A Nurse with a Gun

Saturday, May 31, 2008

911 Analysis

First the news story..........

It was April 17, 2008. Columbus Ohio. A drive-through business owner was investigating his burgular alarm that was set off at his place of business after he had closed the doors for the night. The time was approximately 10:37 PM, thirty-seven minutes after closing time. An intruder had entered the building.

The owner, after investigating the outside of his building and finding nothing amiss, believes he is dealing with a false alarm. He goes inside, and turns on the lights. The intruder is in the owner's office down the hall.

Alerted to the owner's arrival by the lights being turned on, the criminal leaves the office. The two men encounter each other in the hallway. The owner is fortunate to have a firearm. He knows that stored in his office, which the criminal has emerged from, he keeps a .45 automatic and a 12 gauge shotgun. The likelihood that the criminal has found them is extremely high.

The owner's first reaction is to defend himself, and he raises his fists telling the criminal to get on the ground. The criminal refuses, advancing towards the owner. The property owner takes a couple of steps back, draws his gun, and takes control of the situation. The criminal goes to his knees and acts as though he wants to comply as he lies about why he is there. He claims he was locked in the building by mistake. The property owner knows better as he begins to call 911 from his cell phone. Then the criminal gets to his feet again, refusing to comply with the owner's verbal commands at gunpoint to go prone. While the owner dialing the cellphone, the criminal advances towards him, lifting his shirt, obviously trying to close the distance so he can attempt to disarm the property owner.

The armed defender/property owner wisely steps back, maintaining his distance to counteract the criminal's advance. He points his firearm at the criminal's head, again commanding him to back off and get on the ground. The criminal turns around, and walks away while displaying the universal "I'm a felon" sign, placing both hands on the back of his head, fingers interlaced. The criminal goes prone and the owner finishes dialing his cell phone.

A Columbus 911 operator answers. "I've got a gun on a guy that's in my business," the property owner informs her immediately, "Get the cops here."

Realizing he will not be talking his way out of this one, but also that the property owner is distracted, the criminal again gets to his feet. He paces, trying to quickly formulate a strategy as he advances on the business owner. The business owner gives the operator his address while backing up, maintaining distance between himself and the criminal. Quite obviously, the only thing preventing the criminal from attacking the property owner is the prospect of a loud injection of lead to his body.

After having been told why, the operator asks the property owner "Why do you have a gun on him?" She is again informed of the dire situation the property owner faces. Trying to again take control of the situation, the owner begins to give the advancing criminal verbal commands, telling him to back off and get on the floor. The operator, incomprehensibly, begins to give a few commands of her own. "Sir," She says, "You need to talk to me....You need to talk to me...Who is this gentleman that's in your business?... Hello?"

The criminal can barely be seen moving against a background of stock. At one point, it appears he sits on it, and then he appears to be getting on the floor, closer to an escape route, between the pallets of stock, this time. The business owner turns his attention back to the uncomprehending 911 operator. "Yeah, what can I do for you?" he asks.

"You need to talk to me and tell me why do you have a gun to this man's head!" the operator demands. "Is the business closed? Did he break in?" After having been told previously exactly what the business owner was facing, the 911 operator amazingly thinks the property owner may have a gun to a clerk's head. At this point, the property owner is in grave jeopardy, if responding officers have a false impression of the situation created by the 911 operator.

Fortunately, the property owner corrects her. "Yeah, my business is closed, I was here a half hour. He was hiding in here. I shut the door and then my alarm went off. I come over here and the guy's in my business," he says.

"Stay on the line with me," the operator replies. "I have officers en route." Over a minute has elapsed, with a resistant criminal advancing time and time again on an armed citizen. Each time, the property owner has shown amazing restraint in not shooting the advancing man. Then the operator tells him "When an officer gets there you have to put the gun down. Do you understand that?" The property owner states his understanding.

Next, the criminal, being closer to an escape route, puts his plan into action against the distracted property owner. The criminal introduces another threat to deal with. He lies. Desperate criminals have been known to lie in the past, and this one is no different. The criminal fabricates an illusion out of thin air. He either lies or he speaks aloud to an unknown party, giving the property owner the impression he has an accomplice. As the 911 operator asks for the property owner's name, he responds "There's two of 'em in here."

Now, the playing field has shifted. The armed defender must be prepared for an unseen attack from any direction. His focus must be divided between the man he has on the ground between pallets of stock, an unknown threat, and the 911 operator. He can be seen backing up, scanning the area. Meanwhile, his daughter arrives outside in her automobile, alarmed that it has taken him this amount of time to return home. She toots her horn outside. The criminal, hidden from view in the security video apparently again rises to his feet, with the property owner commanding him to get back down.

Then the 911 operator inexplicably asks, "Do you have a permit for that gun, sir?" No permit is required to own a handgun in Ohio. The man has already informed her time and again that he is on his own property.

"Yes I do," he replies, referring to his concealed handgun permit, "And I'm on my own property," he informs her again.

Now the 911 operator decides to get testy. "OK, well, you need to answer my questions and stop being brief to me," she tells the citizen who is trying to defend himself against a repeatedly advancing, noncompliant criminal. "What is your name?" she asks.

Apparently auditory exclusion has diminished for the property owner and he hears his daughter honking the horn outside. He believes it is the police and he moves to unlock a door to allow them in. The criminal immediately seizes the opportunity, rises to his feet and darts out another door. "Get back here!" the property owner vainly shouts into the darkness outside.

The 911 operator asks for a description, and can finally be heard relaying the information to someone else. "Obviously I've got an emergency situation. I have a gentleman with a guy at gun point," she says, with the alarm blaring in the background. The property owner lets the criminal disappear into the night, turning his attention to the second threat, an illusion the criminal created of an accomplice. Apparently, the 911 operator still has not grasped what is occurring on the other end of the line. She has been told time and again exactly what is occurring, but her own prejudices are coloring what she is telling others, placing a citizen who is defending his life with admirable restraint at risk for being gunned down by responding officers. "We have officers en route. They're still en route," she tells the property owner, "You called the Columbus police department so we're having to relay the information to the county if you could stay on the line with me."

The property owner is vainly searching for the imaginary second intruder. He shuts off the alarm. "I'm here," he informs her, letting her know he is still on the line.

"I understand that sir," she replies, getting defensive and again showing her inability to understand what she is being told. "I'm, ah, we're trying to get the county out there. You called the Columbus police department."

"I called 911," the property owner corrects her.

"You've called the Columbus police department. Your cell phone has come to the Columbus police department. We're getting on the phone with county to have them respond sir," the 911 operator argues defensively.

Know what lady? Who gives a damn? "I'm glad there were no shots fired," the legally armed business owning citizen observes dryly.

"OK, sir, do not be angry with me," he is told. The business owner continues to search for the second imaginary threat telling the 911 operator "He's in here somewhere."

Four minutes have passed since 911 picked up the phone. "I'm going to patch you through to the county. They are en route. I'm gonna transfer you there. You need to stay on the line," she tells the citizen. Then she places the icing on the 911 cake. "Don't do anything stupid," she says.

A cruiser can be seen finally arriving outside the building as the first police officer arrives on the scene. Meanwhile, the two 911 operators discuss the incident. The first 911 operator tells the other operator that the caller "had a gun on these people that were inside." Fortunately, a quick thinking uniformed officer is already on the scene to prevent the property owner from being killed because of the 911 operator's misinformation. Obviously, the first responding officer grasps the reality of what is occurring. He does not make the property owner go prone. Indeed it can be seen that he allows the armed defender to retain his weapon in the face of a possible hidden criminal in their midst. They join forces to search the building for the imaginary accomplice, guns drawn.

Several lessons can be learned from this 911 debacle.

First and foremost, when a citizen is trying to preserve their life against a very real threat, they do not need an incomprehensibly dense 911 operator berating them with questions and spreading misinformation of what is occurring. Dividing one's attention between the threat at hand and a cell phone link to a 911 operator's demands places the citizen at grave risk.

Each time the property owner's attention was diverted away from the intruder, the intruder responded by getting up from the floor, advancing, and gaining advantage. I have little doubt that had the intruder discovered the firearms that the owner had kept in his office, he would have shot the property owner to escape. Instead, because the intruder was not armed, he willingly placed his life at risk again and again to gain advantage while he formulated an escape plan to put into action. When he was in the right place, and the citizen was distracted, the criminal upped the ante, making the citizen believe there was an additional threat. Finally, with the citizen's attention divided between a real threat, an imaginary threat, and a demanding 911 operator, the criminal escaped into the night.

The property owner did everything right. He maintained his distance. He did not try to restrain the criminal, only detain him. When the stressors became to much too endure, he kept his focus on staying alive in the face of the imaginary threat and allowed the known threat to escape into the night. He gave a good description to the county dispatcher. The only thing he could have done better would be to initially give the 911 operator his location, a description of the criminal and then one of himself so they could be differentiated by responding officers, and then put the phone down with the line remaining open to record the incident. The property owner did not need the 911 operator's input, nor her defensiveness and judgemental attitude. She was intent on screwing up anything she was told with her own bias anyway. Far better to deal with one real threat and the possibility of another without the additional distraction of a 911 operator clouding your judgement and diverting your attention. It is not a crime to provide the information necessary and put the phone down. Doing so may be the best course of action.

Kudos to the quick thinking responding officer.
Thank you to Oleg Volk for the use of his images.

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Anonymous Joseph said...

Hmmm..don't know how his office weapons are secured, but if they are in easy to access spots (as they likely are) perhaps he ought to secure them before he leaves.

10:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

At 2:34 he clearly says "in my business after hours." That seems to confirm any misunderstanding about what's going on, and yet the 911 operator did nothing to improve the situation. Her condescension is inexcusable. The business owner demonstrated unbelievable personal restraint in maintaining safe distance and heroic resolve in avoiding the use of deadly force.

That said, and it saddens me to say it, but from the operator's perspective "in my business" could imply all sorts of affronts to one's personal space. It was ambiguous whether the caller meant a.) as a property owner, he was holding a criminal trespasser at gunpoint or b.) someone was losing their temper after one too many criticisms from the brother in law. e.g. "He's [all up] in my business!"

I point this out not to shame this guy or to in any way justify the operator's personal role in the trespasser's relatively safe getaway.

Rather, there is some benefit to clarity when making first impressions on police and 911 operators alike. I realize perfect eloquence in such a stressful, confrontational atmosphere is a bit much to ask, but hear me out. In the same sense that we should expect to perform the way we practice, it may make sense to rehearse ahead of time [i.e. now] what words you might choose if faced with a similar scenario.

"There is a criminal in my warehouse. I have a gun on him. Send help now!" is a little more unambiguous.

911 operators have to make judgment calls with a minimum of information. The clearer language we provide, the more likely they will come to the correct conclusion. This woman's personal biases may have overridden anything she might have heard, but future incidents may have slightly cleaner results.

10:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wonder if it's best to not mention having a "gun on him" in the first place. That comment likely created the bias of the 911 operator. Just give the facts that will get the police there quickest.

11:39 PM  
Anonymous Michael said...

I live in a fairly large city. One evening I had to call 9-1-1 to report a BIG angry drunk trying to kick down the security door to my then girlfriend's apartment complex. I was scared, but I had my Glock 22 with me so I was prepared to defend our lives if need be. Thank God the drunk got bored and left before he was able to break down the door. It took the local PD 20 minutes to arrive. I shudder to think what may have happened in he had gained access and I had not been armed.

12:58 AM  
Blogger nature223 said...

that 911 operator needs to be retrained or shitcanned for consistant stupidty in the realm of lack of reality check on ego expounded.
in short a stupid moron running the thing that needs to save lives.

kudos on the citizen,he did exactly what needed to be done

1:37 AM  
Blogger Matt G said...

Okay, cut the dispatcher a LITTLE break-- he says "I've got a gun to the head of a guy who's in my business after hours."

She doesn't know if this is a civil dispute that's now blown out of hand, if it's a trespassing deal, or if it's a burglary.

And assuming that the dispatcher knows where "here" is on a 911 call from a cell phone is very foolish, indeed.

4:46 AM  
Blogger Xavier said...

Matt, he gave the address, and asked for police assistance. What more does she need?

Anon, She understood what his business was, she asked if it was closed. She did not think it was "personal business."

He gave an address in the second sentence. It was the dispatcher that painted a picture of a man with a gun to someone's head, not the business owner.

Instead of berating the citizen, she should have sent assistance. She performed like any other evidence collector. Cut her slack? I would hope a professional would perform better.

7:03 AM  
Blogger Not Too Pensive said...

What. The. Hell.

Who made the 911 operator a detective? Prosecutor?

I will accept the possibility of there being some ambiguity in the phone call and perhaps there being some miscommunication - the caller was afraid for his life and had a weapon drawn. But who the hell made her the fact finder for this case?

What does it matter whether or not he has a permit for the weapon? Will it somehow magically affect whether or not he has pulled the trigger? Will she need to send an ambulance or fire truck if there is no permit? What possible importance could it have?

What does it even matter if the business is closed? If he has pulled a weapon on a person in his business and had the desire to call the police, how likely is it that this person was just flipping through the magazine rack when he trained a piece on him?

I applaud the business owner's resolve and restraint as well, and I must agree with the police officer who says that a person who continues to advance once a gun has been legally drawn on him in contradiction to stated commands has demonstrated agreement by performance to receive multiple lead injections. If he had fired, he very likely would have been free from civil or criminal liability (this is NOT legal advice). I cannot blame him for not doing so, however - there is a difference between what is criminally or civilly punishable and what a person can live with doing after the fact. I just think he's lucky that the crook didn't try anything even stupider.

I wonder if he was thinking "if he takes one step more, I'll shoot him". I wonder if that thought was followed by a step, and then a reoccurrence of the thought that "ok, he's not too close, I can still handle this, so if he takes another step, I'll shoot", and so on. While merciful, I'm not sure it's the best idea. I'm also not sure if any of this at all occurred to the caller - this is pure conjecture.

I'm with Xavier on this - call 911, state your name and address, briefly what is going on, that you are armed, and that you need police assistance immediately. "This is Bob Smith, I'm at 123 fake street, there is a robbery in progress at my home, I have a weapon and have detained the robber, send police immediately." Confirm that the operator has understood your message, then hang up. If nothing else, it's going to be hard for you to make follow up shots with a handgun firing while one-handed (and impossible if using a pump-action shotgun).

The possibility also remains that, if you must shoot later, the 911 tape will be entered into evidence in any civil proceeding. Audio recordings of shootings are wide open to interpretation to say the very least. Obviously the reason for hanging up should not be to conceal or avoid creating evidence, but it is something to keep in mind.

11:22 AM  
Blogger Brad said...

A quick note from a cop's perspective...

This happens with us all the time with our own dispatchers. The stress of the situation makes it hard to communicate, even between police officers making radio transmissions at times.

Just like at any job, some people are better than others. My dept has 12 dispatchers. Three of them I would qualify as excellent, four or five of them are worthless and the rest merely adequate. This is the reality we live with. I would love to have all excellent dispatchers, but that isn't the real world with civil service jobs.

The vast majority of the time, less is better. The more you try to explain, the more there is to process and comprehend. Not to mention the more there is to misunderstand.

In training, they stress ABC's. Accuracy, Brevity and Clarity.

The most important thing (especially with a cell phone) is the location, then the crime, then the descriptions (I agree with the earlier point, make sure you include YOUR description).

I also agree with the earlier point that you should put the phone down and concentrate on the threat once you have stated the critical points you need to make.

In the end, the most important thing is your safety. Although there were several problems with this scenario, at the end of the day, the good guy ended up unharmed.

11:35 AM  
Blogger Brad said...

I guess my point in my earlier rambling post is that you have to deal with things the way they are. Monday morning quarterbacking the dispatcher in this case won't change anything or help you in the future.

I work for a city of approx 100K people, and it is slow a lot of the time. A valuable tool we use when training officers is visualization of hypothetical situations. As we idly drive by one of the local stop and robs, I like to ask recruits, "You just saw three guys with guns run out of the store, what do you do?"

Most of the time, they have never thought a scenario like that through and it helps immeasurably when a real life incident actually happens.

I would recommend that all CCW holders use this technique (using any number of scenarios), and incorporate a "communication-challenged" dispatcher into the mix.

By reading blogs like this, and reading about real-life incidents, you are already basically doing that, but your focus should be on what you would do in the future moreso that criticizing how other people performed under stress.

Learn what you can and apply it to your experience.

12:18 PM  
Blogger Xavier said...

Exactly Brad.

Believe it or not, this is how I train new nurses to react in life or death situations as well.

The same ABCs apply when reacting in a code situation. ABC stands for Airway, Breathing Circulation, but also Accuracy, Brevity and Clarity of communication. Poor communication means the code team will fail, and the patient's life then depends on luck, not skill.

I also tell new nurses that we have D and E after ABC. That's Dumbasses and Egos. We shove those out the door.

12:29 PM  
Anonymous wcrisler said...

Has anyone considered that the business owner was being TOO careful? Did he put his life at risk by not stopping the perp the first time he moved toward the owner? Clearly a crime was being committed. I don't know what the law is in Ohio, but in Texas lethal force is justified to stop the commission of a serious crime (or escape) and retreat is not required in a home or business. The owner is one very lucky guy, but should look long and hard at the risks he took for this perp. Did not the owner have a greater obligation to his family to not put his life at such risk?

1:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

wcrisler: in New Guinnea he could have killed, bar-b-qued and eaten the other man. He could have invited friends over to help with the meal.

Oh, snap! Texas law does not apply in Ohio does it?

3:03 PM  
Blogger Mikael said...

Very lucky perp too, I'd have at least popped a kneecap if he advanced on me after I told him to get down, quite possibly gone for the center-mass double-tap.

Would've ended better(than I wrote above) if I was not armed(in the storeowners situation) as I'm quite good at takedown and control. I would not try it if I had to put away my firearm and risk having it turned on me in a struggle though.

And I'd have told the dispatcher "I have cornered a burglar in my store after closing time, I suspect he's armed, send police!", along with location and descriptions of course.

4:56 PM  
Blogger Not Too Pensive said...

Random comment:

Would the caller have dropped the cell phone if he needed to do so?

Has anyone ever found that, in an emergency situation, they do not "drop everything"?

Here, I imagine many would assume that if the caller began firing, he could just drop his cell phone and bring up his support hand to help maintain control for any follow-up shots. I'm not so sure he would have dropped the phone, though.

In my own life, I've noticed a tendency to "cling" to items in my hands when an emergency arise. As a case in point, while walking back from lunch one day, I was holding onto a soft drink cup when I saw a woman get hit by a car that had run a red light. I ran out to help her to her feet and to get her to the side of the road, and I know I used both hands in the process, but at the end of it all I was most shocked to still find an $.89 coke in my hand, and that I had clung to it religiously the whole time. Doing this was no small task - she was a somewhat larger woman herself, on a five-lane road, and a few cars were oblivious to the situation and whizzed by as I helped her. But there it was at the end - that dumb coke, still in my hand.

Does adrenaline encourage us to grasp things tighter? I can imagine situations where it would certainly help my survival to be able to quickly drop whatever it is I'm holding - such as a cell phone I'm using to call 911 when I need my support hand - but in those few random emergencies I've been through, I always find myself keeping a firm grasp on the most trivial of items when it would be best to drop them. Can one train to overcome this impulse?

I hope this isn't too far afield, Xavier.

8:16 PM  
Anonymous Will said...

I wonder if it occurred to him after the fact, that the guy that he let escape could have very easily taken his daughter and her car. Don't be a nice guy, when you are dealing with bad guys.

8:51 PM  
Blogger Xavier said...

That's a very good point NTP. It's the very reason we train to keep the finger off the trigger until ready to shoot. What you experienced actually has a clinical name, and is a documented phenomena. I can't recall the name right now though.

9:21 PM  
Blogger nature223 said...

Xav..."Tachy Psyche"...where gross motion is the only way to react with the load of stress induced adrenaline,and fight or flight body response.
Dissociation,fine motor control/pain response,lessor sensory imputs, leaves you.
so time seems to take FOREVER...like the "never ending car wreck".
time expands and your reactions are much much quicker and training kicks in for the thought processes take too long.
had that happen a couple of times from driving(personal car,and commercially) where you just DO,and react,but it is never fast enough to get the car back in line on ice,or hydroplaning.
so you crash,then think about it later,sometimes you will flashback...bigtime

BTDT...got the t-shirt

1:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Two things: comment to "brad" and question to anyone . . .

1) Listen to the recording again. The operator clearly tells the caller to STOP being brief.

2) What is the address to which we can write to complain about that idiot 911 operator--she should be fired immediately.

1:18 AM  
Blogger alath said...

Mikael, I agree the criminal was lucky because not every armed business owner would be so restrained.

However, the business owner's restraint definitely worked to his advantage in this situation. Had he shot the criminal, the hassle and disruption to his life and pocketbook would have been infinitely greater.

Ultimately I think the shoot would have been judged justified, but the business owner likely would have had to go through massive crap any way.

Just for fun, try imagining a prosecutor with the same level of cluelessness and feeble grasp of reality shown by the dispatcher.

10:03 AM  
Blogger Brad said...


My earlier point was that the dispatcher was "communication-challenged" and in a similar situation, I would have put the phone down once I relayed the critical information to her in order to concentrate fully on the threat, regardless of what she was telling me to do right then.

The other point I was trying to get across was that this particular dispatcher's employment status is irrelevant. Pointing out specific errors in her poor performance serves no practical purpose. (Unless perhaps you are in training to be a dispatcher yourself)

There are thousands more incompetent dispatchers out there. It isn't right, but that is how it is. They can't be eliminated out of the equation.

Learn the lesson from this incident and apply it to your experience. Think about how YOU would deal with something like that in the future. That is the crux of the lesson to be learned here.

Visualizing critical incidents and thinking your way through them is perhaps the best way to prepare yourself to defend your life or the lives of others. I don't have the time go go through all of his quotes to find the right one, but Col Cooper often mentions how mindset is much more important than firearm skills...

The value of this story being read and analyzed lies in it expanding people's experience without having to live through it themselves, not in getting people to write letters to her chief in order to get her fired.

If you want to eliminate the scourge of bad dispatching in this country by writing letters to every police chief with a detailed breakdown on the dispatcher's poor performances, let me know. I work with a couple I could get you started with.

10:39 AM  
Blogger Kyle The Opinionated said...

I wish I could say this is an anomaly. However, my job as a prosecutor has led me to a series of 911 calls just like that.

It's ridiculous. I'll offer the following: a gunshot victim calls 911. He tells them exactly who shot him (his ex), where she was headed, all the relevant information needed, including where he was so somebody could send him an ambulance. He gets, "Do you need an ambulance? Are you hurt? What does the person who did this to you look like? You need to stay on the line with me sir, don't be rude to me."

My favorite, "Why did she shoot you?"

1:33 PM  
Blogger Keith Walker said...

If you plan on dropping the phone, just make sure you don't drop the gun by mistake!

I compete in IPSC shooting once a month and one time we had a course of fire where we had to throw a rubber chicken into a pot before we moved to another array of targets.

One of my team members was doing a mag change while moving towards the pot. With everything going on in his head (drop the empty mag, get a fresh one, hold on to the chicken, keep the gun pointed down range, which target do I shoot next, don't trip over the bale of hay, was that last shot a miss, how many rounds do I have left? etc.) he mistakenly threw his full mag into the pot along with the chicken.

We all thought it was funny at the time, but after reading this, I now realize that it was a valuable training moment.

9:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Everything you say on a 911 call can and will be used against you in a court of law.

10:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm a 911 Dispatcher and all i can say is she isn't fired yet?!!! OMG!! I read and listened to this article and I was getting highly upset!! She handled this call so very wrong! Who cares if hes is Lic. to carry a gun, in this situation!! Her main concern should of been the safety of the called and getting units there ASAP. Some of her questions should be the address he is at, his name, verify his phone number, where he is at in the building, of course he has a weapon does the suspect have a weapon. If the called can't talk after getting the pertiant information, keep the phone live but to put the phone down, but keep the phone live!! She makes Us GOOD dispatchers look like crap!! I hope she is no longer a dispatcher!!!

4:15 PM  

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