In 1987 I was one of three officers in a small north Texas town with a whopping eight hours Field Training and six months police work under my belt. I was working deep nights, a shift which started at 5 pm and ended at 5 am the next morning.
One warm summer night I was dispatched to a residence for a report of a disturbance. Dispatch advised the actor had left the scene which usually means there is no ongoing confrontation, a one officer response. That was good because in those days backup was usually 15 minutes away.
When I arrived at the residence the complainant was standing on the porch alone. The night sky was well lit by a planters moon so, along with his porch light, visibility was good. I parked my patrol unit, exited and spoke with John. John told me that Roy had been there most of the day and they had been playing cards and at some point got into an argument. John said the disagreement got pretty heated and Roy made some threats and left. John was a little worried. I understood.
Roy had been out of Texas Department of Corrections (TDC) only a week when I arrested him for assault. He had a reputation as a character who was without any. Before that year was over I would arrest Roy for Aggravated Robbery for which he would return to TDC. But, I digress.
I was standing in the front yard of John’s house taking the report when I heard him issue an expletive. I looked into his face and recognized the look of fear as he stared into the darkness behind me. I turned and caught a glimpse of a figure walking toward us. “It’s Roy”, John said flatly, almost resignedly. Then I recognized him as he walked into the area lit by a streetlight, about 40 yards from us. Roy had a way of bobbing from side to side when he walked. It was a distinctive gait that I had seen a number of times. This time it was a bit more pronounced because he had both hands behind his back as he walked. I could feel my muscles tense, my mind went to work, he had made threats, left angry, had a history of violence and now he is returning with both hands hidden behind his back.
I quickly assumed the requisite Modified Weaver stance, pointed at him with my left hand and put my right hand on my service revolver. “Roy, stop right there”, I ordered in a loud commanding voice. Unfazed, he drew closer. My thumb found the snap on my duty holster and I drew my revolver holding it at the “low ready”. I reissued my command. He remained unfazed. He was closer and still closing as I continued to repeat my command.
Suddenly, as he bobbed from side to side, I caught a glimpse of something shiny in his left hand. It was brief, a thousandth of a second, but unmistakable. He had something shiny in his left hand. The weapon in my own hand was shiny, a S&W Model 686 .357 magnum. Instantly, I raised my weapon, pointing it directly at center mass. My heart was pounding, my mind was racing, my finger moved from the side of the weapon to the trigger, awaiting the command to pull with six pounds of pressure. My field of vision narrowed, tunnel vision they call it.
Roy was now less than 15 yards away and still closing. I knew I had issued my last command, he was not responding to me and the die had been cast. This was not going to end well for one of us. It wasn’t going to be me. Suddenly, everything moved in slow motion. They call this “tachypsychia” and it often accompanies traumatic events.
It is impossible to fully explain to those who have never experienced what I am about to describe but, please understand what follows occurred in less than one second.
Roy is now approximately 25 feet from me when suddenly I see him draw his hands from behind his back. The slight glint I saw earlier is now a large shiny object from the reflection of the streetlights. He stretches both hands toward me and I realize it isn’t one hand holding something but both hands. I have no idea how it happened but, somehow I recognized something was wrong. The shape, the way he was holding out his hands… what was it?!
Then, instantly it registered. Roy wasn’t holding weapons in his hands. He was holding two “Silver Bullets”. Roy had returned with two cans of beer so he and his friend could make up. It had very nearly cost him his life… and me, my career.
The rest of my encounter that night is a blur. I scolded Roy for putting us both in that situation, finished my report and left. I really couldn’t tell you what all I said or did the rest of that night. But, I can still vividly recall that I shook uncontrollably for hours. I slept very little for the following weeks and I wept some as I continued to rehash the events, to search the “what-ifs” of that night. Events that took place within the span of 60 to 90 seconds. Events that almost ended in disaster.
I remember a song from the 1970s entitled, “Walk A Mile In My Shoes” which said something like this, “before you accuse, criticize or abuse, walk a mile in my shoes”.
Those who have never wore that badge will never understand the life and death decisions you and I have to make with regularity. It doesn’t make us better than them, just different. You, my brothers and sisters, are that “thin blue line” that society needs and loves to hate. You are faithful to your vow to “serve and protect” regardless of the opinion of the protected. You endure stupid jokes (“I saw you moving pretty fast, must’ve been a sale on donuts?”), idiotic statements (father speaking to young son at the café – “you better be good or that cop will take you to jail”) and boorish comments (“I pay your salary”). You hold back your anger while arresting a father who just molested his own daughter, or a drunk who just ran his car into a family killing them. And yes, you have to make a life and death decision in the blink of an eye, all the while knowing that the media will excoriate you, defense attorneys will bury you and your own department may repudiate you.
But, many of us do understand and there are probably more of us than you think. It seems the haters, the nay-sayers, the “nattering naybobs of negativity” are the ones that get all the attention but don’t be fooled my friends, there are more with you than against you. The key lies in tuning into those voices.
“John” and “Roy” are real. Their names were changed to protect the stupid.