Fear


Fear is something everyone experiences, even police officers. The difference though is that when everyone else is running away from a gun fight we have to run to it. When you have a job to do your training will kick in and you will power through the emotions that are trying to well up and control you. Sometimes new officers don’t have it in them and they will freeze up and stare at their Field Training Officer rolling around on the ground fighting someone. Fortunately most of those people quit the academy when they watch videos of police officers being murdered.

I remember the first time I had a strong palpable fear while working. There’s little fears about failing, or getting in trouble, or knowing you are going to something scary. But the first time I wondered if I was going to survive a call is still very distinctive.

This happened in a different county where I was trained and started working. I came to Roanoke a few years later.

The first officer responded to a call in a neighborhood with townhouses. He pulled up and the address was the second one in from the left of the row. These had the front door on the middle level. There was a walkout basement a level down around back. On the top floor in a window a young woman about 21 years old began whispering to the officer through an open window. She was with several very young children who were currently sleeping. Her mother was the nanny for this family. The little children’s mother was in the basement with their father and the nanny. The husband was beating the wife with a long gun. Could be a shotgun or rifle from her description. He’s apparently wielding it like a club but it could be loaded. He was holding the nanny there too and roughing her up a bit. But his attention and brutality was focused on his wife. The officer could hear the shouting and beating from where he was outside and called for help.

Other officers began arriving and setting up a perimeter around the house. I got onscene and grabbed a shotgun and made my way to the rear of the house. I met up with several other officers there. The back of the townhouse had curtains and blankets covering the windows and sliding glass door. There were lights on but we could not see anything inside. We could hear the shouting and we could hear him beating his wife. We formed up a loose perimeter and our supervisor was about to throw together an ad hoc entry team to storm the house and save the women.

We don’t know the layout of the room, where the furniture is. We don’t know where the hostages (women) or the suspect are. Smashing through the door and running in there screaming in those conditions is a recipe to get shot. Yeah, we’d get him but at what cost to us? Still, we were ready to do it. We wanted to do it. That terrible fear that wanted to rise up and send me running was replaced by training and the will to end this. The desire to end it. I know we all wanted to get in there and get a piece of that guy and rescue the women and children. Luckily for us he quit beating the women. As long as it was quiet we had time to get assets like the tactical team (SWAT.)

I found a tree in the back where I could post up at. It was fairly narrow so it wasn’t really perfect cover but it was better than laying on the cold ground or anything else back there. It had to be about 30 degrees that night. I just remember it being bitterly cold. After about 30 minutes standing behind that tree shivering I acclimated to the temperature. I was focused on that guy’s back door and waited for him to come out running and shooting.

Then the lights came on. The woman whose townhouse I was right next to decided to come out and see what was going on. She turned on all her outdoor lights and stood on the deck above me smoking. Had the suspect decided to come out and shoot his way to freedom I would have been the first to get shot at. I was completely lit up. I started telling her to go back inside and shut the lights off but she just stared at me. I finally shouted at her, quietly, sort of a loud hiss and she went in. For about half an hour though she kept turning on the lights and coming outside. I repeatedly yelled (hissed loudly) at her. I finally radio’d the guys out front to knock on her door. If she did that again I wanted them to arrest her for obstructing us. She could sit in the backseat of my cruiser in handcuffs until this was all done and I’d take her to jail. Evidently someone got through her thick head because she didn’t come out and jeopardize my life again.

Sounds carry far at night. It’s a very cold night and very still. My own breathing sounded like roaring. I could hear the sirens of responding commanders and tac team members while they were still miles and miles away. The command center, fire and rescue, and all the tac team folks were running code out to us. Officers from other areas of the county were responding to emergency calls in our zone for us while we were tied up.

Officers snuck into the house upstairs and rescued the nanny’s daughter and the little children.

It continued being quiet inside and we were outside just standing still, waiting for the worst to happen. Finally the tac team guys were geared up and came down relieving us from the inner perimeter. I was out there about 2 hours now. I was standing by my tree and all of a sudden there was a group of ninjas in their turtle armor behind me. Nice.

I went up to the command bus and the tac team commander asked me to draw a map of the back yard and area. I had been back there so long I knew where all the trees were and the terrain features. I drew it out on a big white board they were using to plan the rescue. With the tac guys on the interior perimeter around the town house the rest of us moved back to an exterior perimeter to keep residents from the neighborhood from wandering in. Before we had that set up though a teenager wanted to see what was going on and was sneaking up on the perimeter. Of course he didn’t see the ninja in the shadows as he was tiptoing by. I imagine it from his perspective as the shadows suddenly came to life and stuffed him into the ground handcuffing him before he realized what even happened. I got the job of taking him home to mommy and ask her to keep better control of him before someone gets hurt.

Luckily it was early Sunday morning so there were no commuters waking up early and leaving. I found a couple buddies sitting in a cruiser on the perimeter. They had the heat cranked up and when I got inside the warmth was so wonderful. We were right on the edge of passing into an area behind the suspect’s townhouse. We had to tell everyone to go back inside in case he started shooting. People were coming out to walk their dogs and get their papers. We couldn’t risk them wandering around the neighborhood when the fireworks started. As it began getting light out, hours and hours after this started, dispatch came over the radio:

Attention all units on the perimeter, the tac team has a green light, ignore shots fired.

In other words they were about to rescue the women and if we heard gun fire to hold our positions. Suddenly though the nanny was released by the suspect. She had a message from him that we should just go away. Ok, that’s not happeneing. Too late for that.

Attention all units on the perimeter, the tac team has a green light, ignore shots fired.

Here we go again. Now the wife was released. She had some broken bones and other injuries but was otherwise okay.

Now there was no imperitive to rush in there risking officer’s lives since he had no hostages. It was just a matter of waiting him out. He did eventually surrender and was taken into custody.

We got the word on the radio to collapse the perimeter and head to the station. Suddenly about 40 feet in front of our cruiser a tac sniper team stood up. It was the sniper and his spotter. So well hidden in tall grass that even though they were right in front of us we never saw them. They had a perfect line of sight to the suspect’s back door and they didn’t move for hours and hours.

It was about 8 or 9 in the morning. I’d been at work since 7 the night before. We went back to the station for a debrief. Day shift units had been out handling calls for several hours. After the debrief it was about 10 or so on Sunday morning. I figured I was pretty pumped up on adrenaline and could go to church before sleeping the rest of the day.

I got to church and found myself falling asleep while standing up. When the adrenaline goes away after something like that you crash, and usually crash pretty hard. I had to give up and go home to sleep. And sleep and sleep and sleep.

Posted with permission from The Roanoke Cop from the post “Fear.” Please visit that blog for more law enforcement blog content. ###

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1 Comment »

  1. Jenna Says:

    Great work! And you even still went to church after doing the Lord’s work on Earth! Now that’s dedication!

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