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Columns : In My Sights

Voices From Above

A life of crime can be really confusing sometimes.

January 01, 2008  |  by Dave Smith - Also by this author

"All right. Come out with your hands up, two cups of coffee, an auto freshener that says 'Capricorn,' and something with coconut on it!" —Chief Wiggum, "The Simpsons"

The thing about being a good burglar is that you have to know when to move and when to stay still. One of the really bad times to move is when a K-9 officer is using the pay phone in front of the building you are burgling.

It was a cold winter night in olden times when cell phones were only found in science fiction movies and Dick Tracy's wrist. Back then when a law enforcement officer needed to make a call, he or she would give dispatch the number of the nearest pay phone and wait for the call.

The pay phone in front of the convenience store rang that night and the deputy who was returning home late in the night from training with his furry partner answered and casually leaned against the phone staring off into space. Several moments later he noticed that the German Shepherd in the front seat of the patrol car was drooling and staring into the closed business. The deputy turned just as the burglar ducked behind the counter. Casually, the deputy advised the dispatcher to get the local crime fighters there ASAP as he had a burglary in progress.

Less than a mile away, my partner JW and I sat in an unmarked car watching some closed businesses on Speedway Boulevard. Tucson had been having a real rash of business burglaries, and we had been sent out in an unmarked unit so we could watch our business without giving our true identities away…Damn we felt covert! The hot tone and following burglary-in-progress code that went out put a thrill through the both of us and off we went with JW driving in his usual heart attack-inducing style.

With the dog and his partner securing the front of the store, we raced to the rear to block any escape. We found no point of entry; the back door was securely locked with no marks whatsoever. We then thought of the roof.

Since JW and I were so excited the veterans who arrived after us selflessly offered to let us climb onto the roof. Carefully, we worked our way onto the flat rooftop and saw the vent pried all the way back in the center of the business. With guns and flashlights drawn we peered down into the hole.

The perpetrator calmly stepped into our lights and looked up! "Get on the ground!" I screamed with great command presence and excitement.

"Keep your hands up!" roared JW with authority.

"Get on the ground!" I bellowed with great agitation and emotion. "Keep your hands up!" yelled JW with intensity from behind his flashlight and revolver.

"Get on the ground!" I yelled.

The thief was caught in mid-move, half crouched and his arms suspended about eye-level. We had brilliant lights blinding him while simultaneously giving him two very distinct commands. If he followed one, would the other one shoot him?

While we continued our very impressive display of command issuing and command presencing, the fellow decided to take his chances with the dog. He simply moved out of our sight, walked to the front of the store, unlocked the door, stepped out and got on his knees, and surrendered to the one cop there that could not give him confusing commands.

Today, JW is a chief and I make my living teaching such things as command presence. Um…so…we never speak of this event. But I like to think that somewhere there is a former felon who speaks to groups of young people on why they should not become criminals and about the night he heard voices from above that changed his life.

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