For the past few decades, the POA Journal has run a column called “Close Encounters.” This column was championed by retired SFPD Lieutenant/DPT Director/POA Secretary Steve Johnson who was, and still is, never short on words. Steve made sure that the daily heroic actions performed by our members did not get summarily dismissed or disregarded as “oh well, that’s their job.” The POA proudly still runs this column, and I encourage all of our readers to take a look at it each and every month (See below).
In our profession, members throughout the country act compassionately and heroically hundreds upon hundreds of times each day. These acts rarely make the lead on the 6 o’clock news. The media is a business, and “if it bleeds it leads” or “if it isn’t sexy then it won’t sell.” Regardless, we know what we do and why we do it and it certainly is not for headlines.
Not to take anything away from the Close Encounters column, but I felt compelled to highlight two life or death incidents that happened just within the past few days. They frightfully demonstrate the perils of policing in our society, and how quickly officers must fight for their lives and/or for the lives of the public. The POA believes that these officers should be publicly acknowledged for their bravery but, as these incidents are still under investigation, I am withholding the names of the officers for now.
In the early morning hours of Sunday September 24th, a 9-1-1 call was received about a heated argument at an apartment on Salmon Street in the Central District. Units responded to the scene, and it was determined that a hostage situation had developed. A husband had barricaded himself in his apartment and was holding his wife and two children (11 and 5 years) at gunpoint. He threatened to kill them all. A perimeter was established, shelter in place was put into effect, evacuations were performed, and hostage negotiators were called out along with the Tactical Response Team.
After hours of negotiation, the suspect decided that he would no longer talk. He fired his gun, telling negotiators via cell phone that he had just shot his wife in the head. The time for negotiation was now over, and TAC did what they have been trained to do. They breached the barricaded door and confronted the armed suspect. Officers were forced to discharge their weapons to eliminate the threat and save the lives of the children.
Although the suspect had fired his weapon, fortunately his wife and children were unharmed. It was a bluff, and his taunting of police may have been a set up for a suicide-by-cop scenario. His wife and kids were clearly traumatized by the ordeal that the suspect had just put them through, and they received immediate medical treatment. A suspect’s life was lost due to his own violent actions, but three innocent lives were saved by the bravery of these TAC officers in an extremely tense, volatile, and highly charged situation.
Two days later, mid-afternoon on Tuesday, September 26th, a call was received at the San Francisco International Airport about a suspicious male walking in the roadway of Terminal One. The call seemed routine enough until the uniformed officer arrived at the scene and contacted the described individual. Before the officer could even gather basic and preliminary information, the suspect produced a knife and began repeatedly and viciously stabbing the officer. He was not wielding a mere “edged weapon” that the department media release described in its effort to down-play the seriousness of the situation. No, it absolutely was not! It was in fact a point-sharp, serrated knife that can instantly inflict fatal wounds when used by a slashing, stabbing assailant.
Within a split-second, the officer was in a hand-to-hand life or death struggle. He radioed for back up as he was fighting with the suspect who was slicing and cutting him. Although bleeding profusely from his wounds, the officer was able to subdue the assailant while at least one bystander ran to the police substation to summon help. Others came directly to the aid of the officer, and assisted in the disarming and detention of the suspect. The backup officers were quickly on the scene and the suspect was taken into custody.
The attacked officer required hospitalization and sustained major injuries that required numerous stitches. Thankfully, as of this writing, the officer has been discharged from the hospital and is at home recuperating. He fully intends to return to work and resume his duty as a peace officer.
While there are those who continue to buy into the false narrative about law enforcement officers — whether it be politicians, professional athletes, or the media — there is one thing that will always ring true:
We entered this profession to serve, protect, and make a positive difference for our communities and to our fellow man. We do not do it for the paycheck, or praise, or for the fleeting glory and fame. These are just two of thousands of violent encounters that prove the claim. The officers involved in these incidents did not seek to have their names out in the public. They just want to do the job for which they trained, and that fulfills their desire to serve us all. Like most public safety servants, they are dedicated, heroic, and modest.