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Back in 1999, I was a patrol cop working in West Baltimore. At the time, Baltimore had one of the highest per capita homicide rates in the country, and I was working in arguably the most violent district in the city. On this particular day in late July, I had a couple of court cases that I needed to be present for before starting the 4-12 shift. Normally the courthouse would let the midnight shift people go first since they were just getting off work, so they could go home and get some sleep. After them in line came the day work, or 8-12 shift officers, to be followed last by the officers working the 4-12 shift.

On a busy court day, you could find yourself hanging around the courthouse for several hours before starting your shift. On this particular day, I did my duty in court and left to head to the station house a couple of hours early. At around 1400 hours, I decided that since I had about 1½ hours until roll call started, I would stop off at the local store and grab a large bottle of water. It was a hot, steamy Friday afternoon and we were bound to be rocking and rolling, so I figured I would grab some hydration now since I might not get a chance later.

The store happened to be on the outer edge of my patrol district, which was not friendly territory for an off-duty cop to be even during the day. I pulled into a spot directly in front of the store and gave a quick look around. Before I got out of my personal vehicle, I did a quick security pat of my always trusty Glock 17, which I wore strong side hip in a Yaqui slide belt rig under a dark blue polo shirt.

Setting The Scene
My experiences on the street taught me to always assess your surroundings before and immediately after exiting your vehicle to avoid being caught off-guard. This practice would be pressed into good use on this particular day. As soon as I stepped onto the sidewalk in front of the store I noticed two males sitting on some old milk crates under a tree about 75 yards to my left across the parking lot. They reminded me of a couple of lions sitting on the Savannah looking for an easy meal, the kind I used to see on those nature shows when I was a kid. I saw the one guy on the left nudge his partner with his elbow and gesture towards me with his chin. I kept this in my mental file as I entered the store, knowing it might come into play later on. 

As soon as I exited the store I unlocked my doors with the remote key fob and did a quick glance around for the two males. Sure enough they were both approaching me from the right, however I felt that I was in a tactically advantageous position since I was on slightly higher ground, being on the sidewalk, and the fact that I had a line of parked cars between the two men and myself. I quickly went to my vehicle, opened the door, and threw the bottle of water on the front seat. As I did so, one male broke off from his partner, went around to the other side of my car and took up a position at the rear passenger side quarter panel. The other male was now in front of me, but my open door was between him and me. 

The male in front of me said, “Hey man, how much was that bottle of water?” My reply was something like, “A couple of bucks.” As I said that, I quickly picked up my polo shirt to expose my weapon and established a grip on the Glock’s backstrap. At this point, the guy’s partner sensed this attempted robbery was not going to end as planned and took off running, while the guy in front of me saw my weapon and slowly backed away until he was in a position to run away as well. As soon as they left, I got into my vehicle and called the station house. A few day shift units arrived to canvas the area for the two males, but they were long gone. 

Lessons Learned
I have to credit my police and personal training on that day for possibly saving my life, but definitely getting me out of a sticky situation. Street robberies are very common on the streets of Baltimore and in many other major US cities. In that neighborhood, I must have looked like an easy target; however, what kept me safe was not voodoo magic. On the contrary, it was a good set of basic skills that everyone should practice and employ daily.  

They are:
1) Always be aware of your surroundings. 
2) Fight the urge to be complacent. 
3) Train, train, train. (This will keep you confident.)
4) Always arm yourself wherever and whenever legally possible. 
5) Think tactically and use the terrain to your advantage. 
6) Be physically and mentally prepared. 

These steps are simple and can be employed by anyone at any time. Whether you are a cop or a soccer mom, keeping yourself and your loved ones safe is not only common sense, it is your moral obligation. Be safe.

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