12 observations from a 69-year-old retired cop who assisted an officer during a physical arrest
Retired Lt. Dan Marcou was sitting at a picnic table eating a chili dog with his grandkids when a lone officer started pursuing a suspect on foot; the officer radioed for assistance, but Marcou ran to help
Recently in my hometown, I was seated at a picnic table at a popular drive-in root beer stand – about to apply the perfect amount of mustard on my chili dog. Seated with me was my 21-year-old granddaughter and 8-year-old grandson.
Suddenly, our peaceful meal was rudely interrupted by a man with clenched fists, growling obscenities in a guttural demon-like voice as he passed among the many picnic table diners at the drive-in. My retired police officer eyes followed the suspect, but before anyone could say, “Where’s a cop when you need one,” a marked squad car slid into the lot and stopped abruptly. The officer quickly exited and ordered the man to “stop!”
The growler bolted with the young officer in determined pursuit.
The officer radioed in while on the run that he had located the man and was in foot pursuit. He added that he was alone and requested assistance.
My 21-year-old granddaughter looked at me and said, “No, Boompa.”
I replied, setting down my chili dog, “I have to. He’s alone. Please watch your brother.” I joined the pursuit immediately, with the intent to only engage if the officer needed help.
The pursuit swirled between cars in the lot filled with diners and spilled out into the adjacent street. It was here where the officer decentralized the suspect on the run in the street. This stopped traffic in both directions.
As the suspect landed, he immediately pushed himself up to all fours into a wrestler’s ready position.
The lone officer was on the suspect’s left side trying to overcome the suspect’s stiff resistance, so I slid in on the suspect’s right side and applied a tight waist ride and tried on contact to bring the suspect’s arm back. The suspect’s resistance, however, was so intense that his arm initially wouldn’t budge. I re-engaged the arm at the wrist and resorted to a technique called the “lever arm.”
With great effort, using the leverage afforded by the technique, resistance was overcome, and I was able to capture the right arm and bring it slowly back and slip into an old faithful hold, “rear compliance.” The officer, similarly trained, moved into rear compliance as well.
As I sensed others arriving, I identified myself and was recognized by the sergeant, who was first to arrive on scene. As he arrived, I heard him assure the other officers that I was “OK.” He slid into the picture and locked up the suspect’s legs as everyone present in unison urged the suspect to “stop resisting.”
As we held the suspect in place, handcuffs were expertly applied by the sergeant. As they ratcheted into place, I broke up my tunnel vision and realized other officers were present. I slipped out of the controlled chaos to return to my grandchildren and my chili dog.
The very next day, I was pleased when I received a letter of thanks and praise from the assistant chief at the department.
Observations from the scene
I have been involved in arrests of this nature more than I can count in my 33 years of law enforcement. However, this incident came from a different perspective, which I will share with you today.
Here are twelve observations:
1. In the moment, such as this, a citizen or an off-duty/retired officer may not know what is happening: This man committed offenses elsewhere and fled the original scene. He eventually breached another peaceful environment, where no one was aware of his prior transgressions.
2. There are factors to weigh when a citizen decides whether or not to assist an officer: One factor that weighed heavily on me in the decision to get involved was the warnings I received in writing each time I went to my retired officer firearms training. I was cautioned that I had “no arrest powers” and I had “no duty to intervene.”
Another consideration was that I was with family. However, I concluded if I was alone with my 8-year-old grandson, then there was no way I could leave him unaccompanied. However, his 21-year-old sister was present.
It is important to make this point: In most states, when an officer orders someone to help them, by law they must help. Few officers think to ask for help but should consider it more often.
3. There is an automatic response factor ingrained in retired officers: Even at the age of 69, the words, “Send me assistance!” seemed to trigger an automatic physiological response.
4. Being trained in team arrest tactics gave us an advantage: This young officer clearly had been trained in the same basic techniques that I had trained officers to use a generation ago. Although we had never worked together, we possessed shared skills, allowing us to work together seamlessly to immediately restrain the resistive suspect. We also shared use of force verbalization skills, using the defensible verbalization of, “stop resisting,” throughout the struggle.
5. If you are going to assist someone, while out of uniform, identify yourself: Do this so an officer knows the person rushing in is friendly. I shouted my name, which made me immediately identifiable to these officers. Other options are “retired police officer” or “police officer.” One suggestion given to me by a retired sheriff was to shout, “Blue! Blue! Blue!” as you approach. It is crucial to somehow let everyone know you are friendly.
6. Physical training pays off: Because I have lifted, run and stretched my entire life, as well as practiced my police control tactics (as a trainer) from day one to the present, I have been physically prepared to prevail in every inevitable challenge from the day I started at the age of 20 to this very day.
7. Supervision at the point of contact is invaluable: It was great having the sergeant arrive on the scene. His instructions were clear and without hesitation. He expertly applied a leg lock to help subdue the suspect. There is nothing more advantageous to maintaining a valuable relationship between a street officer and a supervisor than for that supervisor of any rank to place the highest priority to an officer’s request for assistance by responding themselves. Supervisors must come to realize that there is nothing on a desk in the department, that if left unattended, will bleed to death.
Additionally, by arriving at scenes such as this, it enables a supervisor to recognize the strengths of officers that need to be praised and weaknesses that need to be addressed by training through first-hand observations from ground level right at the point of contact.
8. All uses of force are reviewed: Even when assisting off-duty or retired, you must be prepared to have your actions reviewed just as critically as the officer on duty. Most agencies nationwide have policies dictating that all use-of-force cases are subject to immediate review.
9. Police work is still a contact sport! I have always said this as a trainer, adding “Except it’s not a sport!” There are no referees, mats, red man suits or padded walls on the street to protect against injuries. You are not given the opportunity to warm up or start the activity slowly. This is not only true for officers, but it is also true for anyone who steps in to assist.
After the event, I realized this brief encounter resulted in my receiving abrasions on the back of my hand from performing the “lever arm” movement on the pavement. I suffered a minor pull of my hamstring, as well as my teres minor muscle under my right arm. None of these injuries required treatment and healed quickly, but served as a reminder of the physical nature of the job hundreds of thousands of officers go out and do daily.
My granddaughter summed it up after the event when she said this of my career choice after witnessing this event: “What a way to make a living!”
10. You will not be covered civilly when you assist after retirement.
11. A heartfelt “thank you” and “good job” still feels good: It has been a while since I got an “attaboy” from an assistant chief and chief’s office. It was welcomed then and is just as appreciated now.
12. As when I was in the life, I discovered that bad guys don’t make appointments. You never know when you will be called into action … so prepare to be prepared!
One thing that was clear from my perspective: The officers I saw responding to this situation demonstrated that this current generation of officers are just as courageous, honorable and necessarily intense as the officers I served with in my generation. I would be proud to serve with the officers I saw in action on this date. They represented our profession with courage and honor.
This incident was a vivid reminder that the “thin blue line” represented by these officers still exists. They are out there 24/7 risking all, when necessary, to control people who endanger others because they refuse to control themselves.
Because of their efforts and with the support of the community they serve, the rest of us can sit outside on a picnic table on a sunny afternoon and enjoy a chili dog in peace.
That’s why all of you readers and these officers have well-earned the sobriquet “peace officers.”