Last night I took a blast to the solar plexus from a sawed-off shotgun and lived to tell about it. The gun was wielded by a sweet-faced, motherly, Christian-looking woman in a Baptist-camp van. Who knew?
I never saw it coming. Oh, I saw the pistol hidden between her legs on the driver's seat. I thought I did all the right things.
"Show me your hands! Get out slowly!"
I watched her every move until is was too late. The pistol fell to the ground as she slid out, and I looked down at the muzzle of the shotgun pointed at my lower abdomen below the level of my imaginary Kevlar vest. I saw it all in slow motion in my mind as my femoral arteries were severed by the blast, and my life's blood drained out onto the highway.
I swore out loud a word that would shame my sainted mother as I realized I was dead.
The woman a volunteer training assistant for the Citizens Police Academy assured me, no, I had done the right thing. I looked down in my hand and realized I had drawn my pistol and had fired at her at the same time. I had taken down the perpetrator.
The instructor said my actions were correct, but I knew I failed because I hadn't lived.
As my hands began to shake, and I practically threw the weapon at the instructor to get it out of my hands, the instructor informed me that I was the first member of the groups to draw my weapon appropriately. (I hope he was just being nice.) He then explained all the alternatives of how we could have handled the situation to my partner, Bob. All I heard was a hum of white noise as my eyes welled up and the shaking in my hands traveled up my arms to my back like a wet dog after a bath. I furtively wiped away a tear telling myself, "Clarice Starling wouldn't have cried. Get a grip!"
And we moved to Stage II.
That was class No. 2 of a 12-week series put on as a joint project of the Arizona Department of Public Safety and the Payson Police Department. Average citizens get to see exactly what law enforcement officers go through everyday. The class is small and intimate. We are clerks, and cashiers, artists, nurses and retirees, as well as people who are wondering if a career in law enforcement is right for them.
The instructors are experienced, knowledgeable, patient officers of the DPS and Payson Police Department. They are amusing and down-to-earth, and serious about their craft. They all made it very clear that they face life or death each and every day. More than 3,700 traffic stops were made last year alone. Each had the potential to end like my training scenario did in death.
I learned many valuable lessons that night:
They do not pay law enforcement officers enough ever.
We need more video cameras for the patrol cars. I won't tell you how many we have, we just need more.
The people in law enforcement are incredible. They have self-control that I can only dream of.
At the fourth stage, long after the shooting incident, I participated in a simulated stop that involved a belligerent SOB who not only didn't have his driver's license, registration and proof of insurance, but wanted me to "fix it downtown." When he got in my face, I wanted to shoot him. (This is not allowed, apparently.) The ability of these men and women to keep their cool after such an event left me in awe.
This was one of the most moving experiences of my life. I will never look at a highway patrol officer out on a lonely stretch of Arizona the same way again. In a day when true heroes are packaged and polished with media finesse, these men and women are the true heroes.