On March 22, 2007, a police officer from Acworth, Georgia named James Van Alstine was shot in the chest at nearly point blank range with a 9mm bullet. Just days prior to the shooting, he was told it was going to happen — he was even told the place it would happen — but he didn’t know when. This deadly premonition statement was made not once, but twice, by two separate inmates tasked with cleaning Van Alstine’s squad car.
Van Alstine later described how one inmate had been looking with interest at the number displayed on the front of the vehicle as he washed the exterior of the car. “He turned and looked at me and said, ‘Oh, you must be Van Alstine.’ I said, ‘Yes sir.’ I had dealt with him through another arrest previously on a drug case. He said, ‘They’re gonna kill you on Baker Road’.”
Van Alstine chalked it up to the number of times he’d been threatened working narcotics. “In my years’ experience,” Van Alstine recounted, “this is one of those things drug dealers like to say to, kind of, intimidate officers.”
The Price of Success
Soon thereafter, another inmate came out to vacuum the interior of the car. “Within a few minutes as he walked around my car, he looked at the number on the side of my car and he started laughing,” Van Alstine explained. “I said, ‘What is so funny’?”
The inmate replied, “Oh, you’re Van Alstine — you’re a dead man.”
Van Alstine asked that second inmate to elaborate on this peculiar prediction and the subject told him, “With all the drug cases and all that you’ve been involved in, you’re touching a lot of peoples’ livelihoods and they’re fixin’ to shoot you up on Baker Road.”
On the next night, Officer Van Alstine was monitoring traffic when he spotted a red Honda Accord with its high-beam headlights on. Alstine pulled out and began to follow the offender, eventually turning onto Baker Grove Road, off of Baker Road, where those two inmates had foretold his impending murder.
Watch this remarkable interview with Officer James Van Alstine — conducted by the incomparable Dave Smith of the Street Survival Seminar and PoliceOne — and then resume reading below.
Will to Win: Jim Van Alstine
What Have We Learned?
Van Alstine himself offers the lesson that officers must be fit and ready for the kind of fight he had experienced — although not specifically mentioned in the above video, there was a protracted physical struggle between the Van Alstine and that drug dealer.
“Be physically fit and able to carry out your mental capacity in what you want to do, because without physical fitness you’re not going to be able to carry out the mental aspect of it,” Van Alstine said. “You need to stay in shape and don’t give yourself excuses not to be in the gym — not to work out and take care of yourself — because those are going to be the reasons why we lay you down.”
What else does that video tell us? For me — first, last, and always — James Van Alstine’s life-and-death encounter proves that if you’re ever struck by gunfire, keep on fighting, because the will to win is a potentially life-saving force. We know this from the experience of officers like the abovementioned James Van Alstine, Jared Reston, Marcus Young, and numerous others that down does not equal out, and that a police officer’s superior training and warrior spirit gives him or her a tremendous advantage over many would-be cop killers. Here are some other thoughts that came to mind for me as I watched Van Alstine’s story.
• Trust your gut — Van Alstine’s ‘sixth sense’ told him early on in the encounter that something was not right with that situation, particularly the body language of passenger and convicted felon Anthony King • Wear your vest — A press release issued by a well-known body armor company three months after the shooting quoted Van Alstine as saying that his vest “absolutely, without a doubt” saved his life • Take your shot — During the deadly struggle, Van Alstine put that assailant’s gun out of battery with his left hand, drew his own firearm with his right hand, and did what had to be done to end the threat
What else do you take away from this video? Add your own thoughts in the comments area below.
Stay safe my friends.
About the author
Doug Wyllie is Editor in Chief of PoliceOne, responsible for setting the editorial direction of the website and managing the planned editorial features by our roster of expert writers. An award-winning columnist — he is the 2014 Western Publishing Association "Maggie Award" winner in the category of Best Regularly Featured Digital Edition Column — Doug has authored more than 800 feature articles and tactical tips on a wide range of topics and trends that affect the law enforcement community. Doug is a member of International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA), an Associate Member of the California Peace Officers' Association (CPOA), and a member of the Public Safety Writers Association (PSWA). Even in his "spare" time, he is active in his support for the law enforcement community, contributing his time and talents toward police-related charitable events as well as participating in force-on-force training, search-and-rescue training, and other scenario-based training designed to prepare cops for the fight they face every day on the street.
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