Wednesday, April 08, 2009

A Dark Day in Pittsburgh

By Annette Dashofy


It’s been a very dark week in Pittsburgh. On Saturday morning, those of us who thought we were part of a relatively safe city learned there is no such thing.

In case you somehow managed to miss the news, three Pittsburgh Police officers were gunned down in the quiet neighborhood of Stanton Heights while responding to a domestic dispute call. The gunman, aware that his mother had phoned the police, armed himself with an AK-47, a long rifle, and a handgun and opened fire as the officers entered the house. A third officer who lived nearby and was returning home from his shift, came to their aid and was also shot and killed.

I don’t live in the city, but I spend a lot of time there. Since taking the Citizens’ Police Academy, I have felt a strong bond with the Pittsburgh Police. When I watched the news on Saturday, I felt sick. Heartbroken.

There have been mixed reports on one detail that struck a nerve and put me into a cold sweat. When the mother called 911 to ask the police to come to home and remove her son, the dispatcher asked her if there were guns in the house. At first, the report was she responded there were not. A later conflicting report stated that she did say her son had weapons inside. Either way, there’s some doubt as to whether the responding officers knew.

The day I went on my ride-along, one of our calls was for a domestic dispute. The mother wanted the officer to talk to her son and ask him to leave. The officer I was with asked her if there were weapons in the house.

She said there were not.

At the time, a little voice (call it fear, call it self-preservation) in my head wondered whether she should be believed. Would a mother, even one who was afraid of her son and wanted him gone, admit that he had guns?

So, I was there, entering an apartment right behind a Pittsburgh Police officer during a mother/son domestic dispute. Thankfully, in our case, the end results were much more peaceful.

But these brave men and women never know what they’re going to face. Times are tough. People are losing their jobs. Stress is at an all time high. All across the country, madness ensues.

Getting back to Pittsburgh…

We’ve never ever lost three officers in one day before. This is all horribly new to us. Many of us want to do something to show our support and our grief. Memorials have been set up and continue to grow at Police Headquarters, at the Zone 5 station, and even in front of that house in Stanton Heights. However a lot of us are at a loss as to what we can do.

On Monday, I received a phone call asking if I would be free to volunteer to help with color coding cars for the families for the memorial service tomorrow. As a Citizens’ Police Academy Alumni, I can do something that a police officer might ordinarily be doing, freeing that officer so he can attend the services of his fallen comrades. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so honored. Or humbled. It’s a miniscule thing, this offering of my time for a few hours, but it lets me feel that I’m contributing in some small way.

I don’t think any of my fellow CPA grads expected to be called into duty in quite this way. I hope we never have to do it again.

My thoughts and prayers go out to the family and friends of Officers Paul Sciullo III, Stephen Mayhle, and Eric Kelly. And to all the men and women in blue across this nation, who put their lives in harm’s way each and every day. You are all heroes.

17 comments:

Joyce said...

Amen to that.

Great post, Annette.

Annette said...

Thanks, Joyce.

Karen in Ohio said...

How awful that situation is, Annette. But it's good that you can do something to help, and I know that helps everyone involved.

They said on the news that the guy with the AK-47 was "afraid that Obama would take away his guns". So he decided to kill some cops? I'm sorry, but I truly do not think anyone in this country needs an automatic weapon. That's insane. The only reason for their existence is wholesale killing of human beings, period.

lisa curry said...

Last night on the news they played the mother's 911 call, and she did tell them, when asked, that her son possessed weapons but that he was not threatening her with them in this altercation. On the dispatch form, the question was something like, "Are weapons involved?" or some such thing, and the call taker entered NO, which I think is understandable, because according to the call, they weren't involved; they were just available. So now they are changing the dispatch form to ask not only if weapons are involved but also if they are available and if so, what are they. Meanwhile, they said on the news that this poor woman who took the 911 call, who just started working there in November, is devastated, and I feel as sorry for her as for anyone else involved in this tragedy.

Jennie Bentley said...

Amen. Wonderful post, Annette.

Annette said...

Lisa, I missed the news last night, so I haven't heard the recording. I feel horrible for that 911 call taker. I used to do some dispatching back in the days of the dinosaurs and I know you never want to be the one cog in the system that causes a breakdown. I hope they don't make a scapegoat of her. She'll beat herself up enough for everyone.

Annette said...

Karen, I've been hearing that, too. The idiot didn't exactly do a very good job of promoting his cause. Instead, he gave everyone a lot more ammunition (pun not intended) to push for more anti-gun laws.

Mark Best said...

Annette,

Beautifully written. Not enough can be done to honor the memory of those fallen three, or to honor the thousands of men and women who go out every day, for us, knowing they may have a similar experience.

Joyce said...

The call taker should have entered that there were weapons in the house. Instead, she typed in "no weapons." Even if she meant that no weapons were involved in this particular domestic, it's crucial that the officers know that weapons are available to the actor, whether or not they're being used at that particular time.

Here's a good article on this 911 slip-up:
http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/09097/961068-53.stm

Although the county says that call takers and dispatchers are adequately trained, when I worked at the PD, I heard some who should not have been dispatching calls. One in particular made some dangerous mistakes that could have resulted in a tragedy much like this one.

Joyce said...

For anyone who's interested, Lee Lofland has a post about this on The Graveyard Shift.

Kristine said...

Beautiful post and tribute, Annette. I'm still trying to make peace with what happened and come to grips with the violence that has erupted as of late. It's all very unsettling.

SZ said...

Sigh. It as a sad state of affairs that our country has come to this. At this point it seems best that all officers treat all calls as potential threat of guns. Not all callers may tell the dispatcher.

Sara said...

Really excellent post, Annette.

Donnell said...

Annette, I'm sure you and your fellow Citizens Academy graduates were a comfort to law enforcement during this tragedy. My prayers go out to the fallen officers and their families.

On my first ride along during a domestic dispute my sergeant told the deputies to take me away from the scene and stand back. Domestic violence, as you well know, is the most uncertain for law enforcement. I don't even know what else to say, but thank you for being their to support them

pabrown said...

Indeed a tragedy. And Oakland, and Los Angeles, and Alberta, and any place cops are killed in the line of duty. It's so good you could do that, Annette.

Wilfred Bereswill said...

This sad story just brings back the reality of it all like an icy slap. I just returned to St. Louis this afternoon and it's like I was in a fairytale land for a few weeks.

Thanks for thhe post Annette.

Annette said...

Welcome back, Will. At least you got to escape reality for a little while.