The aftermath of a shooting and lessons learned
In Part 1 of this special series, Lt. Jim Glennon shared the details of a firefight that unexpectedly erupted following the trivial theft of an $8 bottle of Vodka. The incident would leave one officer shot, two others rattled and a series of survival lessons seared into each of their minds. In Part 2, Jim now shares those lessons so you, too, can benefit from them...
By Lt. Jim Glennon, Lombard, IL (ret.)
Part 2 of a 2-part series
The bullet that struck Jerry was a .38 cal. It entered in the shoulder area, traveled down his tricep and exited near the elbow. There is some nerve damage that so far causes problems with Jerry’s left hand.
The assailant was charged with three counts of attempted murder on police officers. He was legally intoxicated with an alcohol level that was more than twice the legal limit for drivers.
After the incident, Dave Smith, the lead instructor for the Calibre Press Street Survival program, and a good friend, asked me whether training issues were popping up in my mind while bullets were flying around my head. I initially looked at him as though he had grown a second head. I told him that training at that point was not a priority. However, a few moments later I admitted to him that several training issues did present themselves shortly after the incident was resolved. As I talked to those involved in the incident several issues presented themselves concerning training and reaction time. Those issues included the following:
- Perception of time
- Visual and auditory distortion
- Cover tactics
- Shooting practices
Perception of Time
I remember that from the time the retail theft suspect presented the gun and the time I made it to cover, time was moving very slowly. Not surprisingly it seemed as though we would never make it to the corner of the hallway. The end of the hallway never seemed to be getting closer no matter how hard I was trying to get there. I felt as though I was living one of my dreams where I’m running as fast as I can but I’m not going anywhere. In reality, I think we were moving down the hallway pretty quickly. Even with over 20 lbs. of equipment (vest, gun belt, etc.) strapped to our bodies.
However, once Jerry and I made it to cover, time, for me at least, was compressed. It moved at the speed of light. From a conscious perspective I am aware that many things happened between the reaching of cover and the arrival of the other officers. But it seems as though all of those things happened within several seconds, rather than in the many minutes they actually took in real time. I don’t remember waiting at all for back-up and medical assistance. It seemed like they were there in moments. When I mentioned this to Jerry and Joe several days later they were both surprised because to them it seemed like time stood still. Jerry told me that it took “forever” for back-up and the ambulance to arrive, and Joe agreed.
In retrospect, I now understand the differences in our perceptions. After we reached cover, I had a million things to do:
- I had to make contact with Joe.
- I had to assess the situation from many perspectives including that of the commanding officer of the shift.
- I attended to Jerry, grabbed his gun, found my gun in the hallway and attempted to assess how to end the fight.
- I called for SWAT.
- I shouted out orders to Joe about firing on the suspect.
- After the suspect dropped his weapon, I shouted orders, walked down the hall, assisted in the handcuffing and then once secure, I ran back to assist Jerry.
From Jerry and Joe’s perspective, they were in a waiting mode. Jerry was shot, bleeding significantly, in massive pain, unsure of the extent of his injuries or how much blood he was losing. In addition, he was sitting on the floor much of the time unaware of the assailant’s status. On top of all that I disappeared on him when I went to help Joe handcuff the offender. Joe, a young officer on solo patrol for less than two months, was stuck at the end of the hallway all alone with a gun-wielding maniac 20 feet away. These realities made for a long wait.
Visual and auditory distortion
During the Street Survival seminars the instructors often address the fact that during high stress incidents auditory exclusion and perceptual narrowing (tunnel vision) is very common. In my case, I definitely did experience perceptual narrowing. I fixated on the gun as it appeared in the doorway. Then I fixated on the end of the hallway as I was running towards it. Only Jerry falling down in the hallway diverted my attention from the cover I was seeking. But, if Jerry was directly beside me, instead of being slightly in front of me and on my left, I’m sure I would not have seen him go down.
My tunnel vision continued until the first time I thought about firing a round towards the shooter. I was forced to consider the peripheral area around my target. One thing in that peripheral area was my rookie officer.
Additionally, I heard every shot fired, and as I mentioned, they sounded like cannon blasts. I had no auditory exclusion. In fact, I remember being surprised at the number of shots fired. I counted more than six. It never dawned on me that some of those shots were coming from Joe who was retreating in the opposite direction of his two much older counterparts. His shots were behind me so I assumed they were from the suspect’s gun. I also heard Jerry say that he had been shot as he fell. Something Jerry doesn’t remember saying.
Fear and other emotional stages
Fear came later when my wife and son arrived at the hospital and when I went back to the hallway and saw the close quarters and the bullet holes in the walls. It hit me when my Chief and other officers said to me, “I don’t know how you weren’t hit,” and when two of my best friends and commanders of the Major Crimes Task Force for our county came to the station and hugged me. When I lay down in bed all alone for the first time after the incident and revisited the events in my mind, fear overcame me. I also experienced a deep sense of gratitude to my God for sparing all of our lives.
Aside from fear, I went through several other emotions at various stages — panic, determination, rage, guilt.
As the suspect pointed the gun at me I, without question, felt some sort of panic. This is evidenced by the fact that the first words out of my highly trained mouth were, “Oh Shit! Gun!” upon spotting the revolver pointed in my direction. (Both the officers present heard “Gun”, but not “Oh Shit!”)
During my 75-foot sprint to safety, I felt determination. I remember thinking that nothing was going to stop me from getting around that corner.
After we had the suspect on the ground I felt absolute rage. This person pulled a gun my officers and me, and he shot Jerry. Jerry is a father. He has a family and friends, and this miscreant was ready to cancel out this officer’s life because of what? A bottle of vodka!
After he was cuffed I felt guilt. I felt like I failed my officers. Somehow I figured I must be responsible for Jerry getting shot. It overwhelmed me, no matter what the reality. That feeling subsided somewhat when I walked into Jerry’s room in the ER.
As I made eye contact with him, and before I could say a word, he looked at me and said, “It’s not your fault. I know you and you need to stop blaming yourself. You didn’t do anything wrong.”
Well he did know me and he was right about what I was doing to myself. Jerry’s remarks, unsolicited, brought me to tears, but they also relieved my sense of guilt. I will never forget those words and Jerry’s gesture for as long as I live.
"Sometimes it just ain’t there,” Dave Smith said to me. “You can’t pull a gun out every time you knock on a door."
Dave pointed out that the suspect was 55 years old, had no history of violence, and stole an $8 bottle of Vodka. Cover was 75 feet away. We used the walls while we knocked and avoided the inside position of the apartment door. Other than avoiding the situation altogether, there was not much more we could do except seek cover and target the assailant.
Cover and distance is what we train for and is our first thought. To stand there and try to out-draw a trigger squeeze would have been a fatal mistake. This guy presented a gun with his finger on the trigger and immediately started firing. We were two feet away, and to try to pull your gun out and stand your ground in this instance would have been virtual suicide. The Street Survival seminar includes countless videos of officers who didn’t seek cover and try to target their assailant only to create a better target for their attacker and ultimately lose the gun fight.
Training in a realistic manner is essential
As stated in last week’s article, always remember your “When/Then” thinking! Because it’s not a matter of “IF” something’s going to go down; it’s a matter of “WHEN”.
People will choose to kill you for the most ridiculous reasons. Sometimes they will choose to kill you for no reason at all. Our shooter was mad because we “wouldn’t stop knocking” on his door.
Keeping officer safety a TOP PRIORITY is imperative. This type of training should be a top priority for all police managers. But it is up to individual officers to prepare, mentally and physically. It is up to the line level law enforcement officers to take fate out of the equation by preparing for and expecting the unexpected.
Talk to other officers about cover. Talk about shooting through drywall and car doors rather than waiting for the proverbial “target” to face you. Discuss the realities of losing your gun, clearing a stovepipe, getting shot, and being stuck 75’ from cover, but most of all decide. Decide that you will WIN. Decide that you will prevail. Decide that it is up to you to do what is necessary mentally to prepare for the certain eventuality of the “WHEN”.
What mistakes did I make? Several as a matter of fact. Here are a few.
- I forgot that I had a working radio when trying to make contact with Joe at the end of the hallway 100 feet away. I was using it to talk to units not on the scene, but for some reason it never dawned on me to use it in communicating with Joe when I was trying to tell him to shoot the assailant. Perhaps it was because I had a visual on Joe. Perhaps it’s because I wanted to be as hands on as I could. I don’t know.
- I dropped my gun. No two ways about it. I dropped it when I was assisting Jerry on getting to his feet. And I have no recollection of dropping it. I only realized it as I went to check on the subject.
- I had no back-up gun. No excuse other than I’m a Lt. and stopped carrying a back-up years ago. I’ve heard the arguments, pro and con for carrying a back-up. It’s unquestionably a personal choice, but a thought process needs to be in place concerning the potential for losing your primary weapon.
- Radio traffic. Listening to my radio traffic later was almost embarrassing. My voice went up several octaves and I talked too fast. I didn’t hear questions from dispatch and didn’t respond when called for information.
The original article for this came out on the Calibre Press website last year as this incident actually occurred in September of 2004. I received many emails from readers. Most supportive and grateful for the sharing of the story. Many officers in turn, shared their own stories with me. I am very honored that people involved in their own incidents felt comfortable enough to recount their own experiences. In addition, I have had tremendous feedback from those who attend the Street Survival Seminar.
A few of the emails I received were quite critical. I was berated for not carrying a back-up weapon. One reader pointed out that officers should never turn and run they should “tactically retreat” (back-up and fire at the subject- though I advised him that I fell down running forward, running backwards I probably would have stayed on my feet for about three seconds). I even had one officer tell me I failed when I left Joe down at the end of the hallway and that I was a coward. I appreciate all of those emails though emotionally they were uncomfortable to read.
But most importantly I appreciate the officers who were involved in this incident — Joe and Jerry especially, but also the dozens of officers who responded unflinchingly to a dangerous and confusing situation in order to help us out. . .one of the reasons I consider law enforcement to be one of the noblest of professions.