Call Gone Sideways

Several years ago, while I was a patrol officer assigned to the North East Section of Vancouver called District Two, my partner and I responded to a call that ended up demonstrating how quickly a call for service can go from ‘routine’ to a ‘I-may-have-to-shoot-this-guy’ kind of call.

It was at the very end of our night shift, and the sun was rising over the eastern horizon.  We had just turned our patrol car towards the office, ready to go home, when dispatch advised a desk clerk from one of the rooming houses in the Downtown Eastside had called into 911.  The desk clerk reported having problems with two tenants, and the situation was escalating into a fight.  We forgot about going home, and raced to the rooming house, where another one-man police car was also pulling up.  The three of us ran up the steep staircase, ascending into the dark and gloomy foyer, where we were met by the frantic desk clerk.   

The desk clerk, his eyes huge and scared behind his glasses, pointed up the next flight of stairs, but not that we needed any direction.  From the area of the third floor came the sounds of screaming and a great battle.  Again, a sprint up the stairs brought us to another landing, on which a life and death struggle was playing out.  My instincts and training kicked in, and I was looking down the sights of my pistol without even realizing I had unholstered my weapon.

Directly in front of us were two men.  They were entwined, in an almost intimate embrace, but it was clear they were not lovers.  Between them and the focus of their fight, a knife danced in the light as one man tried to plunge the blade into the others neck.  Both were covered in blood, and the victim was screaming for help.  The man with the knife saw us, and immediately spun the victim, placing the victim between us and him.  The entire time, the knife jerked with the effort of both men.

There was a moment of the agonizing realization I was going to shoot the man with the knife, but with the victim as a human shield, I could not.  The suspect peeked out at me from over the victim’s shoulder, and with a final grunt, plunged the knife into the man’s collarbone.  The victim shrieked like a rabbit in a snare, and dropped to the ground.  The suspect pulled the knife free and started to take a step towards us, his eyes blazing out from his blood smeared face.  I could feel the tension in my finger as I started to pull the trigger back. At the same time, there was another shout, this time from behind me, and the suspect snapped his head to see who had yelled.  My partners timing was perfect – he delivered a blast of pepper spray directly into the suspect’s eyes. 

The next few seconds were a melee of tangled arms and legs as all three of us tackled the suspect and gained control of the knife.  Once the suspect was handcuffed, we tended to the victim.  His upper body was covered in stab wounds, and he was rushed away in an ambulance. Eventually, we found out that none of the injuries was life threatening.  The suspect, in the meantime, had been treated for the pepper spray (officially called ‘oleoresin capsicum’), and was taken to jail, where he was charged with multiple offences.

By the end of it, when I finally made it home, sleep was a long time coming as I replayed in my head how quickly the call had gone sideways. My mind kept coming back to the fact that for once, the pepper spray had worked on what we call a ‘goal oriented person’.  Usually, at least in my experience, ‘goal oriented people’ are not affected by the spray and are able to fight through it.  If the pepper spray had not worked, I’m sure the ending of the incident would have been much different.

Ultimately, this call is a good lesson to all of us in the policing world to never treat any incident as ‘routine’, because it might just be the call where you will be called into action.

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