3 Lessons Learned the Hard Way
1. Search Every Room
We were serving a search warrant with tribal police on a residence on Indian Land. The house wasn’t too big and we had a CI’s sketch of the interior. I’ve never liked relying on the word of a strung out informant but the boss had faith in it.
For some reason, because two agencies were involved, they decided we’d rehearse the floor plan and assign officers to each room or threat area instead of just flowing it as we found it (reading the structure and adjusting as we went based on SOPs). They planned for contingencies like combative suspects, extra suspects and of course God forbid an officer down, but overall the plan was rigid and far too dependent upon that map and things going exactly right.
Despite misgivings I went along with the plan. I wasn’t a senior member of the team at the time and I didn’t want to see like a complainer or a coward or whatever. In retrospect that was probably the greatest mistakes made that day—I know I wasn’t the only one uneasy with it.
We rolled in at daylight (no knocks in our district are impossible to obtain) under the gaze and rifles of what we call a “creep team” that had set up during the hours of darkness to cover our approach. The containment guys deployed without a hitch, a dog was convinced to go sulk in his house and the ram popped the door with one hit.
Things went well for two rooms and then of course everything unraveled. Turns out there was one too many doors past the living room and an unexpected hallway off the kitchen. We should’ve shut it down and gone deliberate at that point, but the officer I was paired with was brand new and had rehearsed just a little too well. He never slowed, just went past the extra door and crossed the unexpected hallway to enter the room he’d been assigned to.
I followed of course, trying to watch the new threat areas and his back. Naturally it was when I took my eyes off the extra door that another suspect emerged, intending to walk down the unexpected hallway—putting her right behind me.
It all worked out, no one was hurt and we recovered lots of evidence, but not because of our plan or our training or because of what we did right. I don’t blame the officer I was paired up with, I blame myself first and our leadership second. That was the last time, thankfully, we assigned threat areas instead of flowing a structure, and the last time we ever ran an operation alongside a team we’d never trained with before…and it was absolutely the last time I let my ego get in the way of sound tactical sense.
2. Wait for Backup
My first vehicle pursuit was an object lesson in Don’t Do This. I was one of three officers on duty in our small municipality when we received a COS call (Check to your Own Satisfaction) for two suspicious individuals in a residential area. Before I arrived my sergeant initiated a pursuit of not one but two stolen pickups from that neighborhood. He’d slow-rolled the street just in time to see them break into pickups parked in adjacent driveways.
I caught up just as the stolen trucks split in two directions. My sergeant chased one and sent me after the other. My truck went dark and fled towards the next jurisdiction. My partner was still miles away, but a highway patrol unit headed towards my sergeant and neighboring PD units radioed they would be with me shortly.
Before they arrived, however, my quarry failed to make a turn and crashed into a ditch. He was fast — despite the crash, he was out the window, up an embankment and through a barbed wire fence before I’d even slid to a stop. Despite having no backer and no real idea where I was, I went after him. I couldn’t see him right away because he was wearing camouflage clothing. But I could see ‘toe dig’ tracks showing which way he’d gone, and since it was pretty damn cold I was able to pick up his breath in the air just a short ways away. I sprinted towards him and he jumped up and bolted, managing to stay a short ways ahead.
I kept after him, farther and farther from the road then suddenly topped a hill to find him crouched and waiting on me. Unable to slow, I crashed over on my side as he tackled me.
I wasn’t able to completely subdue him on my own and kept him mostly at a disadvantage but did wonder why he kept punching me weakly in the ribs on my off-gun side.
Thankfully another officer quickly arrived, the noise of our struggle allowing him to locate us (I hadn’t had my light on when I was chasing him and then was too busy fighting to get it out). He helped me get the bracelets on and then to my feet.
Turns out he hadn’t been punching me in the ribs at all, he’d been trying to stab me in the side with a sharpened screwdriver. We were just so close and his hand was so tangled in our two coats that he couldn’t put enough umph behind it to get it through my vest.
I’ve been in a lot of chases since — foot and vehicle — but that was the last time I ever took off blindly without a backer, a plan and an eye to what might be coming up.
Size Doesn’t Matter
We got a call about a primer-covered beater headed south in the northbound lanes of a four-lane road. I came in on it from the south, a lot closer than anyone else. I found it more quickly than I expected to — the perp really had his foot in it.
He had to slow down before I could get to him because of traffic. I had to play chicken with him to get him over to the side of the road. I managed to get boots on the ground before he got out (barefoot) but though he bailed fast enough, once he was on out of the car he just went mellow.
He was a little guy with only half his teeth. I could’ve put my fingers around his biceps and counted all his ribs. He was obviously on something and wouldn’t make eye contact, but he was pleasant. Of course, it didn’t look or smell like he’d bathed in weeks and you could barely see the rash on his skin through the grime, but he was polite.
Then another officer stepped up he bolted, fast. We caught him quickly and he actually seemed a little confused about why he’d run. For reasons that escape me now we walked him back to the cars instead of cuffing him there. He remained compliant until a passing car honked its horn and then he went ballistic, tossing us around like rag dolls in short order. It wasn’t like he was fighting to hurt us, just to keep our hands off him, but this guy half our size was really giving us the good news.
We administered every compliance technique we knew. We actually broke a couple of his toes and one thumb — not intentionally — trying to get control of him. Only supervisors had Tasers then, so that wasn’t an option. I really didn’t want to put him down, but it was getting bad. He tore my radio off and shattered my partner’s, but it wasn’t until he tossed me across the hood of my car out into traffic that I realized just how much trouble we were in.
Turns out he was on PCP and really hadn’t bathed in at least a week. The only reason we ever got the cuffs on him was because a third officer showed up and couple of civilians piled on to help us pin him down by body weight. The only reason he didn’t really hurt or even kill one of us was that he just plain didn’t want to.