Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Get the Lead Out


Author of Police Procedure and Investigation, a Guide for Writers


I speak at a lot of writer’s conferences and workshops, and my topics are varied. I’ve conducted presentations about police procedure, CSI, DNA, the death penalty, executions, autopsies, and murder, to name a few.

No matter which topics I’m asked to cover, it never fails; someone is going to ask me something about a gun. Writers are fascinated with firearms. They ask: What kind of gun is issued to an FBI agent? Which gun did you carry? Do Glocks have safeties? Have you ever shot anyone? But no one ever asks about the proper way to carry a firearm. There is, after all, a right way and a wrong way to do this. I hope this little story from my past helps point out the difference. I call it Get the Lead Out…

Chasing a suspect through backyards, while dodging barking dogs and clotheslines, is a difficult enough task without the added weight of a handgun tucked into the rear waistband of your pants. In fact, carrying an unsecured, loaded weapon is quite dangerous, but some officers do it anyway—especially undercover officers. One of my former partners learned first-hand just how dangerous this foolish practice could be.

I remember the call well. It was a typical southern summer night, with humidity that felt like a light rain hanging in the air, and it was hot—sauna hot. The dispatcher gave the BOLO (Be On The Lookout) for a man who had just shot and killed another man during an argument over a card game. The suspect had fled on foot and, lo and behold, his last location was just four blocks from where I sat in a parking lot, in my unmarked police car discussing a case with my partner.

I acknowledged the radio transmission. Just as I replaced the microphone back into its holder, the shooter suddenly ran from behind a building and crossed the lot not ten feet from the passenger side of my car. My partner opened his door and immediately began to pursue the suspect on foot. I called in our location and ran in the direction I had last seen my partner. The alley where the two had gone ended at a three-foot-tall chain-link fence. As I hopped over, I heard my partner yell for the shooter to drop his weapon. There was no moon, and I couldn’t see either of the two men. I ran a couple of steps in the direction of my partner’s voice and heard a single gunshot. I stopped, called in a “shots-fired” call on my portable radio, and proceeded forward, although I was moving a lot slower now.

I didn’t want to call on the radio again, in case my partner had taken a position of cover. I stood still and listened. I heard two voices, talking, just ahead. I stepped into the backyard of a residence where I saw my partner lying on the ground, with the shooter kneeling beside him. Feeling pretty sure the man had shot my fellow officer, I ordered him to place both hands in the air. I moved into a position to handcuff the man and asked my partner if he was all right. He told me he had been shot, but not by the suspect. He said the suspect had come to his aid when he heard the gunshot. I was confused. Was there another shooter?

My partner explained how he had slipped his gun into the rear waistband of his jeans before he started the foot chase. He had reached a wooden fence and, when he tried to climb it, the gun fell inside his pants. He stopped, tried to fish out the weapon, and accidentally pulled the trigger, shooting himself in a place where the sun never shines. The shooting suspect thought, at first, that my partner had shot at him, so he stopped running and returned to surrender. When he saw the officer lying on the ground, he chose to try to help.

My partner received stitches, and he couldn’t sit for quite a while. He was also the “butt” of jokes for many years.

30 comments:

Joyce said...

Welcome to the blog!

Very funny story. I hope you put in a good word for the criminal who came back to help.

Tory said...

And I thought hemorrhoids were painful!

Great to have you on Working Stiffs, Lee.

Lee Lofland said...

We did put in a good word for the guy, but like my partner he still got it in the end...

Nancy said...

Okay, is it just me? Because people from the south find guns and their possession perfectly commonplace and even amusing. But I am so weirded out/panicked/terrified of a loaded gun that.....well, I think I have to pee. I'll be back later.

Jeez, Lee! I am stunned by the everyday bravery of police officers.

But it's great to see you here! Thanks for the guest blog, babycakes!

Annette said...

Lee, welcome to Working Stiffs.

I'm sorry to hear the criminal with the heart of gold didn't catch a break for his good Samaritan act. But at least he had a good story to tell to his cell mates!

Lee Lofland said...

Nancy, you're right. The way guns are thought of and handled in many areas of the south is much different than in other areas of the country. Owning a gun to some of those people is as commonplace as owning a television set is to others.

I could climb up on my soapbox here, but I won't. Gun control is the subject of another blog.

Lee Lofland said...

Gee, you can look at "Good Samaritan" act in two ways. If he hadn't just killed someone we wouldn't have been chasing him and my poor partner probably wouldn't have been forced to stand while eating for several weeks afterward.

Christa M. Miller said...

Ouch! I'm glad your partner ended up being OK. Our Explorer training officer told us a story about how a cop he knew became paralyzed after he fell backwards onto his handcuff case... which he always stashed in the small of his back.

You know, this is the kind of detail more writers need to ask about. It's hard to get in an interview - the person you're interviewing has to have a certain degree of trust in you first, and cops by and large don't - but it lends critical authenticity to cop characters in stories.

mike said...

Lee--great post. Thanks for insight into the real life on patrol. And, Nancy, it's not only a "southern" thing. My older brother, who learned all about guns while hunting on our farm in York County, espouses certain liberal political beliefs, yet when it comes to guns and their use and possession, he's NRA all the way.

Lee Lofland said...

I never thought about the danger of carrying handcuffs. I also carried mine in tucked inside my waistband at the small of my back.
The reason cops carry them there (even leather handcuff cases are positioned in the same spot) is to allow the officer easy access to her cuffs with either hand.

Please feel free to ask away, Christa. My email door is always open to fellow writers. I even answer a ton of questions for students all over the world.

It seems that various schools have found my website and refer their criminal justice students to me. I now have a fair amount of homework to do before I can go outside and play.

JanW said...

Not sure of the time change, so hopefully someone is still here. I'm an American who lives in Australia, and I can tell you, the perspective on guns in the hands of civilians is much different here. Our police are armed, but not the people other than crooks.

Joyce said...

Nancy, as much as I complain about the guys I work with, I wouldn't hesitate to put my life in their hands. They are brave--well, most of them anyway.

Just in the past week, there was an officer beaten up in Crafton, and an off-duty officer was shot in Pittsburgh. The off-duty officer had just dropped his girlfriend off and two guys came up to his car and tried to rob him at gunpoint. When he identified himself as a police officer and pulled his gun, he was shot. Fortunately, he's okay.

Lee Lofland said...

Mike, this little story is just a scratch on the surface of the daily life of a police officer ( I've got a million of them).

Also, you're right, the gun thing is not just a southern thing. People everywhere are quite passionate about guns and gun ownership.

After all, who doesn't need to own a .50 caliber, armor piercing pistol for target shooting?

Joyce said...

"After all, who doesn't need to own a .50 caliber, armor piercing pistol for target shooting?"

Hey! I was just going to get me one of those!

Lee Lofland said...

Hey Joyce, I'll bet you can ask each officer in your department if they think they're brave and you'll get the same answer every time - No. Facing danger is part of the job and you don't even think about just how dangerous a situation is until after it's over. You just do it.

Ask police officers who they think is brave and you'll probably hear them say firefighters and soldiers.

JanW - My compliments to Australia for a possible step in the right direction!

JanW said...

Lee, it's not all sweetness and light, but thank you. What is knife and machete crime like there?

Kristine said...

Welcome, Lee! It's so great to have you here as a guest blogger.

Fascinating insight into the life of the cops. I'll bet your partner's story would make for a great CSI episode (with all the details highly exaggerated and inaccurate, of course). As for your partner...OUCH!

Lee Lofland said...

Kristine, I don't know about CSI. Reno 911 maybe...

JanW - knife assaults are very commonplace in the U.S. In fact, I was stabbed on two different occasions and I was once cut across the palm of my hand while arresting a knife wiedling suspect. I got the knife and a few stiches, but at least I managed to introduce the &$#hole to my metal flashlight. They really "hit" it off.

Annette said...

I was using "Good Samaritan" in a tongue-in-cheek fashion. But from a writer's perspective, it does strike me as a break from the stereotypical criminal to have him come to the aid of an officer.

For years my husband (an avid hunter) has wanted to buy me a handgun and I'm torn. As a crime writer, I'm curious about them. As a practitioner of the yogic arts, I'm repelled by them. By nature, I'm terrified of them. I think I'd do better with a baseball bat. Or maybe one of Jan's machetes.

Lee Lofland said...

Annette. I knew what you meant and you're right, it isn't the norm and courts often do take things like that into consideration. It was a little hard for the judge to do that in this situation since the guy had just killed someone and was then running away from the police with the partially loaded murder weapon in his hand. He clearly heard the officer yelling for him to stop and only did so when he heard the gunshot.

sarahmc said...

Hi Lee -

I've joined late so perhaps your time is already up. I'm on PST here. You're right...you have a million great stories - I enjoyed every single one at No Crime Unpublished.

Lee Lofland said...

Gee Sarah, did I bore you with all one million of my stories in L.A. last weekend? Hmmm...perhaps I had one too many glasses of wine.

sarahmc said...

Oh good, you're still there. You're quite entertaining and it was a great way to wrap up the long day - the wine didn't hurt us either. And we didn't quite reach a million stories - maybe 999,999?

L.C.McCabe said...

Lee,

Nice post.

It reminds me of the 1977 movie "Fun with Dick and Jane" when the couple are about to pull off their first heist. George Segal puts a gun into the waistband of his trousers and Jane Fonda remarks that if it goes off, "you'll be going into this thing half-cocked."


Cheers!

Linda

Lee lofland said...

Linda, you never fail to make me laugh. It's good to hear from you. How are things in Harry Potter World?

Sarah - Only 999,999, huh? In that case, did I tell you about the time I...

Terrie Farley Moran said...

Hi Everyone.

Lee, that's a great story. Over this past weekend, I went with three other Sisters in Crime to a gun range to learn to shoot. (Research, people, research.)I just posted about the experience on www.womenofmystery.blogspot.com

Our teacher, Mike, did warn us against putting guns in the waistband. Guess he wasn't kidding.

Terrie

Lee lofland said...

Hi Terri. I couldn't have said it any better. In fact, I preach that very thing. Do your research before you write your stories and do NOT use TV and film as a source for that research. I spoke for SinC LA last weekend and if they learned nothing else from my CS I Don't Think So presentation, I hope they learned where to go for information.

Tory said...

Is this "right to tote big guns" a guy thing? As a psychotherapist, I'm just shy of an interpretation . . .

Lee Lofland said...

Gee, I guess we all have that right, it's just that bigger guns sometimes carry less ammunition leaving the intended target with fewer direct hits. And a missed target is an unhappy target.

Everyone should just be happy with the gun they bring home from the store.

Interpretation...

Joyce said...

"Everyone should just be happy with the gun they bring home from the store."

That's going to be my new motto.