*Where is your backstop?*
It was January in St. Louis. The year was 1996. I was working security at a small strip mall in north St. Louis County. In this area we had The Crips, The Bloods, The Disciples and The Vice-Lords, all in this one small area, about 2 square miles. Normally, the gangs didn’t do anything on the property as to security and the very heavy police presence. However over the weekend there had been a series of drive-by shootings in the area. Gang members from all the gangs had been shot at, only 1 had actually been hit. The same could not be said for several innocent by-standers. But the Gang members were on alert. Normally at this small strip mall there was only 1 security officer patrolling the lot with an officer in the Pharmacy, the Grocery store and in the bowling alley. That’s 4 Security Officers on the property plus the police presence of normally 2-3 officers patrolling in their cars. However the increased Gang activity had drawn down the number of Police Officers to just 1 that day. To compensate, the property Management Company had requested 2 more Security Officers to patrol the lot. I was one of those extra Officers. To cover the mall better we decided to split up and each of us take a section of the mall keeping in contact by radio. Three hours of walking the lot in the cold January weather we all went into the various stores to help keep some warmth and also to show that we were on the job. I had just left the shoe store when my radio sounded. “Charles 5 to John 3” I was John 3. I returned the call. Charles 5, a friend of mine had just kicked several gang members out of the Chinese restaurant as they were confronting rival gang members already in the restaurant. I was about 100 yards away and told him I was on the way. I called the 3rd Officer patrolling behind the bowling alley and let him know and to have him head over to the restaurant himself. I was about 20 yards away from the restaurant when I saw my friend open the door of the restaurant and walk out followed by 4 gang members in their “colors”. The next 20 seconds are still a blur to me all these years later. But I distinctly remember the sounds of 8 gunshots. I remember my friend dropping to the ground with his revolver in his hand, pointing it toward the street. I still can’t remember drawing my own revolver, but it was in my hand as well also pointed towards the sound of the shots. I saw the shooter. Standing in front of the auto-parts store with the large glass panes of its storefront. Do I take a shot? Just then the shooter evidently saw me and my friend and the other officer also running up with his revolver in his hand. He turned and ran out into the traffic. Under the Laws and Regulations in St. Louis, our authority ends at the property line. Do we chase him even though if we do catch him we legally can’t hold him? We let him go. And turn to finding out if anyone has been hit. I get on my radio and call it in. “John 3 to Sam 6 or Boston 3” Sam 6 is our dispatcher in the office, Boston 3 is the owner of the company, and the chief of detectives for the local Municipality. I get thorough to Boston 3 immediately, several tenants had already called 911, and he was on the way with as many units that were available.
Suddenly I was deep with Police cars from 5 of the local Muni’s plus 2 units from the County PD and 1 State Trooper. The other 2 Security Officer’s and myself found ourselves being debriefed by the County Officer’s, while the gang members were being questioned by the Muni Officers. I gave my statement and filled out the necessary paperwork. Then the state trooper descended on the three of us. “Did we fire our weapons?” “Were we sure of our backstop?” “Were we sure of the shooters description?” Were we sure of his direction of travel?” 45 minutes later the State Trooper was done with us and our boss took over. Expecting to be grilled even more we were all three surprised when he took us all to the office and wrote each of out a bonus check. Because we kept out heads and didn’t fire our weapons and because we ID’d the shooter well enough for the PD to capture him 3 blocks away, and because we didn’t let the original group of gang bangers leave the scene, resulting in 3 of the 4 being picked up on warrants themselves we had done good.
The main thing, we DIDN’T return fire. We were in a crowded strip mall with a major street 30 yards away full of traffic. At the angle I was at if I had fired and missed my rounds would have gone through the plate glass windows of the auto-parts store, hitting I don’t know how many innocents. The other 2 Security Officers didn’t fire, there was a street loaded with traffic and houses on the other side of the street. The shooter fired 8 rounds, he didn’t hit anyone, but he did knock out a taillight on a parked car, and he hit the front of the bowling alley several times. No one was hurt.
Always be sure of your backstop, if you miss your target, where is your round going to go? Can you handle the consequences if you miss your target and hit an innocent by-stander?
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