By Gerry Goldshine
Prussian Field Marshal Helmuth von Moltke the Elder is to have said that, “…no battle plan survives contact with the enemy.” People are adaptive, innovative and unpredictable. As police officers, we train to expect the unexpected but at the same time it is human nature to rely on patterns of behavior. We think it likely that when we turn on our patrol car’s emergency lights to make a traffic stop, the driver is going to pull over and most do just that. When we hand a driver our pen to sign the citation, we anticipate they will comply rather that subject themselves to arrest. As an officer gains field experience, they develop skill in reading body language, watching facial expressions and listening to vocal inflections using them cues for when a person isn’t going along with “the plan”. However, even the most veteran officer can find there are times when they have done everything right and yet still be wrong.
I was helping another officer search a house for a woman, well known to us, who had a no-bail warrant for her arrest. In past encounters with her, usually involving public intoxication or possession of minor amounts of drugs, she had always been cooperative. After about thirty minutes, we found her in one of the bedrooms hidden beneath a four-foot high pile of dirty laundry. I offered to take her to the station and book her, because the other officer had a mountain of reports to complete. As I walked the
woman out to my patrol car, I kept one hand firmly gripped around the links of the handcuffs she wore behind her back. We chatted amicably about her situation; she talked about having difficulty getting into a rehab program. When we got to my car, I did another pat down search for any weapons and finding none, I opened the back door for her get inside. Standing next to the rear of the door, I let go of the cuffs and raised my other arm so that I could shield the top of her head from hitting the door frame, as I had done on countless other arrests. She had just about planted her derriere on the seat when she suddenly sprang back up. She was just small and flexible enough to duck under my arm and take off running with her arms still handcuffed behind her back.
Staring at her in disbelief, the first thought that went through my mind was, “Aw crap!” At the same time, I wondered how in the hell a 40 year-old man, in reasonably good shape but with two bad knees and wearing a cumbersome ballistic vest plus least 10 pounds of police gear, was going to catch this lithe twenty-something year old woman, sprinting as though she had just left the chocks at the Olympics. I took off after her, letting dispatch know that I was in foot pursuit in between gasps for breath. I rounded a corner just in time to see her execute a perfect “Fosbury Flop” into the back of a passing Chevy El Camino pickup. Fortunately, at least for me, the driver saw what was happening in his side mirror and immediately slammed on the brakes. I caught up before she was able to get completely out of the pickup bed, that task made difficult because her hands were still handcuffed behind her back. She apologized profusely for being “stupid” all the way back to my patrol car, while I tried to raise my oxygen levels back to some semblance of normalcy as nonchalantly as possible. I knew that I was in store for not only considerable ribbing from my fellow officers but more than likely, an ass-chewing from my bosses as well.
No sooner had I arrived at the station then I received the expected call, over the station’s public address system, to report to the sergeant’s office after I finished booking the prisoner. His first question to me was a simple, “Well?” I told him what had happened and after he digested it for a bit, he suggested we go out to my car so that he could better visualize what had happened. Along the way, the Lieutenant joined us and almost immediately began yelling at me about losing control of my prisoner. My sergeant cut in and explained the situation and we went going to see what I could do to prevent it from reoccurring. That seemed to mollify the Lieutenant for the moment.
I showed them how I got her into the back seat and the way in which she had made her escape. The Lieutenant proceeded to put me through a variety of different stances in front of the open door, most far removed from common practice and many more out of the realm of practicality. When it became apparent there was no simplistic solution, the Lieutenant glared at me and warned, “Don’t let this happen again or I’ll be writing you a reprimand!” With those sage words of wisdom, the Lieutenant stormed off back to the Watch Commander’s office.
My sergeant offered a more insightful analysis. He told me that while a larger person more than likely would not have gotten past me, perhaps my past experience with the woman caused me to anticipate one set of behaviors, missing the body language cues signaling a new set, namely that she was going to bolt. Then, with a slight grin, he added, “…but sometimes, despite our best efforts, shit happens.”
To coin another saying, “The best laid schemes of mice and men often go awry.”