Watch Your Back

My last post illustrated how important it is to always be prepared for the unexpected.  Most officers I know engage in mental “what-if” scenarios, and this is a habit I hope all new officers get in to.

That said, when the unexpected DOES happen, it can still catch you by surprise, and it pays to have a cool head and a plan.

Shortly before my transfer to the Dog Squad, my partner and I were on patrol in the South East part of the city known as District 3.  As one of the District’s plainclothes cars, my partner and I were wearing civilian clothing and driving an unmarked police car.  We were not operating in a covert manner, as could be seen by the car we were driving – the unmarked car was a Crown Victoria.  Any crook worth his salt knew we were the police from a mile away. 

It was the middle of our shift and the middle of the night, and from what I remember, it had been busy shift.  Patrol units were scattered across the district and most were tied up on calls.  My partner and I headed south to grab a coffee during a lull in the action, and as we turned into our destination, a flurry of activity across the street caught our attention.

On the other side of the road was a closed gas station.  The entire lot was cast in shadows, with the nearby streetlights throwing just enough illumination into the lot so we could see two cars.  Four men were standing between the cars and were doing a hand off – their back and forth from the open trunks is what caught our attention.  Packages were exchanged from hand to hand, a small package for a large one.  The packages were placed into the open trunks of the cars, then all the men quickly got into their rides and raced out of the lot.

That, my friends, is called a clue.

My partner pulled into a u-turn and followed after the two cars.  One went straight east and the other took the Knight St Bridge – we stayed with the one on the bridge as I broadcast the description of the eastbound car so other units could go after it.

There were no other vehicles in sight as we followed the southbound car across the bridge deck, waiting for dispatch to advise on the status of the car.  My fingers flew over the keyboard on our computer trying to find any links to known criminals.  At that point, we were investigating suspicious behaviour, but we really did not have anything else to go on.

Both of us were intent on the car in front of us.  I never looked behind us, and I’m not sure it would have even registered in my partner’s mind if he had noticed headlights closing the distance in his rear view mirror.  This was about to be one of those times when the unexpected happens.

Bridgeport Road exit.  The car we were following glided onto the off ramp. 

Shell Road.  Left hand turn lane.  A red light.  Only our Crown Vic and the suspect wheels were at the intersection.  The civilian cars who had just been around us dissipated like smoke, like they knew something was about to happen and wanted no part of it.

By then we knew the occupants of the car had ties to some of our more prevalent criminal gangs. We were waiting for reinforcements.  We heard the sirens during the broadcasts of units coming to cover us.  We were on high alert.  And then it happened.

“Oh shit,” my partner muttered, looking in the rear view mirror.  At the same time, the side view mirror on my side of the car was filled with the high beams of an SUV coming up from behind us, very bright and very close.  My neck muscles tightened in anticipation of the contact with our rear bumper. 

The tail lights of the car in front of us suddenly flashed white as it backed up, closing the distance between the front of our car and the rear of theirs.

“Fuck,” my partner spat, and threw the car into reverse, trying to give us some space, a route of egress. 

We were being boxed in.   

“You take the front, I’ll take the back,” was all I said.  In an instant, even though we were still belted in our seats, our guns were out. I gave a quick broadcast on what was happening, that cover was Code Three. I dropped the mike. Belts unbuckled, hands on the doorhandles.  We were ready.

Then, in surreal slow-motion, the traffic light turned green.  The car in front of us rolled forward, creating a gap.  My partner took it.  We made the turn in a conga line, and the SUV behind us dropped back.  I tried but could not see the license plate, only a hazy description of the SUV through the glare of high beams.  My heartbeat was hammering in my throat.

Another turn, which the SUV did not make.  It slowly crawled through the intersection, dim faces like masks barely visible through side-window glass as the driver opted out of whatever situation had been about to unfold.  Perhaps it was not until they had us pinned did they realize our car was a police car.  But I don’t think so. They were trying to scare us, intimidate.  They have still not been identified.

We eventually conducted a stop of the car in front. The driver and the passenger were belligerent and hostile.  Bit part players in the drug trade with cash flow, fancy cars and an expedited pass to jail or an early grave on the first major slip-up.  They denied trying to box us in (and who were we kidding…they HAD boxed us), and denied even knowing we had been behind them.  A search did not uncover anything incriminating, only an empty satchel bag.

Later, on our return to Vancouver, my partner and I debriefed what had happened, about how the incident had been a real wake up call.  We discussed the likely possibility of the eastbound car having had all the loot, that the car we followed and the SUV had orchestrated the ballsy move of boxing us in to draw other officers from going after it. 

We didn’t relish that we had not seen the SUV coming, that we had, in essence, been sitting ducks.  We stayed calm, and we a plan, albeit a hastily planned one (you take the front, I’ll take the back), but it wasn’t a good feeling, given both my partner and I were always aware of our surroundings. 

It showed that no matter how alert you are, how well trained, or how ready you are to engage, sometimes a call can still catch you off guard.

Tags: , , ,

6 Responses to "Watch Your Back"

  • slamdunk says:
  • Raindog says:
  • Randy says:
  • Ian Pratt says:
  • Rose says:
  • copswife says: