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Remember that you're included in "To Serve and Protect"

By Betsy Branter Smith

Recently, Bolingbrook, IL PD received a request from an employer to check on one of his workers, a local resident, who had not shown up for work and was unable to be contacted. The caller advised that the subject, later identified as a former Marine, had recently been having marital problems and the caller was concerned for his well being.

The call was dispatched 20 minutes later as a low priority call, with one officer dispatched, to “check the well being,” a typically routine call for any patrol officer in Anytown, USA.

After the first officer arrived and got no answer at the front door, he noticed some things that just didn’t add up and called for back up and a supervisor. The subject eventually came to the door, acting strangely and muttering something that sounds like “It’s a good day to die” before disappearing back inside, a large knife strapped to his leg. The smell of natural gas prompted the officers to set up a perimeter and call the fire department, and then settle in for a “routine” EDP situation. A few minutes later the suspect leaned out of an upstairs window with a 22 cal rifle and began to shoot at the responding personnel.

Ten hours, fifty cops (including two SWAT teams), and 150 rounds (mostly fired by the suspect) later, the suspect was taken into custody, wounded by police sniper fire but in otherwise good condition. No emergency personnel were injured but the pucker factor for at least half of the responding officers was pretty high for hours afterwards as they recalled .22 caliber rounds flying within inches of their skulls. All of this because they were doing what cops do, trying to help someone in need.

While most of us will admit that we love to drive fast, carry guns and put the scourge of society behind bars where they belong, we also do this job because cops love to help people. We love to be the savior, the hero, the good guy; whether it’s changing an elderly woman’s tire, delivering a baby in the back seat of a squad car, or finding a lost toddler, we love to care for our communities and the people in them. Cops really believe in that motto “To Serve and Protect,” and we do so with great enthusiasm but we need to “serve” our citizens while we “protect” ourselves, each other and the rest of the community.

When checking the well being of someone, whether you’ve been sent on a call, you’re being flagged down, or you happen upon someone who appears to need help, don’t allow your mindset to change from being alert to danger or criminal activity to “oh-my-gosh-I-gotta-help-this-guy!” Like firefighters and paramedics, cops are “first responders” but our mission tends to be very different from our cousins who drive the big red trucks and the ambulances. We may respond to a well being check to discover a homicide, a suicide, an EDP or someone intent on killing a cop.

In 2004, Marion County, FL Sheriff’s Deputy Brian Litz responded to a “routine” well-being check of an elderly man who lived alone in a retirement community. When the man refused to respond, Deputy Litz approached the house in a tactical manner to get a better look into the house while back up officers took cover positions nearby. The 74 year old EDP opened fire on the deputy without warning, killing him.

Palmer, Alaska Officer James Rowland Jr. (the only officer on duty at the time) stopped to check on a man slumped behind the wheel of a truck in May of 1999. During the ensuing struggle, Officer Palmer was fatally wounded, although he managed to return fire and wound the suspect.

Earlier that year, Atlanta, GA Officer Rusty Stalnaker stopped to help a motorist pushing a truck down the street. During a subsequent struggle, the man pulled out a handgun and shot Officer Stalnaker, killing him.

Law enforcement officers walk a delicate balance between saving life and potentially having to take it, and we may have to switch back and forth in a fraction of a second in any given situation. Dave Smith says “When we get these kinds of calls, the action we may have to take often lies in the hands of the very person whom we are rushing to aid.” Bolingbrook’s officers did just that. They were able to immediately transition their mindset, their mission, and their response from helping one citizen to protecting themselves, each other, and the community at large.

Cops do it every day, and we do it with gusto. Enjoy the adventure and stay safe!

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