The other night I had an experience where I had to decide whether or not to shoot someone. I was sent to a business alarm in the middle of the night. Fortunately on this night I had a cover officer available and he was en route to back me up. I waited outside for him to arrive. As I was waiting I saw two people exit the property. I identified myself and told them to stop. They looked at me and ran. My back up officer was in the area about to arrive as I was chasing the two suspects. I identified myself again and yelled at them to stop and show me their hands. One of them did, and as she turned around with one hand up in the air, the other one was holding an elongated dark object the way one would hold a gun; and it was pointed at me.
What happened next was nothing short of amazing. Time seemed to slow down. My body started to react automatically. I stepped off-line as I drew my weapon. I yelled "Police! Drop the weapon!" I felt my arms punch out into my shooting platform and I watched as the object stayed in her hand. In my mind I saw my wife and children and as I obtained my front sight focus and placed my finger on the trigger the last thing that went through my mind was, "I am going home to them tonight."
As I began to take up the slack in the trigger I noticed a blurry dark object drop to the ground. My eyes sprinted to the suspect and I saw that she had dropped what had been in her hand. My finger let off the trigger and I ordered her to the ground. She immediately complied and I scanned and breathed. During my scan I saw that the other suspect was returning. I ordered him to the ground and he complied as well. My cover unit arrived and together we took the two into custody.
The dark object turned out to be an older cell phone. I asked her why she had pointed it at me and she only replied that she didn't know. Knowing what I now know of the suspect, I think she was so scared of being chased and then caught by the police that she had gone into mind-lock and just had frozen up. It was dark enough that it was hard for me to see exactly what the object was, but there was enough ambient light for me to be able to see how she was holding it.
The strangest thing about the whole incident was how comfortable I felt when it was happening. I actually felt relaxed. During the academy I read Lt. Col. Grossman's book, On Combat and I remember reading about this kind of thing, but I guess I never thought that it would happen to me. I never thought I would be comfortable in the heat of it.
I have gone over and over this event in my mind to figure out what I could have done better. How I could have waited longer or just radioed ahead their direction of travel. I guess I didn't expect them to stop. I got excited when I saw them leaving, they were so close to where I was waiting. But I am constantly being reminded that this job can be very unpredictable.
I am grateful for that automatic response. And I know who gave it to me. I am grateful to those men for the time and effort they put into preparing me for that moment when I had to make that decision. I am glad that I didn't have to squeeze that trigger, but I'm also glad for that final driving thought:
I am going home to them tonight.