I had checked off for my lunch break as Watch Commander at Taraval Police Station in San Francisco at about 1500 hrs and was recreationally shopping at the nearby Macy’s.
My westside district was chronically understaffed because, according to Police HQ, “nothing ever happened there.” As such, I had literally the largest geographic area of my City in this district, and virtually no one to handle calls for service on a depressingly regular basis.
I had my PIC belt radio on, set to a murmur level when I heard:
“Armed robbery in progress-ROSS store-1200 Sonestown Square, three assailants armed with knives and a possible handgun. Units to respond in the Taraval?”
I knew that there were only two cops and a supervisor working at that time, and that the ROSS store building was a classic target: Three blocks from a freeway entrance, multiple exits to the building, and a high volume of cash available on a shopping Saturday afternoon.
I heard both field units acknowledge the run, and irritatingly, did NOT hear their sergeant also chime in.
I told dispatch that I was suddenly back on duty and was about 30 seconds away from the front door to the ROSS store.
The ROSS store was shaped like a baseball diamond: Entrance at home plate, dressing rooms at 1st and 3rd base, with the office ($$$) in the rear where second base would be. Per the City Fire Code, there were exits everywhere, and the place was surrounded by crowded parking lots.
My guys arrived and set up properly on either side of the big glass main doors, while calling for more information from inside via police radio communications.
Still no supervisor responding, … hmmm.
I hit the Command Only radio channel and asked about the street sergeant’s status. My friend, Lorna of the deep and sexy radio voice, told me she had been pinging the supervisor with no response.
I called the station, and with a very “terse voice” told the on-duty station keeper to wake up the person in question, and to have her haul ass to the ROSS store.
Lorna went onto the general channel now to say that the store had been contacted, and that “it sounded like a major physical fight” was in progress.
Someone in the store suddenly hit the manually activated panic button, and when the klaxons and sirens began their discordant music, I told the perimeter cops to join me inside the store.
Note: I had NEVER subscribed to the “surround ‘em and talk them out” nonsense: Too many children and other innocents have died because of this doltish concept. Cops get paid to take intelligent risks, and I felt this was such a case.
I described my game plan: Cop Paul to 3rd base, Officer Stan to 1st base, and the old man (me) up the middle.
Lead by example.
We got into the store quietly. No gunfire (good), lots of yelling and painful screaming (bad).
Once clear of the bazillion clothing racks and advertising placards, we closed in on the office area, and saw several clerks in a corner being menaced by a guy with a clothes hanger in his hand (huh?), and another mope slapping around a better dressed older woman who had been semi-proned out over a counter.
Paul bellowed out the classic “Police-Don’t Move”!!!, while Stan closed in and pointed his very large service weapon at the head of Mr. Slapper.
Everyone froze for a couple of seconds, and then the two bad guys looked at each other with very unhappy faces, and slowly slumped to the floor like deflated air-mattresses.
Unseen to all, a third crook had been behind the counter, and he vaulted over it, while taking off like a halfback rushing up the center to a goal line.
Before I could move, he was 15 feet away from my position, and sprinting like mad towards the main door.
Because of the arrangement of the clothing racks, he was forced to zig and zag and not make a direct line to freedom. I however had a main aisle behind me. Paul and Stan had the office covered and stabilized, so I turned and made a beeline for the glass doors.
I could see my quarry based on the occasional head sightings and noisily knocked over clothing racks.
This was going to be more than a little interesting: 55 + wearing full body armor and only 25 minutes since lunch, chasing a scared 24-year-old in jeans and a tee shirt.
I was reminded of that classic Hollywood scene where a fleeing car was trying to make it over a set of railroad tracks before the barreling freight train got there.
In this case, happily the train won.
He broke from the cover of the sales floor just exactly as my headfirst tackle drove both of us into a pile of wire shopping carts and a bunch of 10-foot-tall heavy metal display racks.
By design, I had hit him slightly behind his right side, with my right fist on his thick black belt, while my left arm forced his head forcefully into the hard concrete and cheap tile floor. It was a good shock and force arrest technique, but it meant he was under me when the sudden metal avalanche crashed down and covered us both completely.
I’m told that Sergeant Louise took that moment to walk into the store, and “take charge” of the incident. I wouldn’t know the exact details until later because the wire shopping carts and pipe rack crash had dizzied me, and coincidently impaled me in several painful locations.
Stan and Paul’s guys cooperated almost happily after they saw their colleague being extracted from under a metal-scape landslide, semi-conscious and bleeding.
My arrestee was taken away by ambulance as per protocol, while interviews and photos were taken.
Paul: “Hey Lieutenant, you’re bleeding around your ear and right arm.”
Me: “Ask the Para’s for a band aid for me will you please’?”
Sgt Louise: “Hey Boss, no ambulances are available now, so I’ll take you to the E/R; You are leaking quite a bit.”
Fifteen minutes later, after I had a delicate (one-sided) conversation about monitoring radios, and field supervisor responsibilities, Sgt Louise dropped me off at the UCSF Emergency Room entrance, and then slunk back to the station to get the ROSS incident under better control.
I wasn’t parade-ground ready when I slumped on edge of the admitting desk and asked the wide-eyed candy-striper volunteer if she could rustle up a nurse and a gurney for me. I think the fact that my uniform was ripped and torn, with my star hanging at an odd angle, and that I was also actively venting type O negative blood onto her clipboard that finally got her attention.
Grizzled E/R Charge Nurse: “You, again?”
Me: “What can I say, I like your coffee.”
CN “What Rig brought you here? Where’s your paperwork?”
Me: “Self-admit – they were too busy with my latest customer.”
CN:” Black guy, dazed and confused, looks like a porcupine got to him?”
Me: “Same dude. Is he okay?”
CN: “Yeah; He’s a feisty one – woke up and fought the orderlies, so we four-pointed him, and I have one of our cops watching him.”
Me: “He’s got a felony attitude. Tough shit for him. How about my scuff marks here?”
I rolled up my right arm sleeve and didn’t like it much when I subsequently saw a 5-inch skin-rip bleeder in the crook of my arm.
CN: “That’s not so bad; I thought with your white hair and all that you were having a heart attack or a stroke. Sit down before you fall down.”
A gurney rolled up, and despite my attempts to downplay my condition, I was taken into the back for what would later be 24 stitches in various locations and a consult with a surgeon about my head lacerations and a possible concussion.
The coffee in the nurse’s lounge is still the best around, I’m just not sure about the door charge.