Paul Ware was tired. It was past nine o'clock at night, work was looming in the morning, and already the Fort Worth police officer was exhausted. But then, the preceding 24-hour period had been a busy one: A drive-by the night before with daytime investigative follow-up, capped by an evening spent in northern Arlington doing the obligatory community training that came with his position as coordinator and K-9 trainer for a volunteer group of search-and-rescue canine handlers.
No rest for the wicked—or the good guys, either.
That's the way it seemed sometimes. But Ware comforted himself with the notion that his day was finally over, and he could make his way home to his house in the south central part of the city to hit the sack.
Turning southbound from Division Street onto Stadium Drive, Ware found himself facing an occupied train passing. With six vehicles occupying the left lane, Ware counted his blessings that only one was waiting in the right. He pulled in behind it. Maybe he'd still get home at a decent hour.
But if fortune had smiled on Ware, the grin had been one of a shining skull. For in coming to a stop in the shorter lane, Ware found himself abreast of a gold 1963 Chevy.
Inside, two young males were throwing and stacking gang signs in syncopation to gangsta rap. Less than enamored of the seismic beat that vibrated his truck and rattled his nerves, Ware rolled up his windows and turned up his own stereo in a frustrated bid to create an aural blockade.
Ware didn't like what his eyes were taking in either. He recognized the gyrating idiocies and malevolent stares of the men for what they were—the all too familiar M.O. of gangstas and wannabes committed to intimidating fellow commuters. Determined to deprive the two the notoriety they so desired, Ware fixed his attentions forward on the slow moving train that held him hostage.
Just a few more cars, he thought. And then I can make my turn and get on home.
The off-duty officer's mission suddenly became one of avoiding a confrontation if at all possible. But the same nascent concern that dictated avoidance recognized the dangers that came with belligerent types, and Ware couldn't suppress a protective glance at the Chevy.
That's when he noticed that the attentions of its occupants had shifted to him.
Ware might have appreciated the audio amnesty had either consideration or compassion prompted the occupants to turn down their stereo system. But he knew they only wanted to make sure he heard the hostilities the passenger was shouting at him.
Ware again looked forward, hiss sense of unease becoming profound with the realization that other vehicles had pulled in behind him and now blocked any possible exit. Meanwhile, the Chevy's passenger, Ronald Bickman, had rotated in his seat and was throwing gang signs at Ware.
Ware believed that people who played the part often were the part, and the gang signing was too much of a red flag for him to ignore. If the situation was about to go south, Ware had best be ready for it. His right hand gravitated to the briefcase on the passenger side of his truck. Sliding it toward himself, he retrieved his Smith & Wesson .45 caliber duty weapon from within and placed it on the front seat under his right leg.
Again, Ware looked forward at the train, relying on his peripheral vision to keep tabs on the idiots in the Chevy.
Only two more boxcars. Come on.
He glanced at the Chevy. The eighteen-year-old Bickman was leaning out the window, animatedly waving something in Ware's direction. There was no mistaking the object: a .380 semi-auto.
Rolling down his window part way, Ware held up both hands in a conciliatory gesture.
"I didn't say anything," he said. "And I don't want any trouble."
There are those—usually society's more predatory types—who routinely interpret extensions of respect as signs of weakness. Bickman proved no exception. His violent gesticulating escalated. Ware's supplicant hands lowered to his lap and his fingers gripped his duty weapon. Keeping the weapon out of sight below the visual plane of the window, he fixated on the suspect's .380.
For Ware, there would be no more pretense of train watching, no more attempts at sensory denial. From that point on, his attentions would never veer from the men in the Chevy. Not if he wanted to get home alive.
Bickman rotated in his seat and sat back down, his hands beginning to work in concert with one another. Ware recognized the orchestrated movements as consistent with the placement of a magazine into the well of a weapon. With the suspects' stereo turned down, Ware was able to hear the distinctive sound of the weapon's slide as Bickman racked a round.
And with that, the passenger door of the Chevy flew open and Bickman stepped out.
Point of No Return
Bickman stepped toward Ware's pickup and turned square with the driver's window. He raised his gun at Ware.
Ware turned and leaned back across the front seat of his truck, simultaneously elevating his own weapon. Bracing against the center armrest to get as much distance as he could between his face and the offending semi-auto, Ware fired three .45 cal rounds that flashed like meteors in the darkness of his truck.
Bickman dropped from view.
Ware sat up, not knowing if he had hit his assailant. The fragmented glass of Ware's driver's window was now held in place by the window's tint, obscuring everything beyond. Ware took a quick peek over the top of the shattered remnants of the window.
Bickman crawled toward the front of the vehicle with his hands out of view.
Flashing the Badge
Not wanting to be trapped inside of his truck where the driver of the Chevy could flank him, or where the downed Bickman could pepper his driver's door with more rounds, Ware exited the pickup. With his duty weapon at the ready position in his right hand and his clip-on Ft. Worth PD badge in his left for identification, Ware came around to the driver's side of the Chevy and ordered the driver out of the vehicle.
The driver's failure to comply led Ware to break the man's death grip from the steering wheel and drag him from the car, laying him face down in a prone position in the middle of the street.
Moving toward the front of the Chevy while covering the driver with his weapon, Ware checked on the injured Bickman's status.
Bickman had by now succeeded in wedging a sizable portion of his body beneath the front of the Chevy so only his left arm and leg were exposed. Ware ordered the man to stop and to show his hands, his alpha commands leaving no doubt as to his willingness to deposit more rounds in Bickman if he didn't get his hands out where he could see them. Finally, the suspect's hands came into full view, and he extricated himself from the crawlspace. Ware ordered Bickman to lie on the ground where he could maintain a vigil on both suspects.
A quick glance beneath the Chevy verified Bickman's assertion as to the .380's whereabouts. With the situation stabilized, Ware attempted to contact police dispatch for assistance. Finding radio traffic heavy, he insteqad dialed 911 on his mobile phone.
Ware reached Arlington Police dispatch and stated his situation and location, requesting assistance and an ambulance. When a marked Arlington Police unit arrived on the scene minutes later, Ware immediately identified himself and ordered the second suspect handcuffed before stepping back and releasing control of the situation to the on-duty officer.
Bickman was transported to a local hospital where he bled out and died.
As far as the criminal investigation went, the driver proved a good witness to the carjacking. As far as what he had to say on the home front, he proved an inveterate liar.
Perhaps predictably, the man, who was African-American, played the race card, telling relatives and friends of the decedent that Ware had precipitated the shooting with racial epithets.
What the driver didn't know was that Ware had been the first Neighborhood Patrol Officer in a Fort Worth neighborhood whose black community had come to know the officer first hand, and to appreciate him for the work that he had done in their community.
Having worked everything from drug houses with Ft. Worth Narcotics and DEA, to conducting gun buys with the ATF, to dealing with angry neighbors and high grass in the alleys, Ware had done much to reduce crime and improve the living conditions in one of the worst crime areas on the east side of Fort Worth. His efforts had not gone unnoticed, or unappreciated.
So when the community that had come to know and respect Officer Ware read the controversial headlines in the Fort Worth Star Telegram, Ware received support from where it counted: the Black community itself. Residents went out of their way to speak up on behalf of the officer.
Before long, even the newspaper and a local community activist had to acknowledge that it was Ware who'd been victimized, each making overtures to heal whatever negative impressions had been attached to Ware's image.
But Ware notes that the effects of the accusations reverberated elsewhere, with the department's use of Black Talon ammunition generating debate because of its name. While the ammo performed the way it was designed—maximum damage without over penetration—the racial stigma that'd been attached to it made its use politically unviable. The Fort Worth Police Department removed it from the approved list. Winchester subsequently renamed the ammunition Ranger SXT and changed the color from a black bullet to a gold one. It nonetheless remains the same bullet.
In retrospect, Ware is amazed at the body's capacity to shut down some systems to ensure that others can function more effectively, as was the case with his eyesight and mental thought processes. Hearing at that point was less important than seeing and reacting to the threat.
Ware has been asked why he stayed in the truck prior to the assault. He believes that he did not have a choice. Had he exited and confronted the suspect, the gun battle might have migrated up and down the line of cars waiting at the train crossing, exposing their occupants to incoming rounds.
Had he stayed in his truck after the shooting ensued, the suspect might have returned to his car where Ware's cover and tactical advantage would have been offset.
Through his training at Fort Worth PD and in the Air Force, Ware had learned to play what he called the "what if game." As Ware drove around in a patrol car or went from place to place in his vehicle, he would ask himself, "What would I do if I saw an assault, a major car accident, someone involved in a shooting, someone confronting me with a gun at a store or in my car?" Although it was only "What if?," it built a foundation that he could use when he needed it.
Ware may not have gotten home on time that night. But thanks to proper training, a prepared mindset, and sound tactics, he did get home in one piece.
WHAT WOULD YOU DO?
Put yourself in the shoes of Officer Paul Ware of the Fort Worth Police Department and answer the following questions:
- Paul Ware's anticipation of possibly being engaged by a suspect while off duty and in his vehicle factored into his coming out on top in the situation. What are some of the different situations and locations that you've considered as possible venues for attack?
- How accessible and ready are your firearms? How do you reconcile response readiness and family safety when it comes to 24/7 firearms availabilty?
- Ware was a true victim of circumstance. Where possible, some cops tailor their off-duty activities so as to minimize the likelihood of off-duty confrontations, scheduling bank runs and even trips to the movies so as to avoid confrontations. Have you felt the need to adjust any aspects of your off-duty lifestyle as a result of your profession?
- Would you have done anything differently than Officer Ware?