was bruised, cut, and bloody.

And my car had a bullet hole near the left front fender.

At the time, my pay was $6,700 annually. We were paid monthly back then, which = $558.33 per paycheck—a little over $3.20 per hour.

The entire situation lasted approximately twenty minutes. So, for somewhere in the neighborhood of $1.06 (one-dollar and six cents), I’d been shot at, beaten, spit on, name-called, cut, and bloodied.

So yeah, I took a knee.

I took a knee so that young woman and her kids could live to see another day.

I took a knee for them and was spit on afterward.

I still don’t understand the hatred toward me that day, but I’d do it again—take a knee to save a life—just like the cops who’ll do so today and tomorrow and the next day.

And they’ll continue to be spit on for simply wearing a uniform.

Nothing new there.

* Please, let’s keep our comments civil, as always, and not turn this post into something racial or political. Instead of slinging more words and gestures of hatred we should be working toward solutions to our troubles.

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