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Columns : In My Sights

Going the Wrong Way

Everybody makes mistakes; the important thing is what you learn from them.

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

The really great thing about a career in law enforcement is all the exciting and wonderful experiences we get to have. Using Oscar Wilde's definition of "experience" as the name we give our mistakes, I have had a lot of "experiences."

Shortly after graduating from the academy, I was working mid-town on the graveyard shift doing my business checks when the "hot tone" went off and dispatch announced a 10-99, officer needs assistance, shots fired.

I screamed out of the alley heading to Speedway Boulevard with siren roaring. I knew that all I needed to do was get on Speedway, turn right, and I would be there in a minute. This I did without stopping at the stop sign and sliding very Hollywood-style sideways westbound onto the boulevard.

I can't express my surprise at seeing a parade of police cars screaming eastbound away from me. I had heard the street wrong. I was going the wrong way; I was never going to live this down…except…I had an idea! I took the first right and streaked around the block to join the parade going the right way within a few seconds.

Moments later a "Code Four," no further assistance needed, was broadcast, and the vast noisy parade of cars dispersed. I heard calls for Crime Scene Techs and a transport unit for a subject in custody, as well as an announcement that all officers were OK. What a relief. Our officers were OK and no one was the wiser about my mistake but me.

Next time I would get clarification; I would never do that again. I had been given a reprieve. I then began to inventory all the promises I had made to God if only we could keep this between us.

Then the voice of my sergeant came on my radio and commanded dispatch to have me meet him at the scene. Being a rookie, I suddenly had visions of a secret society of senior officers who secretly observed rookies, waiting for us to make big mistakes, with which they could mock us into insanity.

Such were my thoughts as I pulled up to the scene. The sergeant saw me arrive; walked toward me with an undercover officer I recognized as a legendary hard-ass. My God, they were going to double team me, I thought.

"Hey, Rookie, Joe is going to take you over to the scene with the Techs. He'll show you where the shooting went down and you get to diagram it while the Techs photograph it and gather the evidence."

I was undiscovered and I would learn about everything that went down right from the horse's mouth.

My list of prayed obligations had grown quite long by this time, and the rest of the night I would suddenly remember another one while meticulously drawing the best diagram I could of what had been a remarkable life-and-death struggle for one of my brothers.

As he took me through the alley where he had faced a gun in the darkness just minutes before, he expressed his disbelief that the suspect suddenly had a gun. He told me how he had leaped sideways and fired and friggin' missed, and what his pucker-factor had been. He talked to me of his mistakes in the moments of crisis, and I listened and expressed my admiration and wondered what I would have done. He had done well. He had made mistakes, but he had never given up. He was human; albeit, a damn brave one.

He was also, however, never ever going to find out I went the wrong way when he was calling for help and chasing an armed rapist who had pulled a gun on him in an alleyway.

Take it from me…Some mistakes are best kept between you and your God.

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