So mothers don’t cry…
The thing about guns is that they don’t always impress people.
I was in the NYPD Felony Warrant Squad, going to literally thousands of doors in those high-crime years of the 1980s. Most of the time we were seeking to arrest felons on bench warrants who did not appear on their court dates. We’d usually go to four, six, eight or more locations each day.
Every day it was just me and my partner knocking on those doors. We could request backup when we thought it necessary but most of the time we didn’t. If we all requested back up for subjects with violent histories we’d need the National Guard to back up all the teams at work in the five boroughs of NYC on any particular day.
Later, working with NYC Transit Police’s Warrant Squad, we routinely went with a team of four or six or more backup officers. The NYC Transit Police (now merged with NYPD) was a fully accredited Police Dept. the only accredited police department in the state of NY.
Transit cops working the subways had a particularly dangerous job when it came to confrontations. They worked basically alone and when push came to shove, literally, very bad things happened. One officer had his nightstick taken and was beaten almost to death, pieces of his skull pierced his brain and he lived a life seriously disabled thereafter.
My boss was Det. Lt. Jack Maple. He later became Deputy Police Commissioner and was integral in causing extraordinary gains in making the streets safer in NYC and America. He was adamant that the public and the defendant know it was the fully-backed-up Transit Police who were coming for them on a warrant and our attire reflected that. No two-man plainclothes teams.
Above, Transit Police Warrant Squad’s “unmarked” van.
Above: For a period of time we worked a Warrant Task Force with the Dept of Parole
Above, in heftier times
There was one particular period in the 1989 when a when Police Officer William Gunn of the 67 Pct. was shot in the head while walking up a Brooklyn stairway to question someone on a homicide. He was in a coma three years before he died. After that shooting Police Commissioner Benjamin Ward ordered that no officers enter a building on a warrant without the backup of an Emergency Service Unit (ESU).
Acting on that order, when executing a warrrant, we’d have to wait sometimes hours for backup to arrive. But we were backed up with officers carrying automatic weapons, shotguns and sometimes K-9 units. Each Warrant Team only visited one location per day, so that didn’t last long. It was just unfeasible with the amount of warrants generated in the City of NY. So after two weeks we went back to two man teams.
I’ve been retired 23 years, so compared to today’s equipment and procedures those days were pretty much the wild wild west. And sometimes those two-man team arrests were rather interesting.
We’d search an apartment or house looking for the individual named on the warrant. We’d find them in any number of places, most of them incredibly unimaginative, under beds, in closets, under a pile of clothes in closets. Sometimes in very creative places, under couch cushions, with people sitting on the cushions, in furniture cabinets, in a box spring, behind furnaces, inside walls or ceilings, or rolled up in a rug in an attic.
We did learn proper procedures in effecting arrests on warrants but when the writ hits the fan, things can get very bad very quickly. And proper procedure can be very ugly even when it’s proper.
Most of the time, when found, the defendant would come easily, sometimes not, sometimes very much not.
Through training and experience we’d learn that not all were impressed with a gun and shield. You’d have to have your gun out and ready in case you opened a closet and faced a felon with a knife or gun. But if he were unarmed you’d have to get him under control and under arrest. Sometimes they would resist that control and arrest.
I didn’t of course want to shoot an unarmed man and I’m sure no police officer goes to work with that intent. But I was aware that if a defendant overcame me I would likely suffer severe consequences, even death. All officers in such situations know they must win that fight.
I’ve had defendants say, “You’re going to have to kill me!” When that happens you have to get your gun secured while you fend off blows and kicks.
Some people at various points in their lives don’t care if they live or die. That’s just a fact. There are many possible reasons for that state of mind: drugs, mental illness, violent childhoods or bad choices. And fighting a man with a gun is perhaps the baddest of choices. Some even hope for suicide-by-cop.
I didn’t shoot any of these, “go-ahead-and-shoot” men but things could have turned out differently. I might have been forced to shoot an unarmed man. No one ever grabbed my gun but if one did and I felt I needed to shoot to keep it, I do believe I might have done so. Otherwise, they might have won the fight and you might be reading the words of another writer on your computer screen…the words, from prison, of the man who took my gun.
On one occasion a mom silently signaled that indeed her son was hiding in the apartment when we questioned her in the living room. She would show us where he was hiding. My partner signaled to me to stay by the door in case Mom was misleading us, I thought it was a bad idea. But I did go along with it.
I watched as she led him down the hall where they turned into the bedroom. I soon heard an, “Oh!” sound and as I began to run down the hall the defendant bolted down the hall toward me. He was coming fast and swung his fist at me, I hit him in the head with my radio which at that time was about the size of a brick. That stopped him but the radio broke open and the battery flew. That radio sure wasn’t going to be calling for help. We got the defendant to the floor with Mom circling and screaming but we got him cuffed and under arrest.
My partner later told me he had opened the closet door in that bedroom, gun in hand and the subject pushed him in the chest backwards. He said he tried to hold onto him and incredibly said, “I thought just for the second of putting my gun on the floor.” He couldn’t believe that idea went through his mind. But he didn’t make that fatal mistake.
One day on Valentine Ave in the Bronx I came upon an address where the wanted individual had a sister living in a basement apartment. His sister silently pointed to the hole in the ceiling above an arm chair. She was cooperating but didn’t want him to know that. The defendant refused to answer our calls to him to come down or even acknowledge his presence. At one point we pretended to leave to check the perimeter and in the silence afterward he asked his sister, “Are they gone?” Now having confirmation that he was in fact in the ceiling we called for back up and received ESU including a K- 9 unit. But after much searching and destruction it was determined that he was able to exit through a concealed back hatchway.
A couple of weeks later my partner and I spotted him coming out of another building nearby. He was well ahead of us as he fled down the street and into another building. We went up the five flights to the roof landing where had unscrewed the lightbulb. My partner was ahead of me with gun drawn, I had both hands free. He leapt at my partner in the darkness. We tried to get him under control blindly then dragged him down the steps to the next well-lit landing where he continued to fight.
A crowd was surrounding us from the nearby apartments as we struggled. We’d always get a subject rear cuffed when taking him into custody as per standard procedure but my partner was urging me, “Front cuff him, front cuff him!” as I had the defendant on his back and my cuffs in hand. I didn’t know why he was saying that but he sounded desperate and I knew the situation was bad.
I got the cuffs on one hand but as I tried to pull his other hand across his chest he bit down, one bite went clear to the bone of my index finger. But I did get the second cuff on and he was finally under control and under arrest. I was kept in the hospital for four days on intravenous meds to ward off serious infection from human bites, bites much more dangerous than those of a dog. It can result in finger amputation if not treated promptly.
A visiting boss to the hospital asked me, “Why didn’t you just hit him in the head with your gun?” I said, “I would be afraid it would have gone off.” I didn’t say, “Duh.” But cops did use that next-to-last resort at times. Of course doing so would result in newspaper captions, “Pistol Whipped Prisoner is Hospitalized.”
My partner later told me that he had urged me to “front cuff” quickly because in the adrenaline moment, on the dark landing, he had stuck his gun in the back pocket of his jeans. He feared that now while we were wrestling on the lower landing someone from the crowd could have grabbed it. I’m sure much of the above can be second guessed by many readers, police and civilian. Go to it. But bad stuff happens when you do police stuff enough times. It’s not always pretty. That’s just police life.
Sure, some Americans have been killed with police bullets when another method could have been employed. But sometimes other methods are not available. Time and technology have caused those shootings and other fatal force to decrease. But when police have to stop and interact with individuals the potential for disaster is always still there. Too many police officers, uniformed and plainclothes, are killed with bullets they loaded into their weapons themselves. Weapons we Americans authorize them to carry and use to protect us from those who would do us and our families serious harm.
The biting incident I spoke of was treated very lightly, a misdemeanor which was just lumped into the felony charges he already had in his warrants. So basically there was no punishment. The DA at the time said, “The officer wasn’t shot or stabbed.” so no felony in Bronx County. The attitude: “It’s just part of the job.”
Desperate and angry people can be ferocious in their response to police interaction or confrontation. A Transit cop who I car pooled with had to shoot a man who was attacking him with a metal rod. He told me, “He seemed to get more angry and kept coming at me even after I shot him.” Other lone Transit cops have had their guns taken from them were killed by them. And size doesn’t seem to matter:
NYC Transit Police.
Killed by his own weapon in service to you 2-28-70
P.O Irma Lozada
NYC Transit Police.
Killed by her own weapon in service to you.
Police officers are decent men and women who just want to do their jobs. They don’t go to work wanting to kill anyone. Most of us don’t read about the cops who overcome fierce resistance without the use of deadly force.They go unnoticed, unreported, uncared about until one turns deadly. Of course there are exceptions but in addition to training, I believe it’s instinctual for officers to use the least amount of force, sometimes to their very serious detriment of safety. Please recall: “I thought just for the second of putting my gun on the floor.”
Is it possible society encourages attacks on police by treating these attacks lightly? The word gets around on the street and the jails. It’s something to even brag about, “Nothing to lose in busting loose on a cop.” I wonder how many cop fighters went on to fight police officers again and again until they got the gun…and took his or her life.
Maybe that needs to change. Assaults on police are assaults on society and should be a real TABOO. Police Officers need to be considered inviolable. It needs to be known: If you assault a police officer you are doing mandatory time. The new word on the street would be out. That might stop or at least decrease these assaults and potential fatal encounters. Attacks on cops have to cease being, “just part of the job.”
Many of these attacks on cops are over relatively minor crimes, or infractions. There will be a day in court, the result could be a fine or a short time in jail. No one’s going to Abu Ghraib, and this is not the Islamic State.
I think we all can agree, Mothers do cry when these bullets fly. That’s the bottom line to take away from all of this. And it can be the mother of anyone: a cop, a citizen, a toddler in a stroller.
To whom it may concern: To stop these needless deaths…comply. Whether innocent or guilty…comply. If you think your arrest is racially motivated or otherwise unjust…comply. If you think you’ve been disrespected…comply. Complain later but right now…comply.
Are you less of a man because you comply? Was Martin Luther King less of a man because he complied? THAT was the manly thing to do. So…grow a pair.
Maybe it’s time for another chant besides, “Hands up, don’t shoot.” Maybe we can ALL say, “So mothers don’t cry…just comply”
Too many American citizens have died due to needless shootings. Too many young men have lost their lives through stupid and dangerous actions. Too many police officers died by the bullets they put into their guns in the service of all of us.
To save a life black or white, somebody please, stand up in Congress with hands behind back and say…“So mothers don’t cry…just comply.”