I saw the news about a law enforcement officer that shot a youngster who was armed with a replica pistol. My heart aches for the family of the youngster, for the officer that fired the shots and for their family. It reminded me of my close call with a youngster with a replica gun.
Immediately after the shooting their were howls of protest. On one side protestors scream about cops shooting kids that had toy, BB or airsoft replica guns. On the other were explanations from law enforcement officers and agencies that at times it is impossible to tell the difference between a real gun and these very realistic replicas. I’m not here to argue which side is right or wrong.
I’m here to tell you about a close call incident that I had as a police officer, with a very young teenager who was carrying a .45 caliber replica BB pistol.
There are those who weren’t there, who will happily and loudly tell everyone exactly what should have been done in these type of situations. They are wrong! From my experience I can attest to the fact that no one knows exactly what they would have done unless they were in the exact same position with all of the exact same circumstances.
Close Call – youngster armed with a replica pistol
I chose the photo above, because the incident that I’m going to describe happened in the alley on Park Heights Ave. It took place across the street from the world famous Pimlico Race Track. Pimlico is home to the 2nd leg of horse racing’s Triple Crown, the Preakness Stakes.
Once a year the city of Baltimore, the television companies and broadcasters do their best to hide the abject poverty and terribly high rate of violent crime that happen daily in the areas around Pimlico Race Track. The pistol in the photo is very similar in appearance to the replica the young man had on that day.
I can’t tell you exactly why I did not shoot that day
It was a sunny warm day around 1984 in Baltimore, Md. I was patrolling my post in a marked car and was in uniform. As I was approaching Park Heights ave, I looked in the alley that ran behind the street. I could see four young males, they appeared to be in their early teens and they were huddled around looking at something. This was an odd place and at a strange time and location for four young teens to be huddled and looking at something so intently. They were so focused on what they were looking at and talking about they didn’t notice my patrol car approaching at first.
Once it became apparent that I was driving towards them they started to turn in the opposite direction. I stopped my car near them and ordered them to stop as I exited the marked car. They did stop, (probably the first circumstance that prevented the use of force). As they began to turn towards me, I immediately saw that one of them, a youngster about 12-years-old, had what looked like a .45 caliber pistol in his right hand, dangling by his side.
As most would expect, I quickly drew my service weapon (we carried .38 caliber revolvers at the time) and ordered him to drop the weapon. He didn’t immediately drop the pistol, it was in his hand and was pointed somewhere between me and the ground. But it was not pointed directly at me.
He then yelled it is a BB pistol and dropped it on the ground. That single action probably saved his life that day. We were trained to double tap, meaning to shoot twice and then quickly assess if a threat was still present. We also had shooting drills that were called “six on the whistle,” which meant that we were to fire all six rounds and then reload as quickly as possible while maintaining a posture towards the threat. And at the point that he dropped the replica pistol I was fully prepared to fire if needed.
Here is what saved his life that day
First, he complied quickly. Second, he wasn’t in the commission of a crime.
Later at the station, when I had a chance to calm down I explained to him and his parent just how lucky he was to be alive and why. But I couldn’t answer specifically then or now, as to why I did not fire.
It was as simple and vague as this, under those exact same circumstances, the position of the pistol, his posture and a gut feeling, I hate to use that term, but it is accurate. My gut feeling was that my life was not being threatened, or to use the old legal term, I was not in fear for my life.
Contrary to what social media and news experts will say, no other factors came into consideration in the heat of the moment. There wasn’t enough time to consider anything more than my perception, and I didn’t feel threatened.
On that date, I’m sure that he understood that the outcome could have been much worse. I realize that kids his age don’t think the same way that adults do and don’t fully comprehend the consequences of their actions. But I hope that he realizes it today and I also hope that he is doing well and has a great life.
I remain extremely grateful that no one had to be injured, or worse that day. But, I also realize that it was a very close call.