No pictures this time, just a story that illustrates the need for situational awareness, the need for mental preparedness, considering how your actions look to others and something about not giving away an advantage.
In the days before cellular phones were common my friend Kevin and I were having pizza with our girlfriends in a bar off Pioneer Square. We had finished eating and in the course of after-dinner conversation I noticed a man with a nylon tactical bag in the parking lot across the street. He stopped at my girlfriend’s car, set the bag on the hood and knelt behind the car. Kevin looked to see what I was looking at and we exchanged a look. Our girlfriends sensed something was wrong and I explained, saying that Kevin and I would investigate. I flipped open my cell phone, dialed 911 and handed it to my girlfriend with the instruction to hit ‘send’ if anything bad happened.
At that time Kevin and I were pretty much of a piece, both 6’4″ and about 220, though we had different features and hair color. We were both veterans and moved athletically. We were both in nice casual clothes and had well trimmed goatees and ponytails.
The bar was on a street corner with the parking lot on the corner across from us. I quietly said ‘Laugh like I said something funny’ as we crossed the street and he did. I signaled Kevin to turn right on the sidewalk and then cut in. We exchanged cheery goodbyes before he turned right and I went straight.
The car was about twenty feet into the lot, and at the entrance I abruptly turned in, striding forward purposefully. Keven arrived 90 degrees away from the street side as the man stood up. He was medium height, solidly built, dark hair and mustache. jeans, flannel shirt and down vest. He saw me approaching, then caught Kevin out of the corner of his eye. I saw the look on his face. It said Oh God I’m screwed.
As I approached I extended a hand and with casual friendliness said, “Hi, I’m Mike Pearce.” There was a flash of relief on his face as he automatically took my hand. I gripped his hand firmly and stepped closer and the look of relief instantly morphed into sick realization. That look said I’m screwed and I just gave him my gun-hand.
Keeping his hand I said, still in a relaxed tone, “This is my girlfriend’s car, and we were sort of curious as to what you were doing.” Looking at me warily he raised his left hand slightly, then carefully used two fingers to pull back his down vest, exposing the badge clipped to his belt.
I released his hand and his relief returned. “I was wondering who had me boxed in!” he admitted. He went on to explain he was waiting for his ride and needed to change the batteries in his radio. He didn’t want people to see so he’d knelt down. At this point he was shaking a little from the adrenaline dump.
Kevin assumed a friendlier expression and moved closer. The poor officer was almost babbling from released tension, and I didn’t blame him. We chatted for a moment, then wished him a pleasant evening and started to move away. He finally said, “Who are you guys?”
I smiled and said we were just concerned citizens. Kevin and I returned to the bar and let the girls know everything was OK. After a few minutes a sedan pulled up, the officer got in and it rolled away.
Call it a Teachable Moment
His first assessment of the situation was correct: he was screwed. If we had been bad guys that wanted him we’d have had him. He was between cars; he could not move forward or back. If he moved left he would be fully in my fire lane. If he stayed where he was or went right he was in Kevin’s field of fire. Kevin and I were ninety degrees apart from him, we both had clear fields of fire and he could not engage both of us. Trying would have been very foolish; he had two alert, athletic men who were significantly larger than him who were already too close. We also pushed the pace of the encounter and kept him off-balance, giving him no time to panic and no leisure to come up with anything clever.
Fortunately for him we were not bad guys. Let’s look at some of his mistakes.
- He drew attention to himself by acting suspiciously. His actions in setting a his bag on the hood of a random car then kneeling was not within the bounds of expected actions. He could easily have waited for his ride and changed the batteries in the car. Instead his behavior stood out and provoked the incident.
- He compromised his situational awareness by engaging in an activity that required his full attention. He didn’t see the situation developing until it was too late.
- He allowed me to control him by giving me his strong-hand. It was a natural reaction, but if you don’t know what’s going on physical contact is a mistake. Once I had his hand Kevin could have gunned him down and there would have been nothing he could do.
He very much did something right though. He didn’t panic. Yes, we tried hard not to give him time to panic, but it’s still to his credit. Bear in mind we did not know who he was or what he was doing. If he’d panicked and tried to draw without identifying himself he’d have been shot. The next thing he did right was that once the situation developed he moved slowly and kept his hands in plain sight. He had no idea who we were or what was happening and he had no good options. Sometimes all you can do is wait for your moment. The situation resolved itself well before that moment came, which was very much the best thing for all of us.
There are more lessons here, but those are the high points. Most important is that if he had not acted suspiciously none of this would have happened. Had it occurred to him to think about how his actions would look to others he could have saved himself a lot of discomfort.
We all get distracted. I mean, we’re only human. Most of us occasionally act thoughtlessly. But if you are in a vulnerable situation you cannot afford it. This officer found himself in deadly peril because he wasn’t thinking, and he was damn lucky we were men of good will with no desire for violence.
Mindfulness is key, and situational awareness isn’t just paying attention to what’s going on around you; you need to pay attention to what’s going on in your brain as well and keep your head in the game. Bad people look for people that aren’t paying attention or are distracted. If you are surprised they get to control the encounter and you really do not want that.
Anyway, it’s just some food for thought. Stay safe and take care.
Michael Tinker Pearce, 12 may 2023
I’m a regular guy, former office dweller (never athletic in the least), a score of pounds overweight about 5′-9″, and geezerly. As such I credit paying attention for escaping every scrape I was never in. Those that I was in, ended very quickly because I luckily saw them coming and managed to get the upper hand.
Mike, your story is indeed a great object lesson, and hopefully the fellow, graciously referred to as a “poor officer”, learned something that day, and is not as stupidly oblivious today as he was then.