Editor’s Note: The crew of CopBlue is pleased have LEO NEAR MISS as our partner. Law Enforcement Officer (LEO) Near Miss is a voluntary, non-disciplinary officer safety initiative that allows cops to read about and anonymously share stories of close calls or “near misses,” which provide lessons learned that can protect fellow officers in similar situations.
One article will be featured each month to share with the CopBlue family of Street Cops. We believe this is just another way that we can expand our effort to, ‘Save just ONE life.’ Please join us and welcome LEO Near Miss to the CopBlue family.
While on midnight shift patrol with my regular partner, I conducted a traffic stop in an urban area on a vehicle driving without headlights.
As soon as I walked up to the vehicle, I noticed about ½ an ounce of marijuana in plain view on the dashboard, which was seized.
The driver (and sole occupant) was driving the vehicle using adaptive controls. During the initial contact, he stated he was using adaptive controls because he was paralyzed from the waist down as the result of an unsolved shooting. He also stated there was a folding wheelchair visible in the backseat.
Ultimately, the subject was found to have an outstanding felony warrant for a probation violation with the underlying case being a weapons offense. In the interim, a second unit (solo officer) had arrived so there were now three officers to the one subject.
The warrant was confirmed, and I placed the subject under arrest. The question at hand was: How to transport a paraplegic suspect who uses a wheelchair to move and is wearing an adult diaper due to his condition?
This problem was magnified by the fact both units were unmarked, which were not caged. I decided on this course of action:
- Get him into his wheelchair first.
- Wheel him over to my unit.
- Hoist him in the front seat.
- Handcuff him in the front and
- Seatbelt him in.
I would have my partner sit directly behind him.
Although I have NEVER handcuffed anyone in the front before, we were going only a short distance to our station. I planned to process him there before taking him to the city jail. I figured with my partner sitting directly behind him and the subject having limited mobility, the risks were mitigated.
We helped him into his wheelchair and wheeled him over to our unit. To this point he had been cooperative; he knew the drill. But how do you search someone who can’t stand up? My partner had him lean forward in his chair and searched his back, then had him lean back and searched the area (waistband) accessible to his hands. We then helped him scoot into the front seat of the unit, where I handcuffed him and belted him in.
At that point something made me stop. I cannot quite put my finger on it, but I got the feeling that I needed to search the subject again. Again, this was my regular partner and he’s a squared-away officer; I trusted him with my life.
But some unknown feeling caused the hairs on the back of my neck to raise up.
I believe part of it was the situation being so unorthodox and part of it being the subject had grown really quiet. Either way, something just wasn’t quite right. I decided to search the subject again. As much as I did not want to search his adult diaper, I did it anyway and felt a hard object that didn’t belong.
This object was down along his upper thigh, inside the adult diaper, below his waistband. I asked him what it was. He didn’t say anything but stared straight ahead. Reaching in, I recovered a loaded .22 semi-automatic pistol. Where there is one gun, there are generally two, so I searched him again and found a second pistol, a loaded .380 semi-automatic.
Both guns had been reported stolen. In his sock, we found another ½ ounce of marijuana and a little over $1,700.00, mostly in twenty dollar bills.
My partner was extremely upset about the incident; I was not.
- I get it.
- Shit happens.
- I still trust him. This was a learning experience.
I figured the guy least likely to pose a threat to either of us was a paraplegic wearing an adult diaper who needed a wheelchair to get around. I had consciously noted several warning signs like:
- Dealer plates on a crappy car at 0203 hrs.
- Paraplegic from a prior shooting
- Probation violation for weapons offense
- Drugs in plain view.
I dismissed him as a serious threat due to his physical condition.
Using hindsight, I probably should have called for a marked/caged unit, but at the time, I didn’t want to tie-up a third unit. Having him sit up front made it easier for us to get him in the unit.
Honestly, if I’d put him behind a cage, I might not have searched him again. Regardless, I hope this is a cautionary tale to search and search again, and to never discount anyone as a threat.
Always rely on your instinct. If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t, so take precautions to protect yourself and fellow officers.
“Above all, it’s about going home at the end of the shift … “
We couldn’t agree more.
If you would like to read more stories like this one, please visit LEOnearmiss.org. We also ask that you consider sharing any near misses you have experienced. The five minutes you take to share your story can save the life of a brother or sister in blue.
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LEO Near Miss Overview
Law Enforcement Officer (LEO) Near Miss is a voluntary, non-disciplinary officer safety initiative that allows cops to read about and anonymously share stories of close calls or “near misses,” which provide lessons learned that can protect fellow officers in similar situations.
A near miss is defined as any incident that could have resulted in a law enforcement officer being seriously injured or killed if not for a fortunate break in the chain of events. Near misses oftentimes include contributing factors like hazardous conditions, subjects with concealed weapons, failed equipment, or lapses in situational awareness.
Regardless of the situation, they provide lessons learned, and reporting a near miss allows fellow officers to learn from these incidents so they can go home to their loved ones after every shift. Officers often share their near misses with their close friends, but rarely are these stories, and the lessons learned from them, shared with officers across the country. LEO Near Miss provides a secure way for cops to share this vital information.
LEO Near Miss is strictly for promoting peer learning and enhancing officer safety and wellness. Officers can visit LEOnearmiss.org or download the free smartphone app (LEO Near Miss), read the lessons learned from near misses experienced by other officers, and anonymously share their own near-miss experiences.
Near-miss stories submitted to LEO Near Miss go directly to the Police Foundation (www.PoliceFoundation.org), an independent, non-profit research and training organization that manages the system in partnership with other national organizations like Below 100, the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, the Officer Down Memorial Page, and the National Tactical Officers Association. Each story received undergoes a two-stage review process by current and former law enforcement to remove all personally identifying information (ensuring anonymity when published) and to highlight important takeaways for improving officer safety.
Once a story has finished the review process (about 7-10 days), any personally identifying information is permanently deleted from our records, and the story is made available for vetted law enforcement personnel to access on the LEO Near Miss website and smartphone app. Furthermore, no IP addresses are ever tracked or linked to any stories submitted to the system, and officers do not need to log in to submit a story.
Please support this critical officer safety initiative by reading and sharing the near-miss stories and lessons learned that your fellow officers have shared, and please consider sharing your own near-miss experiences at LEOnearmiss.org or through our free smartphone app. The five minutes you take to share your story can save the life of a brother or sister in blue.