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When Arrogance Beats Experience

Don’t let it happen to you.

August 01, 2000  |  by Officer Michael Wynn

After five years in law enforcement, I was feeling that I was on top of my game.  I had plenty of training and experience under my belt, and felt pretty good about my abilities and myself.  I had been periodically assigned to the Drug Unit, as a short-term undercover, conducting sell-bust operations.  So I was pretty confident when I joined my colleagues on a Saturday for another sell-bust crack cocaine operation.

When my partner and I got to our operational area, there wasn't a lot going on.  We weren't making any contacts.  I found myself feeling disappointed, having been so successful in previous operations.

After meeting with our backups, we decided to shut down the operation.  But we told them that if we stumbled across anything on the way back to our car, we would alert them.  Our backups radioed this plan to the other assigned units.

On the way back to the car, my partner and I literally walked into a drug deal between a dealer and two buyers in a car.  It appeared to be going bad.  My partner started transmitting our observations over the wire.  We got the vehicle description of the dealer.  I then had my partner ask our backups for another meeting at a new location.

What we didn't know at this point was that our close-in backups had never received out transmission requesting a second meeting.  Only one of the vehicle units assigned to us had remained on the street.  Everybody else was back in the station.

After a couple of minutes at the meeting location, the suspect vehicle from the previous deal drove by our corner and stopped.  Still confident that we had a full range of backup with us, I approached the car.  The female passenger told me that they had just been ripped off and that they wouldn't deal with me unless they could try it.  Wanting to give the other officers (still thinking they were listening) time to get into position, I stalled my negotiations.  While talking to the two buyers, a marked unit drove by.  I kept my cover by swearing and trying to walk away.  But the driver said he would park the car.  He pulled across the street into a dark parking lot with only one way out.  Great!

I approached the vehicle again and my partner, still transmitting information, moved to the rear of the car.  I completed the deal, stepped back from the car and gave my partner the buy signal.  He transmitted the arrest signal over the wire and we waited for the cavalry to arrive.

Then, the driver got out of the car, accusing me of selling him junk.  Frantically looking for my backup, I just told him to get back in the car. He climbed into the passenger side, while the female slid over to the driver's side.

Up to this point, I had relied on my training and experience to make this deal go down.  The arrest was going south, but I had the registration and the suspects' first names.  I could have disengaged.

This is when my experience KOed by my arrogance.  I had worked more than 40 operations in the last five years and had never let a perp just drive away.  Telling my partner that we would handle this, I pulled my badge from out of my pocket, cleared my clothing away from my firearm, walked up on the car and yelled, "Police!"  The female driver slammed the car into reverse, heading toward my partner.  I presented my weapon and ordered her to stop.  She managed to back the car out of the lot and got into the street.  My partner was yelling for our backups as I found myself standing in front of a moving vehicle.  No available cover and no planned escape route.  I had discarded all of the tactics and officer safety skills that I practiced and taught.

As the car started forward, I sidestepped out of its path.  As she backed up again, I realized I was now partially inside the diver's window.  Scenes from the Calibre Press video, Officer's Terror Ride, flashed through my mind.  The driver dropped the car back in gear and fled the scene.

When our backups did arrive, we found out about the missed meeting request.  There had been confusion over out actual location.  At the initial debriefing, it seemed that there was plenty of blame to be passed.

When the dust settled, I was left with bruises on my body, my ego and my reputation for sound judgment.  On the other hand, I had been lucky and had walked away.

I've had plenty of opportunity to reflect.  In a classic example of "tombstone courage," I had ignored sound tactics and pushed a lousy situation into a potentially deadly one.

That's what happens when your arrogance replaces your experience.

Patrolman Michael Wynn works with the Pittsfield (Mass.) Police Department.  This is his first contribution to POLICE.

Tags: Drug Enforcement, Drug Trafficking, Assaults on Officers, Training


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