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March 26, 1985, 0930: My wife was at work, I was the only one at home…just back from working the Graveyard Shift, lazing around the house, and the doorbell rang.

I slipped some pants on…went to the kitchen window and saw a car parked across the street. Two men were standing next to it talking…and looking around. I didn’t know them or their car.

Something about them made me stay at the window and watch longer. Then suddenly, they quit talking, crossed the street, and headed for my house.

I’m a cop; it didn’t take long to put this all together: they’re burglars and they’re going to hit my place. I went to our phone, called the station, identified myself, told the dispatcher what was going down, gave the descriptions, told them, ‘I need units fast’, hung up…and grabbed my .45.

Less than a minute had passed from the time the doorbell had rung; on-duty cops were on the way, I had taken up a position in the hallway, and next, I heard a “rap” at the back window, then two more, then the sound of breaking glass.

I’m here to tell you, my nerves were peaked. I had never planned out in my mind the actions I’d go through taking a crook down in my own home. On duty, I’d done it many times and, like any cop, played out all the different scenarios in my mind. That experience helped me (a lot) to concentrate but, still…this was my home. Everything felt like new ground to me.

A hand reached through the broken window, opened it, and a man climbed in. He went directly to the sliding glass door, opened it and, his partner slipped in. Now I had two, obviously experienced crooks, in my house. I was amazed how fast they worked.

My thinking time was over. I made my move. I stepped around the corner of the hallway, pointed my .45 at them and shouted, ‘On The Floor’.

The one who had come through the window hit the floor like a pancake. The second one ducked back out the sliding glass door and was gone. The one on the floor had a 12 inch screwdriver in his hand. A 12 inch stabber…wonderful!

‘Drop The Screwdriver’, I shouted. I crouched and inched toward him. He was still proned out. I grabbed the screwdriver shaft in my left hand. I didn’t want to shoot him. Through the whole thing, I didn’t want to shoot him. This was the lesson I’ll never forget; Hesitation? I’ll never repeat that mistake.

He had a death-grip on the screwdriver. I let go and stepped back. Again, I ordered him, ‘Drop it’. He replied; ‘I’m nervous. I can’t’. I shouted and warned, ‘I’m a cop, drop it or I’ll shoot’. He said; ‘I’ve got three friends outside.’ Then, he slowly got up, and from a crouch, faced me.

He was damned experienced. He sensed I didn’t want to shoot him. I backed up a few feet. What am I going to do? Should I shoot him? I was horribly torn between being a cop and knowing what I had to do to stay alive, and being off-duty, in my own home…like a citizen with a gun in a their home …not wanting to shoot someone. All this racing through my mind.

I was now backed into a corner in my home; both of us crouched, facing each other, ready for the others next move…8 feet apart. That this was happening in my home and I was handling it this way was surreal.

Then he made his move: from his crouch, half-shouting & growling, he lunged at me. He covered the 8 feet and was nose-to-nose with me in far less than a “second”. I blocked his first “stab” at me. I still didn’t want to shoot him. I moved my gun back to my side…still leveled on him.

Training instincts were taking over for me…I could feel myself moving into autopilot.

He brought his arm back to stab again. I felt a sudden concentration come over me…a rush in my mind to action. I still remember the thought that raced through me: ‘You had one try at me, you don’t get two’.

I fired one round. The blast was loud, but a little muffled…because we were touching each other. He didn’t go down. What-the-hell’s-wrong? I fired again. He went down hard.

I backed up and checked the sliding glass door; I was worried about his partner returning. The instant I turned my attention from him, he jumped up, leaped the few feet to the kitchen door, slammed it open, and ran right through the screen door. I chased him, but after about a half block, I turned back because cops would arrive in seconds and our crook was hit and would turn up in hospital soon enough. I would like to have been there and heard the “story” he gave the ER Nurses.

Later, that day, officers found him at a hospital with one .45 wound in his belly. My first shot had ricocheted off his belt buckle; my second entered next to his belly button, and went through him exiting at his butt. And, he still took off like a rabbit.

It was a close call for me. If I had not been trained for that kind of assault, I think he would have taken me out. Even with my training, I was nervous, and tense as hell. I made the obvious and serious mistake; I hesitated, and that gave him the chance to kill me. I feel more for citizens now. If a citizen had been in the same position and made the same mistake, I think they would have bought it.

I had a plan, but it was flawed. I knew exactly what I would do against a crook in a home…any building…on duty; that’s part of a cops training. My problem that morning was being in my home, I hadn’t planned that one out. I knew what I wanted to do and what I wanted to happen. But, I hadn’t decided what I would not do and would not let happen…in my own home. I hadn’t told myself, ‘Don’t get close to him…don’t let him back you up…don’t give him the chance and time he needs to get to you.’ And, maybe most important, don’t give him the time to plan his attack against you. Keeping the pressure on him helps keep it off you.

As a cop, you know from experience and training when you will shoot. A citizen better have that decision made too.

What Bob has changed: Looking back, I gave him the advantage and two opportunities to take me out. Never again. That morning changed me. My strategy is different now, I’ve got a new plan; it’s the same plan now when I’m off duty that I live by on duty: I don’t make it easy for someone to kill me. If I have to say to a man, ‘Drop The Weapon’…it better happen fast.

What Bob would do the same: I called the police first, and I’m a cop. If you have any time at all before it goes down, get the 911 call made. It doesn’t matter how well you’re armed nor how many there may be of you, get a back-up force headed to your location.

For training: In any crime of violence, but especially in a home, if you’re both armed, and if shooting erupts, the one who waited too long will likely not get a round off or does it with a bullet already in him. Police officers tend to shoot second. They’re not told to, but that mindset goes hand-in-hand with their first desire; to control the situation with an arrest, not a death. No private citizen in America has the level of self-control a cop learns in training and then exhibits everyday. But, for citizens facing life or death decisions and waiting too long (usually hoping someone will show up and intervene or the crook will have a change of heart), the odds quickly pile up against them and they are frequently one of the DOA’s when cops arrive. This may help too: the average distance of a real-life gunfight between cops & robbers in America is, 3-9 feet; the average distance of a shooting between citizens in their homes versus intruders is, 2-5 feet. For Officer Connaughy, it was inches.

The intruder got five years.

From Bob: ‘In those final seconds, with him so close I felt his breath…that’s when I finally quit trying to figure things out. The Academy Trainers were right, when the thinking time is over, you either fall back on your training, or wish you had some training.

 END