A Virginia Tech police officer was murdered last week. I reviewed the traffic stop scenario, as I knew it, at Readoff to my officers. A gunman had appeared out of nowhere. “Watch everyone,” I implored. “Everyone is in play.”
About an hour later, we had an armed robbery call. A K9 perimeter was set and my dog guys responded to the scene.
A black male had robbed a victim at gunpoint and fled on foot. Before the canine even came out of the car, a second armed robbery was reported six blocks north. Same suspect, same description.
K9’s moved to that location. The outer units sat tight. From two blocks away from where I was, a perimeter car radioed that a white male with a gun was approaching his car!
I hit the gas. I arrived to see the officer at low ready with a man in the middle of the street.
As it turns out, the armed white male was a robbery victim who had taken the gun from his black male assailant and chased him off. The clearly shaken victim saw a nearby police car and decided to tell the officer what had happened.
His mistake was to bring the bad guy’s handgun right up to the officer’s car. Luckily, the officer was a 20 year veteran with officer safety and common sense. Caution ruled over panic and we quickly deescalated the situation.
It is a fine line that we tread between officer safety and paranoia. It can’t be helped. Our rules of engagement are severely restricted by what is known at the time. Our rules of restriction are much greater by policy and litigation.
We face an enemy who perfectly blend in with those who would threaten, but not harm, any of us. Can you tell the difference? I can’t.
My Readoff mantra is, “Trust no one.” I stand by this. The sociopath will kill you, with a smile, while you think he is reaching for his ID. It has happened to men I know.
Unfortunately, the resolve to survive has to be balanced with keen situational awareness by today’s law enforcement officer. Those who can’t find that balance face either death or prosecution in a harsh legal environment. The people who would judge us do so from the safety of their chosen lives.
Think we earn our pay? I do. And a lot more.
Randall is a twenty-four year sworn police officer in a mid-sized Florida police department. He has been an FTO, K9 Handler, Detective, and SWAT Team Leader. He is currently the K9 Unit Sergeant and department SWAT Coordinator.