It was this fast:
“Unit one from dispatch. Report of a drive-by shooting. A silver Impala, occupied twice, male and female. Area of Willard Airport.”
“Dispatch from One, I’m behind that car. Pulling it over now.”
“JesusGodhelpmeidontwanttobeherehekilledthatguyhesgotagunhetookmeouttamyhouseitsmyexboyfriend – “
“ – itsnotmeitshimhescrazyhesgotagunhesaidhedkillmedontshoot – “
“Ma’am. Stop! Stop! Driver stay in the car!”
A few pops. A shout. More pops. A scream.
“Oh, God. Dispatch from One. I shot her. Get medical rolling.”
And still more pops. More artificial gunfire. The driver, the boyfriend, shooting and shooting and where in hell did he get all these bullets, diving around the car, still shooting and then –
“Sir, drop the gun or I will shoot you,” from a different officer.
And it was over.
A breath, maybe two, and the scenario was over. Results? One man in custody, two officers with empty guns and hearts stopped. One lady – kidnapped at gunpoint by a crazed ex-lover – dead.
And one officer with only two rounds gone from his weapon, but repeating over and over, “I can’t believe I shot her. I can’t believe I shot her.”
The facilitator called time on the scenario and left all seven of us in that group long enough to get our own hearts started again.
How in hell had that happened? How in hell had a complicated, but still doable traffic stop – with three officers – gone so completely wrong so instantaneously?
It was supposed to happen that way, of course. The scenario, unbeknownst to those of us participating and watching from the sidelines, was designed that way. We were supposed to shoot. We were supposed to leave an innocent woman dead in the street.
Or we weren’t.
But we were supposed to be stressed, confused, scared, drowning in our own adrenaline, watching our peripherial vision decrease by 70%…that tunnel vision people under stress talk about.
What decision are you going to make? How are you going to handle that?
When I started this odyssey, I wrote (CopLand 1):
“But while part of me is incredibly excited, another part of me is incredibly terrified. See, I spent three years in the jail and my job was to warehouse people at the behest of another officer or the court or the State’s Attorney. Someone else — someone NOT ME — made the decision to arrest someone or sentence them or whatever the case might have been.
Now it’ll be me. I’ll make the decision.
What decision? The decision of whether or not to take someone’s liberty. To take away that most basic thing all people have – that thing Thomas Jefferson said was a right by nature — freedom.
And that scares the shit outta me.”
I was talking about arresting people, taking away their liberty. But shooting them, killing them, is the ultimate in liberty snatching. In fact, legally, it invokes the Fourth Amendment, the unreasonable search and seizure clause.
That scenario didn’t happen to me, though I was part of the peanut gallery and watched it. The entire time – and don’t fool yourself, the entire time was less than ten seconds from the time the suspect car stopped to the moment the driver gave up – I couldn’t believe how fast it all happened.
For eight weeks, they’ve told us when it happens it will be fast. It will be faster than I think possible, it will be the kind of fast that leaves people speechless and shaking their head.
And they were exactly right.
Brutally fast and at the same time, breath-takingly slow. I could tell you every single detail, every moment and movement, every shock of face and tighten of muscle.
It left the rest of us in the scenario, those who had yet to stop this particular car (and who would later stop it under different parameters, there was to be no more gunplay that day) shaken and quiet.
And it left all of us wondering what we would have done. Would we have had a body at our feet? Or would we have hit her with pepper spray to incapacitate her until we could sort it out? Would we have taken her down via hands, cuffed her and stuffed her in the car until we could figure it out?
And don’t forget, while making that decision and following through with it, the psycho ex-boyfriend is still shooting; shooting at the officer – me – and trying to kill the officer –
Trying to kill me.
I have no idea what I would have done. If there is anything I’ve learned in eight weeks, it is that I will not make a judgment until I’ve at least seen the shoes of the officer, if not actually walked in them.
I was talking to a local PD sergeant about the scenario today and he brought up something I hadn’t thought about. An officer is forced to make a decision in a split second about whether or not someone is a threat, about whether or not they have a cell phone or a gun (and let’s not forget the recent development of a cell phone that IS a gun…shoots 4 .22 bullets), or a fat wallet or a gun, or maybe a Blackberry or a gun. And if someone ends up dead, 99 times of 100, the officer is excoriated.
But if a homeowner has three or four minutes to decide someone is breaking into his home, or thirty or forty seconds to decide someone is carjacking him, and ends up killing the bad guy, he or she is generally considered a hero.
I’m not saying every homeowner or car owner who saves themselves should be prosecuted. Nor am I saying every officer who kills someone is automatically right in what he/she’s done.
I guess what I am saying is try to remember the last time someone jumped out of a room or a closet and scared you. Or the last time someone came around a corner in a quiet office and startled you. Could you have decided whether or not they presented a deadly threat to you? And if they did, could you have done anything about it? Not hours later, not days and weeks and months and years later, but then and there. In that split second when your hair stood up and your breath stopped and your stomach dropped.
I hate to say this, but I’m glad the recruit officer had to shoot that lady. As vile as it sounds, I’m glad it happened because until that moment, thoughts of killing someone had been theoretical.
At that moment, even in the artificial atmosphere of the scenarios, it became absolutely real.