To say I screwed up would be putting it mildly. It
could have been much worse. What if one of the
residents had responded to the break-in with a gun
in hand? That was about the only bad thing that
didn't happen. I scared the hell out of a house full
of people, and I pointed my gun at a totally
innocent man not to mention looking stupid in the
process. True...everything I did was done in good
faith; although, I did it at the wrong address.
Here's what you always have to remember. Even
though you do something in good faith and it's
wrong, it's still wrong. In this instance, I was pretty
lucky. First, when the young man heard the
transmission on my radio, he knew immediately that
I had entered the wrong home believing a police
officer needing assistance was inside. Second, I
didn't try to cover up my mistake, and
embarrassment, by being arrogant. No...I simply
A sincere apology can have amazing effects. You
hear a lot of people complaining about their
experiences with police officers. While a lot of it is
just sour grapes, some of those complaints will be
legitimate. The young man on the stairs certainly
had good reason to be upset with me, but this
incident ended with a young black man patting a
young, white police officer on the shoulder saying,
"It's okay officer. It's good to know you'll come in
that quick if somebody needs you."
My amends didn't end with an apology. I got the
crew from the emergency vehicle unit to put the
door frame back together as I suffered their
humorous remarks referring to the door frame as a
jigsaw puzzle. I filed the paperwork with the city to
have the door replaced, and I followed up on the
request succeeding in having the door replaced in a
record two days. I had already decided that if the
city delayed on the replacement, I was prepared to
have it replaced at my own expense. My sergeant
thought the whole thing was pretty amusing. Of
course, he did because he didn't have to write
anything since no occupants of the house wished to
file any complaint regarding my mistake.
Remember, even when you act in good faith, you
can still make a mistake. Remember this also --
when you're wrong, you're wrong. If an apology is
an appropriate response, you should apologize.
While an apology may not be accepted, it doesn't
change the facts regarding your good faith. Some
police officers have a really hard time with admitting
they're wrong about anything. Those same police
officers are usually wrong frequently, and they
collect a lot of needless, and avoidable, complaints.
Technology has come a long way. You'll be
equipped with a portable radio (walkie-talkie) with
all kinds of channels, so you'll be able to monitor or
communicate with just about anyone within your
department. It hasn't always been that way. This
is one of those circumstances I mentioned.
As I patrolled by post during a midnight shift, my
radio came alive with a unique alert tone. The tone
announced a Signal 13 (officer needs asistance).
The Signal 13 was the most serious request for
assistance when called in by the officer. It simply
meant..."HELP!" The alert tone was followed by the
citywide dispatcher, "Signal 13 2020 Saint Paul
Street, the officer is calling it on himself."
Back to the radio. The Signal 13 came from an
officer assigned to a different police district from
mine. While my radio could monitor three police
districts, the officer calling for help was not from
one of those districts. That circumstance wasn't
about to affect my response since I was only four
blocks away from him.
As I turned onto Saint Paul Street -- or what I
thought was Saint Paul Street -- I immediately saw
the address. The numbers 2020 were displayed in
one foot high wooden block numbers. I could have
seen them even if the police helicopter -- another
circumstance -- hadn't been overhead illuminating
the front of the house with that million candle
I ran up to the front door -- which of course was
locked -- and began pounding and announcing,
"Police!" As I pounded on the door, the alert tone
sounded again, and the citywide dispatcher stated,
"Signal 13 2020 Saint Paul Street. The officer is still
calling for help." Except for the officers in the
helicopter, no other officers had yet arrived.
The house was a three story brownstone, and the
front door was big. I mean it was big...a big solid
oak door. Had steps led to the door, as most in
the block did, I would have had a problem.
However, fortunately, or unfortunately in this case,
the house had a landing in front of the door. My
adrenaline was pumping as I took a step backward
while focusing intently on the door just below the
handle as I prepared to kick in the door.
To this very day I can see that door opening in slow
motion with pieces of the shattering door frame
drifting through the air as debris from an explosion
might appear. Anyway...I drew my revolver and
charged into the house. The house had been
subdivided into apartments, and I found myself
standing in a large foyer with one apartment door
to my right, and a large spiral staircase leading to
the second floor.
Almost immediately, the apartment door to my right
opened, and an elderly black man emerged. At that
instant, I heard running footsteps on the staircase.
I wheeled around where I confronted a young black
man on the stairs. As I brought my revolver to
bear on the young man, he froze in his tracks. I
shouted to him, "Where's the officer?" The young
man didn't respond, and I repeated the question.
Finally, the young man answered, "What officer?"
Right after the young man's response, the alert
tone on my radio sounded again followed by the
dispatcher, "10-32, 10-32 2020 Saint Paul Street,
sufficient units are on the scene." It was at that
instant that the silence in that house did become
As I lowered my revolver, my next statement to the
young man was subdued, "Tell me this is Saint Paul
Street." The young man answered haltingly,
"No...officer...this is...Calvert Street."
You're going to make plenty of mistakes during
your police career. Most will come at the beginning,
but you'll always be susceptible to making a mistake
here and there. Of course, any you do make should
be minor in nature; however, when it comes to any
use of force, even a minor mistake could have
You'll be entering a career like no other. You'll be
required to swing into action on short notice, and
information immediately available to you will be
limited. Then... there are any number of
circumstances that could either aid or confuse your
"To this very day I can see that door opening
in slow motion with pieces of the shattering
door frame drifting through the air as debris
from an explosion might appear."
~ Barry M. Baker
|Copyright © 2019 Barry M. Baker