Off-Ramp Off-Duty – Law Officer


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Even when you’re not on the clock, you’re still a cop. … I was still living in San Francisco’s Glen Park neighborhood and commuting to the new Potrero Station for my stint as swing watch patrol commander.

Being new to this assignment, I was still arriving early, and staying late trying to impress my captain. Fat chance since he was usually playing golf somewhere before I checked in.

Driving “slightly” over the posted speed limit as all cops do, I would weave like a hungry rat in a maze across the city at rush hour, avoiding the parking-lot freeways.

I was about two miles from my office when it happened.

While I was mentally reviewing what excuse I could use for being late again, I saw a bunch of local gangbangers hanging around the off-ramp, drinking what looked like cheap malt-liquor from 40-ounce brown glass bottles.

I was in my district slightly, so I grabbed my take-home PIC radio to see if one of the day watch cars could swing by and chase these guys into some other police reporting area before inebriation and stupidity made it my soon-to-be problem.

As I fumbled with the ON switch, and pulled the braided cord microphone closer to me, I saw that I was going to be too late.

Knucklehead number one, a tall overly heavy set 17-year-old “kid” of about 6’1, and 230 pounds, took his empty bottle, and threw it directly and very forcefully into the windshield of a nearby stationary commuter car.

This emboldened KH #2 to laughingly start pulling at that car’s windshield wipers and radio antennae.

The suddenly terrified driver tried to gun his car out of the trap he was in, and of course, he rear ended the old Toyota truck directly in front of him.

Before you could say chain-reaction-mob-scene, the rest of the gangbangers were jumping on car hoods, smashing, and pulling loose anything they could, while generally terrorizing people stuck in the intersection.

This eruption of violence had only taken about 20 seconds to unfold, but I had still been able to key my microphone and call out as many troops as were on the street this close to end of shift.

Besides #1 and #2, I saw “white-t-shirt-guy” take an a-frame metal street repair sign and start bashing the windows of a blue sedan. His colleagues Red Coat and Tank Top were kicking car doors, while some clown with a BIG afro did a foot-stomp medley on the hood of a yellow POS Mazda.

Despite the obvious fear and emotions that I could see playing out before me, I had only seen various levels of property damage, with no one getting hurt or visibly injured.

So far…

I wanted a phalanx of uniformed cops to en-circle the area, and not let anyone run free. I held my temper and started calling out where the first arriving radio cars would need to go.

There is a long-held antipathy between various ethnic groups in my district, and with no surprise, I saw that the Asian commuters were taking the brunt of these attacks.

Three of the thugs found a small white car with what looked like a mom and dad, and at least three kids inside. Dad had been so stunned by what he was seeing that he hadn’t rolled up his driver’s side window.

The two biggest thugs, KH #1 and Mr. Afro reached inside the car, and pulled the struggling driver out of the car. Without a pause, they began beating him. When he slumped to the ground unconscious, they began kicking him repeatedly. The third member of this trio lurched halfway into the car and began pulling on one of the children who had been heroically trying to help his father.

My tactical observation mode evaporated in a second, along with apparently my instincts for self-preservation. I jumped out of my truck, barked a terse “10-25 Code 3” into my radio, and ran to the side of the white car.

Oh, and I had my long 8-cell metal Kell light with me.

When outnumbered, or rushed by circumstances beyond my control, I don’t “fight fair.”

This was both.

I swung my Kell light VERY hard against the right leg ankle bone of the guy pulling on Junior, and then basically began flailing away on any hopefully non-lethal parts of the others: ankles, knees, elbows, and shoulders were fair game.

I found a wrinkle in the flashlight’s warrantee: It comes apart in pieces when vigorously applied as an “improvised impact weapon.”


With three of six bangers now smarting and (hopefully) reluctant to continue, all I had to do now is face the remaining thugs almost empty handed, while looking like the short haired, middle-aged man that I was.

I hate being wrong in a fight.

Knucklehead #1 grabbed at me despite the tune up I had given his shoulder. I’m sure his level of intoxication slowed him down, which fortunately gave adrenalized-me a chance to grab him, spin him, and put a pretty decent bar-arm chokehold on him from the rear.

I knew it was a good hold because he began sagging out almost immediately.

Ordinarily, that’s a good thing. In this case, as he faded to the asphalt, he fell back on me, pinning me on top of the injured driver.

Now, 230 pounds of the unconscious drunk was a difficult paper weight to deal with, and as I tried to free my legs, his brothers regrouped and began kicking and pummeling whatever part of my body they could reach.

Unfortunately for them, my right-side gun holster was immediately available.

I pulled out the snub-nose .38, and began pointing it first at Mr. Afro, then at Tank Top, while telling them to back off.

Somebody unseen kicked me in the head, but a thick skull is a valuable part of my Germanic heritage, so it had little effect. I thumb-cocked the revolver and said, “I’ll shoot six times the next time ANYONE touches me. Who’s first?”

I’m pretty sure I smiled and made eye contact with each and everyone of those guys as they decided that I was too crazy to annoy any further, as they broke and ran away.

My responding officers caught four of them.

Two ambulances, and five sets of handcuffs later I had managed to wipe away most of the blood from the kick wound over my right eyebrow, so I looked almost normal when I walked into my station 20 minutes after my watch started.

My captain saw me the next day, and as he handed me a large unruly sheaf of papers to review, he said, “You were late to lineup yesterday, Lieutenant.”

“Yes Sir, sorry,” I replied, “but I was stuck in traffic again.”


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