To say I screwed up would be putting it
mildly. It could have been much worse.
What if one of the residents had
responded to the break-in with a gun in
hand? That was about the only bad
thing that didn't happen. I scared the
hell out of a house full of people, and I
pointed my gun at a totally innocent man
not to mention looking stupid in the
process. True...everything I did was
done in good faith; although, I did it at
the wrong address.
Here's what you always have to
remember. Even though you do
something in good faith and it's wrong,
it's still wrong. In this instance, I was
pretty lucky. First, when the young man
heard the transmission on my radio, he
knew immediately that I had entered the
wrong home believing a police officer
needing assistance was inside. Second, I
didn't try to cover up my mistake, and
embarrassment, by being arrogant.
No...I simply apologized...and apologized.
A sincere apology can have amazing
effects. You hear a lot of people
complaining about their experiences with
police officers. While a lot of it is just
sour grapes, some of those complaints
will be legitimate. The young man on the
stairs certainly had good reason to be
upset with me, but this incident ended
with a young black man patting a young,
white police officer on the shoulder
saying, "It's okay officer. It's good to
know you'll come in that quick if
somebody needs you."
My amends didn't end with an apology. I
got the crew from the emergency vehicle
unit to put the door frame back together
as I suffered their humorous remarks
referring to the door frame as a jigsaw
puzzle. I filed the paperwork with the
city to have the door replaced, and I
followed up on the request succeeding in
having the door replaced in a record two
days. I had already decided that if the
city delayed on the replacement, I was
prepared to have it replaced at my own
expense. My sergeant thought the whole
thing was pretty amusing. Of course, he
did because he didn't have to write
anything since no occupants of the
house wished to file any complaint
regarding my mistake.
Remember, even when you act in good
faith, you can still make a mistake.
Remember this also -- when you're
wrong, you're wrong. If an apology is an
appropriate response, you should
apologize. While an apology may not be
accepted, it doesn't change the facts
regarding your good faith. Some police
officers have a really hard time with
admitting they're wrong about anything.
Those same police officers are usually
wrong frequently, and they collect a lot of
needless, and avoidable, complaints.
Technology has come a long way. You'll
be equipped with a portable radio
(walkie-talkie) with all kinds of channels,
so you'll be able to monitor or
communicate with just about anyone
within your department. It hasn't always
been that way. This is one of those
circumstances I mentioned.
As I patrolled by post during a midnight
shift, my radio came alive with a unique
alert tone. The tone announced a Signal
13 (officer needs asistance). The Signal
13 was the most serious request for
assistance when called in by the officer.
It simply meant..."HELP!" The alert tone
was followed by the citywide dispatcher,
"Signal 13 2020 Saint Paul Street, the
officer is calling it on himself."
Back to the radio. The Signal 13 came
from an officer assigned to a different
police district from mine. While my radio
could monitor three police districts, the
officer calling for help was not from one
of those districts. That circumstance
wasn't about to affect my response since
I was only four blocks away from him.
As I turned onto Saint Paul Street -- or
what I thought was Saint Paul Street -- I
immediately saw the address. The
numbers 2020 were displayed in one foot
high wooden block numbers. I could
have seen them even if the police
helicopter -- another circumstance --
hadn't been overhead illuminating the
front of the house with that million candle
I ran up to the front door -- which of
course was locked -- and began
pounding and announcing, "Police!" As I
pounded on the door, the alert tone
sounded again, and the citywide
dispatcher stated, "Signal 13 2020 Saint
Paul Street. The officer is still calling for
help." Except for the officers in the
helicopter, no other officers had yet
The house was a three story
brownstone, and the front door was big.
I mean it was big...a big solid oak door.
Had steps led to the door, as most in the
block did, I would have had a problem.
However, fortunately, or unfortunately in
this case, the house had a landing in
front of the door. My adrenaline was
pumping as I took a step backward while
focusing intently on the door just below
the handle as I prepared to kick in the
To this very day I can see that door
opening in slow motion with pieces of the
shattering door frame drifting through
the air as debris from an explosion might
appear. Anyway...I drew my revolver and
charged into the house. The house had
been subdivided into apartments, and I
found myself standing in a large foyer
with one apartment door to my right,
and a large spiral staircase leading to the
Almost immediately, the apartment door
to my right opened, and an elderly black
man emerged. At that instant, I heard
running footsteps on the staircase. I
wheeled around where I confronted a
young black man on the stairs. As I
brought my revolver to bear on the
young man, he froze in his tracks. I
shouted to him, "Where's the officer?"
The young man didn't respond, and I
repeated the question. Finally, the young
man answered, "What officer?"
Right after the young man's response,
the alert tone on my radio sounded again
followed by the dispatcher, "10-32,
10-32 2020 Saint Paul Street, sufficient
units are on the scene." It was at that
instant that the silence in that house did
As I lowered my revolver, my next
statement to the young man was
subdued, "Tell me this is Saint Paul
Street." The young man answered
haltingly, "No...officer...this is...Calvert
You're going to make plenty of mistakes
during your police career. Most will come
at the beginning, but you'll always be
susceptible to making a mistake here and
there. Of course, any you do make
should be minor in nature; however,
when it comes to any use of force, even
a minor mistake could have serious
You'll be entering a career like no other.
You'll be required to swing into action on
short notice, and information immediately
available to you will be limited.
Then...there are any number of
circumstances that could either aid or
confuse your response.
"To this very day I can see that door
opening in slow motion with pieces
of the shattering door frame drifting
through the air as debris from an
explosion might appear."
~ Barry M. Baker
|Copyright © 2017 Barry M. Baker