Robot B-9 Calling
By Gerry Goldshine
At one time or another, nearly everyone has had the experience of hearing that little voice in the back of their head warning them to be cautious in a potentially hazardous situation. Whether you call it intuition, premonition, déjà vu or ESP, many call it superstitious nonsense. Early in my law enforcement career, I had several veteran officers tell me never to ignore that little voice; more often than not, it was right. Having never experienced such a phenomenon, I dutifully tucked that guidance away with all the other useful tidbits of advice I had been acquiring.
Then, one Friday evening, Dispatch sent me to assist Officer Peggy near Cattleman’s Restaurant at the north end of town. She had stopped a pickup truck and the driver appeared to be intoxicated. When I arrived, she was administering a field sobriety test to a portly Hispanic man. Looking on from the passenger side of the truck was another Hispanic man, wearing a white cowboy hat. Our shift supervisor, Sgt. Jim, had arrived ahead of me and because he spoke fluent Spanish, was helping Officer Peggy by translating. I kept a watchful eye on the passenger as it became quickly apparent to us that the driver was extremely intoxicated. Finally, Sgt. Jim told the driver in Spanish, “Usted es arrestado por conducir ebrio.” When Officer Peggy went to handcuff him, the “fun” began.
In his drunken state, the driver’s machismo kicked in and no woman was going to arrest him. He was quite a bit taller than Officer Peggy but when he tried to pull away from her and resist, she scaled him like a veteran lumberjack climbing a giant Sequoia. In a flash, she brought him down to the ground with such consummate skill, I was tempted to yell, “Timber!” As Sergeant Jim and Officer Peggy fought and struggled to get the driver handcuffed, my natural inclination was to jump right in the fray and help.
That was, until I saw the passenger starting to ease out of the truck. I don’t know if it was the look in his eyes, the slow deliberate way he moved as he pushed the door open or that I couldn’t see both of his hands that abruptly put me on edge. The image of the “Lost In Space” robot suddenly formed in my mind, with him waving its arms, crying, “Danger! Danger, Will Robinson! Danger!” The hairs actually stood up on the back of my neck as Robot B-9 shouted a warning, “Watch the passenger!”
The vicious fight going on to my right faded from my attention as I focused in on the passenger’s intent. I pointed at him with my left index finger while my right tightly gripped the butt of my pistol. Using my best public safety Spanish, I ordered him to stay inside the truck and to put his hands on his head where I could see them; “Sentarse en el vehículo! Ponga sus manos en la cabeza. No se mueva o disparo!” At first, he seemed disinclined to abide that polite entreaty and ease out of the truck. Then his eyes widened when he saw my brand new Beretta 92 pointed right at his center of mass. He correctly deduced it would be better if he stayed in the truck. That still did not dissuade him from bending forward, making what police officers everywhere know as “furtive movements”. As if, I needed more to heighten my suspicions. When Sgt. Jim saw me pointing my pistol at the passenger in the car, he quickly requested some additional help.
Shortly after the additional officers arrived and joined the clash, they managed to take the misogynistic driver into custody. Then, exercising caution, Sgt. Jim and I ordered the passenger out at gunpoint. When he stumbled and did a face-plant, it was clear he was “muy borracho”, just as his friend had been. Finally, I searched the inside of the pick-up. Under the passenger’s seat, I found a .25 caliber semi-automatic pistol. The magazine was fully loaded, there was a round chambered and the hammer was cocked back, ready to fire. Naturally, we charged the passenger for possession of a loaded concealed weapon in a vehicle and the driver for allowing a loaded weapon in the passenger area of his truck.
So, was it supernatural prescience that triggered my imaginary Robot B-9 to shout his warnings? That would make for a good story, but no, it wasn’t. By that point in my career, I had participated in hundreds of DWI arrests; rarely did the driver become physically violent and resist arrest. If they did, it was because of issues beyond the DWI, such as having a suspended license, outstanding warrants, commission of another more serious crime or something in the car that they did not want found by law enforcement. Because of the driver’s combativeness, I reacted with greater suspicion. For a passenger to get out of the vehicle without one of us telling them, usually meant that they were either going to get involved in the altercation, were themselves wanted for a crime or warrants and were going to run or also had something in the vehicle they didn’t want us to find. The result was further cause for heightened awareness. That he moved with a deliberation that belied mere intoxication was yet more reason to be wary. Finally, I couldn’t see both of his hands and if there is one cardinal rule of officer safety it is “hands, hands and hands”.
I don’t think it was intuition but situational awareness that was the result of continuing training and experience, that had me ready to act. We were faced with two “danger zones”; Officer Peggy and Sgt. Jim were addressing one. My job was to address the other. While we could never prove that the passenger actually was holding the gun in his hand when he tried to get out of that pick-up truck, the fact remains, there was a pistol right under his seat, loaded and ready to go for a reason.
Over the ensuing years, there were other occasions when “Robot B-9” caught my attention and I never ignored him; “he” was always right.
Gerry was born in Providence, Rhode Island but raised in Southern California. Upon graduating from California State University, Los Angeles, Gerry enlisted in the Army and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant. After leaving active duty in 1979, he worked for Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office. From 1980 until his retirement in 1996, he was a patrol officer, traffic officer, and a trainer at Petaluma Police Department. Gerry is married, has a daughter and lives in Sonoma County, California. Gerry is a regular contributor to Just the Facts, Ma’am. Check in weekly or so to see his newest posts.