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ithappened.gifAs law enforcement officers, we’re always learning new things to make ourselves better cops. We attend classes, buy books, browse the Internet and attend in-service training. Sometimes you never use what you learn and sometimes you use it that very day.

I reported to the station to begin my 3 pm to 1 am night shift.

I walked into the briefing room; I noticed our police attorney was talking with two of our sergeants. After they were done with briefing, he stood up and told us about a new court decision that had been recently instituted. It basically said that if announcing yourself or challenging an armed suspect would endanger the officer or a third party, you didn’t have to give one before employing deadly force. I made some notes about the case and we headed out to our cars to relieve the day shift.

Around 5 pm I was dispatched to an address in reference to a missing person. The street was a dead-end dirt and gravel road that ended in a cul-de-sac. The houses were single story, white wooden-framed structures that were mostly occupied by people who worked in a textile mill a block away. The reporting party was the mother of a young girl in the 10th grade and she had not come home from school that day. She stated her daughter always came home after school and this was very unusual.

I sensed I wasn’t getting the full story, but I couldn’t get anything else out of her. Armed with a school photo and the names and addresses of her friends, I went back on patrol. I was able to locate several of the girl’s friends but didn’t learn much other than the stepfather drank a lot and she wasn’t getting along with him.

Around 11 pm I headed back to the residence to see if the girl had returned home, since the occupants didn’t have a working phone. Just before turning onto the street, I got this weird feeling that something was wrong and killed my lights. I proceeded up the street blacked out and stopped short of the house. It was a warm evening and I could see light spilling out the open front door onto the darkened porch. Turning my radio down, I got out of my car and began walking towards the house.

Immediately, I heard an angry male voice screaming. Easing up to the porch, I looked in the open door and saw the missing daughter. She and her mother were sitting at each end of the couch with a white male who had all the markings of an alcoholic in between them. What got my attention was the blue steel, 4-inch Smith & Wesson .38 Special he had in his right hand.

In between verbally abusing the two women, he was cocking and uncocking the hammer with his thumb. I drew my weapon, a S&W M66 .357Mag and stepped back where they couldn’t hear me but I could keep a visual of them. I told communications to hold the channel, that I had a possible hostage situation and to start backup my way. As I stepped back up on the porch, the alert tones sounded and communications stated that the cavalry was on the way.

In the distance, I could hear the four-barrel carburetors of our 350 horsepower police package engines kicking in as backup raced my way. Suddenly, the man stood up, turned around and faced the two women. He raised the pistol towards the ceiling and slowly began to bring it down, announcing he was going to kill both of them.

I sighted my weapon on his head and began to pull the trigger. With only a few ounces left before it fired, he suddenly turned and walked towards the kitchen, placing the pistol on a small shelf high up on the wall. I went through the flimsy screen door, put him on the floor and held him at gunpoint until backup arrived.

It turns out the stepdad was a drunk who had taken to slapping his daughter around after school because he didn’t approve of a boy she was seeing. She wasn’t going to come home but was afraid if she didn’t, her stepdad would start beating on her mother. It also turns out the revolver wasn’t loaded. Of course, I had no way of knowing that.

As the armed part of the call started, the court decision flashed in my mind. I didn’t feel comfortable challenging the suspect even after he stood up. Even drunks can have pretty quick reaction times when it comes to shooting people and I was concerned he could get a shot or two at the two women before I could shoot him.

I can’t tell you why I got the feeling that the call was getting ready to go “south,” but I always trust my instincts. You should too.

Blacking out my lights and ensuring my radio was turned down helped keep the suspect unaware of my presence. This situation was a classic example of how a call can quickly change status without your being aware of it until you’re right in the middle of it. There were several streets in my zone that were in pretty bad areas and no matter what the call, we usually went in blacked out until we could see what was really going on.

In addition, the call might be a setup or communications might not have gotten all the information about the call. The next day I went to an electronics store and bought an earpiece for my radio for a little over a dollar. Remember, they aren’t just for SWAT and special teams officers.

I decided on a headshot because that was the quickest way to end the threat. While I was still in training, one of my training coaches responded to a “shots fired” call at a motel. The suspect fired several rounds from a small caliber pistol at him, striking him in the leg and barely missed his femoral artery. The officer fired twice, striking him in the side.

The .38 Special +P 95-grain jacketed hollow points tore through a lung, shredded the lower part of his heart and lodged against his ribs on the opposite side of his chest. Even after these two devastating shots (I know because I went to the autopsy), the suspect was still able to run about 15 feet before collapsing.

This was another factor in my choice of a headshot. Also we usually practice on a full size, unmoving target on the range. Be prepared to fire up a suspect from different angles and even different heights.

My department budgeted 50 practice rounds a month for every officer. However, not everyone took advantage of this program. One of my team members was a department armorer and every two months or so, we went to the range and spent all day shooting. The department didn’t want to lose any practice rounds in next year’s budget, so they wanted them all fired.
As a result, I never went to the range with less than 200 rounds and it wasn’t unusual to fire 300 or 400 rounds in a day. I always fired at least one box in “failure to stop” drills: two in the chest and one in the head. I had absolute confidence I could put that round where I wanted. Nowadays officers don’t seem to practice as often as they used to when I was in patrol.

The last department I worked for only made their officers qualify once a year and it showed on the range. It was unnerving to say the least to see officers struggle to shoot just enough to qualify. Their rounds were all over the target and many targets looked like they had been shot with a shotgun, not a pistol. As one instructor used to say, “Looks like rat s&%! In a dresser drawer.” Many had to shoot several times just to make passing.

If you were suddenly faced with a suspect holding your partner hostage, do you feel confident enough in your skills that you could take the suspect out with a difficult shot to save your partner’s life? If the answer is no, even if you have to buy ammunition out of your pocket, shoot until you have absolute confidence in yourself.

At my last department, the county built a high speed, low drag public safety training center with a nice range. The downside was you had to have a certified range instructor present to use it. If your department is like that, don’t let that stop you – find an indoor or outdoor range and join it – or find a friend out in the country where you can go and shoot.

Just get there and do it!
— CF, NC

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