By jim Kuiken
After I got off of active duty with the Marines in 1977, I floundered around for a while until my grandfather, Andrew C. Hartley, who was pretty senior in state government, referred me to the Idaho State Dept. of Corrections, where I became a Correctional Officer. After I was there a while, I went on to become a Firefighter / EMT with two different fire departments, and then due to a series of budget cuts, went back to corrections.
Finally, after a few years, I got an opportunity to sign on with a local county Sherriff’s Department, and get out on the street. I was so excited at the new job, where I ended up having some really good times…and some that were not so good.
In those days, it could be pretty dangerous out on patrol, nothing like the current “war on cops” that I wrote about a while ago (and which, unfortunately, turned out to be fairly prophetic), but sometimes, especially with young, hard-charging rookie cops, it takes a hard lesson to really bring it home.
I was a young Deputy, and again, due to budget issues (Idaho was having some income and tax issues back in the late ‘70’s and early ‘80’s), I was assigned to ride solo (no partner in the car), even though I was fairly junior. The Sergeant had assigned me to ride solo because we were short-handed, but also because I had some experience, and knew how to handle myself in a tough situation (from my years in the Marines and a couple of years in Corrections), even though I was still so new to the street. Also, even though most of us didn’t have partners in the car, we were assigned a minimum of two cars for each sector, and could be at our partner’s location within a couple of minutes to back each other up as needed.
I was working day shift (6am – 2pm), but due to one of the Deputies calling in sick, a call went out for volunteers to work the swing shift (2pm – 10pm), and I, being single and fairly broke…, volunteered to take the double shift, especially since I wasn’t scheduled to work the next day anyway.
Naturally, this was a Friday night (gee…I wonder why the other Deputy – who was dating a new girlfriend who liked dancing – called in sick…), so there was a lot of activity from about 9pm on that evening. It got so busy that I ended up helping out at a couple of locations, and it was almost 2am when I was finally clear to go turn in my car and head home. I was dead tired, and really looking forward to hitting the rack that night / morning, but happy for the overtime.
As I drove back to the station through a fairly rural area, I passed through an unmarked intersection between a paved road (that I was on) and a dirt farm road. Of course, the paved road had the right-of-way, but I still looked down the dirt road as I passed, just to be safe. I saw a white pickup truck sitting on the side of the dirt road by a fence, but didn’t think too much of it as I passed. There are a lot of pickups on farm roads all over that county, and this one was just parked there. Perfectly normal.
Or so I thought… After I passed, I saw vehicle lights come out of that road, and swerve as they turned onto the main road, as if they had come around the corner a little too quickly. I was driving about 45 miles an hour, the speed limit, but the other vehicle was closing quickly on mine, and I recognized the lights as those from an older pickup truck – just like the one I had passed.
For everything that follows, there is no excuse. I was tired, and focused on getting back to the station, and then home to bed. Not a good place for your head to be when you’re out in a lonely, back road area by yourself, in a marked police car…
The truck caught me, and raced by me, swerving slightly as it pulled in front of my car. As a young, inexperienced cop, I was offended (stupid rookie mistake…never make it personal), and thinking what the #@!! is this guy doing, can’t he see the marked police car he almost hit?
I flipped on the lights and “bumped” the siren for a second to get his attention. As soon as I hit the lights, he braked hard, swerving to the side of the road and stopping abruptly, forcing me to stop just a little too close to him. This was actually the second red flag that should have had my brain screaming by now…the first one was the way he drove up to and past me. Either of these actions should have put me on high alert, but as a tired, inexperienced, pissed off young rookie, I completely missed the signs.
Now I’m sitting on the side of the road in a dark, rural, deserted area with an aggressive driver who had been sitting on the side of a road in the dark, and who had just chased down a marked police car and got them to stop abruptly …
Now I made a few more mistakes. I didn’t back up to get some distance between us (#3). I didn’t want to give the guy a ticket and have to stay later to do the paperwork, so I didn’t call in the stop (#4). I didn’t write the license plate number on a piece of paper in the car, or on the palm of my hand, so investigators would at least have a vehicle to look for (#5). As I walked up to the driver’s side of the truck, I didn’t touch the rear tailgate, the rear light, or anywhere on the back of the truck to check for others in the bed of the truck and to leave my fingerprints on the suspect vehicle for the investigators (#6). And I didn’t stop behind the doorpost and peek through the rear window first, or around the corner through the driver’s window, staying to the driver’s rear and giving myself the tactical edge (#7).
Like John Wayne, the dumb rookie stepped right up to the driver’s side, and looked directly into the driver’s face…and then it all came home. I saw his face, which was extremely hostile, and his right hand was down on the seat behind his right leg…and I couldn’t see his hand – I knew instantly I was in very deep %#&!.
I jumped to my right, behind the doorpost, drawing my weapon at the same time, and slammed it against the doorpost aimed right at his head…simultaneously shouting for him to freeze and don’t move a muscle. I was able to get him to put his hands out of the window, gave him my cuffs and made him cuff his hands through the outside mirror brace, then I opened the door and had him step out, all without taking my pistol off him.
There on the seat was a snub-nosed Colt Python .357 magnum. His hand had been on the pistol.
In Idaho, he hadn’t broken any laws except speeding, so I took the revolver, emptied the rounds into the bed of the truck, threw the pistol behind the truck seat so it couldn’t be reached, took the keys out of the ignition, had him sit back in his vehicle and uncuffed his hands…telling him to keep his hands out of the window in plain sight, got back into my car, and as I drove off, threw his keys onto the hood of his truck.
That was the first, and last, time that I was ever complacent in my entire law enforcement career. The very lucky dumb rookie with fast reflexes had learned the harsh lesson – and survived.