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I survived 4 near-fatal errors on a single shift

Never think to yourself, “What can possibly happen today? We’re in the middle of a blizzard!”


This month marks the 36-year anniversary of the massive blizzard that struck the Northeastern United States February 5-7, 1978.

AP Photo

This month marks the 36-year anniversary of the massive blizzard that struck the Northeastern United States in 1978 (February 5-7 to be exact). It also marks the anniversary of one of the days that I could have been killed in the line of duty.

At the time of the blizzard I was working the 0800 to 1600 tour with my partner John H. The blizzard of 1978 had paralyzed the town of Huntington where we worked, assigned to the Second Precinct. Near the county line separating Suffolk County from Nassau County, approximately 70 cars were trapped in the snow and abandoned by their owners.

The town was using heavy construction equipment to remove the vehicles as well as the snow. John and I were assigned to traffic control and were advising people there was absolutely no way out of town at the present time.

A Series of Errors
My first error of the day was thinking to myself, “What can possibly happen today? We’re in the middle of a blizzard!”

My next error of the day was leaving my second gun at home. My logic being, “We’re in the middle of this blizzard. If the second gun falls out into the snow, I’ll never find the gun again.”

Because I was directing traffic, I put on my reversible raincoat — orange side out, black side in. That’s how I committed the next near-fatal error of the day. I not only snapped the raincoat shut, but I zipped it up as far as it would zip to keep the snow off of me.

Normally when I wore the raincoat in inclement weather while standing outside the patrol car, I only snapped it shut. This way, if something happened I could get to my gun belt in a hurry. But after all, “We’re in this blizzard. What could possibly happen today?”

John and I took turns sitting in the car and while the other directed traffic in the blowing snow. Some residents kindly brought us coffee and soup.

That One Guy
Drivers were upset but cooperative — at least for the most part. During one of my turns outside the car dealing with upset motorists, a large Chrysler convertible came down the street. John was in our car warming up. The motorist told me he was going home and I advised him he could not get through the intersection cluttered with abandoned vehicles.

As the discussion continued, he became more and more argumentative. I noticed that his breath bore the distinctive odor of an alcoholic beverage, so I ordered him out of his vehicle. He declined to exit.

I then made the next near fatal error: I reached into the car for his keys.

He grabbed my arm and yelled, “Fuck you!”

With that, he drove down the street with me holding on the car for dear life.

John was racing to my aid, when my new acquaintance finally pulled over into a snow bank and surrendered.

John and I took him into the precinct where we left him with a detective for felony processing.

What I learned that day was never forget your second gun, never snap and zip your raincoat closed, never reach into a car for the keys while the suspect is still inside and in control of the vehicle, and never think “nothing can happen” just because you’re working in a blizzard.

Keith Bettinger is a retired Suffolk County (N.Y.) Police Officer. He’s been writing for law enforcement publications for more than 25 years and has received 18 awards for his articles, stories, poems, and books. He has a Master’s Degree in Human Relations with a major in Clinical Counseling. During his career he received the department’s Bravery Medal, Silver Shield Award, Meritorious Police Service Award, Special Service Award, Professionalization Award, Department Recognition Award, five Headquarters commendations and six Precinct commendations. He also was a field training officer and an instructor on Post Shooting Trauma and Critical Incidents.

Keith has written two books, Fighting Crime With “Some” Day and Lenny, and End of Watch. He has also contributed stories to the following anthologies: Cop Tales 2000, Charity, True Blue, To Protect and Serve, and Dad’s Bow Tie. He also shares with Jack Miller, the screenplay Master Cheat. Keith lives in Las Vegas with his wife Lynn.

Contact Keith Bettinger