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Monday, September 11, 2006

"11-99.....OFFICER DOWN"


A bleak and miserable night. I was patrolling the quietest of the three westside beats. There was only one 24/7 public business in my area. A typical "stop & rob" convenience store. The shift was finally dragging to a close. Just a couple of hours to go. I needed some cigarettes and a cup of "joe".

"Fred" was the night clerk at the store. A misanthropic old fart, who planted his ass on the stool behind the counter, never moving until it was time to go home. As I pulled onto the property, I noticed that I couldn't see "Fred". I thought to myself, "Jeez, I hope he hasn't had a heart attack."

Parked and walked towards the front door. Store looked totally empty. Now this was really strange. Opened the door, calling his name.

Out of the corner of my vision I spotted a movement in the candy aisle, just to my right. Just visible above the racks, black, hooded, moving towards me very fast.

Then everything went into slow motion. I saw the kid step into my line of sight, about 7 feet away. His hand sweeping in my direction. A dark metal object clearly visible.


Instinctively, I reached for my revolver, a Colt Python .357 magnum, and just broke leather as he fired at me.


The impact against my flexible body armor can best be described as having been hit by a Toyota doing about 1,000 mph. I was hurt, I couldn't breathe, I knew I was probably just moments from death. And I'd be damned if I didn't take this SOB to hell with me. As I start falling backwards, I pop off two rounds into the kid's chest. Lifting him off the floor and driving him towards the far wall. Just before I landed on the floor, I fired two more rounds. His body slammed against the wall, leaving a broad red stripe as he bounced off it and fell to the floor.

While my chest hurt worse than anything I had ever felt, I was still functioning. Slid across the floor, grabbed the kids weapon, a Walther PPK .380, and braced my back against the wall, covering all access points. He might have a partner and this shit may not be over. I needed some help, NOW!

Grabbed my portable radio and gave the call that no cop, or dispatcher, ever wants to hear. 11-99, officer needs help - emergency.

"Zebra-One. 11-99. XXXX Store, Shots fired. Officer down. Suspect dowm."

I dropped the radio onto my lap.

I listened to the dispatcher rebroadcast my message. Help was on the way. Then she activated the tone alert system, triggering receivers in every State, County and City law enforcement agency within 50 miles, and repeated the message again. A LOT of fucking help was on the way. I could hear the concern and urgency in her voice but she kept her wits and started doing what she was trained to do. Dispatchers, like cops, learn to encapsule their emotions when the shit hits the fan. They become totally focused. The dispatch supervisor alternated with her on the radio. In this situation, all radio traffic on all channels is restricted to the emergency. The other dispatchers in the comm-center were making notifications by phone. Calling out the ambulance service, the various head honcos and different divisions of investigators.

I heard some whimpering from behind the counter. It was "Fred".

"'Fred', are you okay?"

"Y - y - y - yes."

"Are you hurt?"

"N - n - n - no."

"'Fred, listen to me. I want you to stay right where you are. Don't move. Please don't move. In a few minutes, there are going to be a whole shit pot full of very excited cops here. They don't know you and I don't want you getting shot by accident. Just stay there on the floor and keep your hands in plain sight. Okay?"

"O - o - okay."

While all this was going down, I was still sitting with my back braced against the wall, covering all access points to my position. The robber was right next to me. I reached over and checked for a pulse. There wasn't any. There also wasn't very much blood on the floor. That told me that he was probably dead when he hit the wall. If the heart isn't beating then there is no blood flow, just residual leakage from the wound as gravity pulls the blood down.

I could hear the sirens, lots of them, in the distance. Just like I had done before, I knew that every cop out there had their foot pressed as far down on the gas pedal as possible. The first car arrived within 10 minutes, followed by about 100 more in the ensuing 15 minutes. Every S.O. and P.D. car in my county and in the all the adjoining counties. And CHP from every part of the Bay Area. The smell of doughnuts and coffee was absolutely overwhelming.

I spent the next couple of days in the hospital, with one massive 6-inch bruise on my chest. Blunt force trauma. Investigators traipesing in and out of the room, doing the necessary follow-ups.

Turned out that the store had recently installed a video surveillence system. Very innovative for that time period. When the investigators played back the video, everything, all 3.5 seconds of it, had been captured on tape.

When they told me this, I was amazed. Time dilation had made that 3.5 seconds seem like twenty minutes.

When the papers ran the story, they opted to use the suspect's eighth grade school picture, even though the robber was actually in his late teens. A drug addict, looking to score some quick cash for another "fix". Lady luck called his bet that morning and he cashed out.

Our department required monthly weapons qualifying at the range. The next time I went there I brought along the coroner's report, showing where each of my shots had entered the suspects body. All four bullets had entered in the 'X-Ring". I asked the range master if I had to qualify that month, showing him the diagrams, and he laughed and said, "That was some mighty fine shooting. Couldn't ask for any better. Your next up on the line. Get your ass out there." Oh well. It was worth a try.

I got to listen to the comm-center recording of my "11-99" broadcast and was amazed at how calm I sounded. I sure didn't feel very calm when I made it. It was another example of focusing. You can't get help to you if you can't tell radio where you are at.

I was off duty for about a week and then did light duty (aka: shuffling paperwork in the office) for another month. "Fred" retired from the convenience store business and died a couple of years later. My department gave me a trinket to wear.

I never have had any nightmares about this, for which I am grateful. But here is a little secret, my bladder and bowels released when I was struck. That was very embarassing at the time but funny now. The only time I have ever had the shit scared out of me, literally.


Moonlight over Hawai'i

Early Morning


Front Street, Lahaina


Hamoa Beach

Hana Coast
Hana Coast

Honolua Bay

Lava Tunnel


Kula Sunset

"Let's all be careful out there!"


Gnightgirl said...

God, I started holding my breath at the title, and don't think I let it out until I was done reading.

Very scary. And amazing. And I'm so glad you're ok.

jeepgirl said...

Wil, you have lived one of my worst nightmares. I don't know if people told you this regularly when you were on the streets, but Thank You for everything that you have done to keep us safe.

jo said...

gnightgirl said...
God, I started holding my breath at the title, and don't think I let it out until I was done reading.

I know exactly how you feel - I was holding my breath too - for one moment I forgot that Wil, who is alive and kicking, was telling the story!

So exciting and very scary - I think I would have never have had a good night's sleep after that.

A policeman's job is not a happy one. Jo xx

Peggy said...

If it weren't for your body armor, how would all the drunks on Maui get home or tourists get back to the airport?

That was some very good action writing there Wil. I wish it were fiction. Thank GOD he hit your armor and not anything else.

FroneAmy said...

Wow. Just wow. Someone was certainly smiling on you that night. Although I do love to hear another story about how your training saved you in a quick situation. It's amazing what kicks in when adrenaline takes over. Glad everything went your way

Bobby said...

Thanks for the heads up. Glad it worked out okay for you.

Brent said...

I've had two incidents in my police career where things went bad. Once with a gun and once with a knife. I won't get into it here, but it certainly makes you grateful to go home at the end of your shift. I'm glad you're around to share your story.

Pierre-Leon said...

Amazing story ! I'm speechless...

Dogbait said...

Great scary story, mate. One less prick in the world to worry about. Thanks for letting us in on that frightening part of your life.

CharterJames said...

Every once in a while, you come to realize that a person you've been talking with is the Real McCoy.

Johnny Law said...

Wow amazing story! Glad you made it through okay. Don't worry about your bowels releasing. On Combat by David Grossman talks about that and it is acually a very common thing.

Your pictures are freaking wonderful!!

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