Some years ago, my partner and I were assigned to work a special duty event concerning a large dance being held at a major university in California. Due to heavy advertising, these events often attracted people from outside the university community including gang members and other types of troublemakers. We were assigned to work the Alcohol-Suppression Detail, which consisted of teams of uniformed officers conducting foot-patrols of the parking lots to curb drinking, auto thefts, burglaries, and other illegal activities in the lots.

We were standing near the entrance to one of the lots, monitoring incoming traffic when a silver hatchback, containing four male subjects drove past. What got our attention was the driver taking a “hit” from a pint-bottle of vodka. Somewhat astounded that someone would openly drink alcohol in a moving automobile in front of two uniformed police officers who were in plain sight only a few feet away, we strolled up to the car just as it parked.

My partner made contact with the driver and got his identification, intending to issue a misdemeanor “open container” citation. I reached inside the opened passenger door to retrieve the “evidence,” which was sitting on the floor in front of the passenger seat and placed the bottle on the roof. That particular model of car had the shoulder-harness restraint attached to the rear of the passenger door window frame and as I started to step back, the shoulder harness got caught between my duty belt and holster. As I was disentangling the shoulder harness from my holster, I glanced down and saw a pistol stuffed in the door pocket of the car. After quickly freeing myself from the restraining strap, I stepped back, unholstered my duty sidearm and yelled to my partner, “GUN!”

My partner responded and assisted me in securing the front-seat occupants, and the quickly arriving back-up officers assisted in removing the rear-seat passengers who were also placed on the ground and handcuffed. Inside the right door pocket of the car I recovered a Taurus .380 semi-automatic handgun, which had a live round in the chamber, and was capable of being fired, even though there was no magazine in the gun. In the hatchback I recovered the magazine for the Taurus, which was fully loaded.
I don’t believe the young man had criminal intentions in keeping the gun in the car, nor did the prosecutors, as the young man accepted a misdemeanor plea-bargain as it is a felony to bring a firearm on to a state university campus without permission or a valid permit. The young man did however lose his nice Taurus, which after adjudication, was placed on our display board in the hallway of our police station along with other confiscated weapons.

The story the young man gave was he lived in the inner city and didn’t want his gun to be stolen from his residence. One of his friends told him it was “cool” to keep a pistol in the passenger area of a car—as long as it was unloaded and the ammunition was locked in the trunk. That may be legal in some areas but not in California.

Lessons learned: For the arrested citizen, knowledge of firearms laws would have kept the young man from being jailed and losing his pistol. For law enforcement: Often things aren’t as they initially appear. Even though this started out as a “minor” violation, never drop your guard, communicate with your partner, and always have a plan. Stay safe.

— JB, CA

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