Saved By SOP

What are the lessons learned?

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I work for a Sheriff’s Office, where I was assigned to uniformed patrol, on the graveyard shift. We assign two officers to a district—each working in one-man marked units. The area I worked was mostly back roads, state parks and rural housing.

Countywide, we were experiencing an increase in construction material thefts. I had a new apartment complex under construction in my district. I knew sooner or later, it would be targeted. I made routine checks of the site during various times of my shift.

One night I had that “gut” feeling to check the site early. As I approached the complex, I blacked out the lights and entered the side entrance. A white pickup with their tailgate down exited the other side.

I went behind the vehicle to run the tag. But with the tailgate down, it was blocking my view. I used the spotlight to check the bumper and rear glass for a state or temporary tag, but there wasn’t one. That was all I needed for probable cause to stop the vehicle and ask the driver what he was doing at the construction site after midnight.

I activated the blue lights and siren; the driver immediately pulled to a stop at the right shoulder. I used the take-down lights and spotlight to try to see if more than one person was in the truck. The back glass was tinted, but I could see only one outline- the driver.

I walked to the left side of the truck with my flashlight held high in my right hand, trying to get a look at the driver. I stopped behind the driver’s door. Before I could ask the driver for his license, he pushed the door open with his left hand; in it was a blue steel revolver with a short barrel; it appeared to be a .38 or 357.

He fired point blank; the muzzle flash and report all but stunned me. Everything went into slow motion. I tried to draw and retreat to the rear of the truck to return fire. The driver hit the accelerator and closed the door as he drove off. I returned fire into the back glass of the truck, hoping to stop the driver.

I tried to advise dispatch that shots had been fired. It was all static; my handheld radio wouldn’t transmit from my location. I ran back to my unit while trying to keep an eye on the fleeing truck. Once again, I advised dispatch of the events, a brief description of the driver and his direction of travel.

My partner and field commander started pulling toward my location. We tried to direct the other cars to the direction the truck could be heading. We were just a couple miles south of the county line and just east of a large state park. The dispatcher contacted the neighboring agency and diverted their air unit to our area within minutes. All available units from our department began a search of the area. He had vanished.

The field commander advised me to meet him at the scene. I walked the Sergeant through the chain of events that night. As I showed him how I approached the truck with my flashlight, he noticed I had been shot. I had taken a round on my left side, about 3 inches from the bottom of my vest. The round only grazed my shirt and vest leaving a gouge and powder burns.

The driver and truck were never found. However, I did learn the value of always wearing body armor and following procedure during a traffic stop. If I had not been standing tight against the truck or had moved past the doorpost on the driver’s window, I might be a plaque on the wall rather than a “Second Chance” save.
— WB, TN