• Stephen Warneke

From Boy To Blue Excerpt - "The Domestic"

Updated: Apr 17, 2019


Joe Friday used to say, “Just the facts, ma’am.” It would be nice if we had all the facts before we arrive somewhere. As officers, we often have to react based on very little information. To compound the situation, the people we are dealing with are usually angry and can be volatile and dangerous. And the trifecta for officers is that most of the time things evolve very quickly. This combination makes situations more dangerous and certainly scarier to walk into. Instinct and training take over and we are forced to just react. I have had times where my gun has just appeared in my hands and I wondered, “How did this get here?”

This happened to me for the first time on a domestic violence call. The front door buzzer system was broken, but luckily for the victim in this case, so was the lock on the entry door. As I entered, a male teenager came running up behind me from the outside of the building, and as I turned around I noticed he was out of breath and sweating. He looked up and politely said, “Excuse me” as he continued into the apartment building. Now I wasn’t a detective at the time, but nonetheless, it struck me as a possibility that this person could have something to do with this domestic to which I had been dispatched. I told him to stop and asked what apartment he was going to.

“204” was his reply. Coincidentally, it just so happened that was the same apartment I was supposed to go to.

“What’s going on?” I inquired.

“My sister’s getting her ass kicked and I’m going to help her,” exclaimed the boy, nearing a panic.

“No you’re not! I am.” It was all I could manage to come up with at the time. I felt an urge to adjust my cape and puff out my chest, revealing the red and yellow “S” that was there.

I patted him down for weapons because for all I knew, he had brought a gun with him to kill the guy who was beating his sister. This thoroughly pissed him off.

“What the fuck are you doing, asshole? My sister’s getting her ass kicked.”

To me it didn’t seem all that unreasonable that this brother was coming over to seriously hurt the sister’s lover. It also seemed plausible that he had armed himself with some sort of weapon just to make sure he didn’t lose. To me, my request was mundane and perfectly logical, but I understood how he felt. He wanted me to go help his sister, not treat him like a suspect.

I know what you’re thinking: “You didn’t have to frisk him, just tell him to stay there and go upstairs.” Some of the really naïve might have suggested taking the brother with me to assist.

“Come quick, Robin, we’ll save her!” I would say to my new sidekick. The two of us would go upstairs and I would grab the lover, then the poor, beaten sister would say, “Leave him alone!” while she started to hit me. I would then shove her away so she couldn’t hit me, and that would anger the brother, at which point he would yell, “Don’t hurt my sister!” and produce a tire iron from his pants and knock me unconscious.

What if I got up there and grabbed the poor, beaten sister and then the brother was so intent on getting even he pulled a gun and shot the abusive boyfriend? I was also worried that I would tell the brother to stay downstairs, but later find he would surreptitiously follow me up there, whip out a knife, and start shanking someone. It’s not too far-fetched that he could have accidentally hurt himself, me, or his sister with the weapon he might have brought. It’s also possible he might get his weapon taken away by the abuser who then used it against all of us. To avoid all of these scenarios, I thought it wise to make sure he didn’t have any of the aforementioned items.

These pat-down or cursory searches are conducted for the sole purpose of officer safety. Contrary to popular belief, they don’t require a warrant. They are necessary and important. On any call, I don’t want to stand around and talk to a group of people while they put their hands in and out of different pockets without first knowing they aren’t grabbing for a weapon. After all, I have never met any of these people before, know nothing about them or their past, and have no idea what any of them are capable of doing to me or others.

After my brief search of the brother turned up nothing, he said, “Well get the fuck up there! Can’t you hear her screaming?” I could indeed hear screams, and I instructed him to stay in the entrance and told him if he came upstairs, he would go to jail. After all, it’s common in these domestic situations, as I mentioned, to have the victim turn on you when you attempt to stop or apprehend the abuser. The last thing I needed was the girl’s brother up there to complicate the situation. To this day I’m amazed he obeyed. In a perfect world, I would have cuffed him to the door to assure he stayed downstairs, but that would have landed me in hot water. At least having searched him, I now knew even if he did come up, at least he didn’t have a weapon.

I went upstairs, and as I got to the second floor, I could still hear a woman screaming. I went to the door and could hear what sounded like a major battle going on inside. Screaming, yelling, and thumping echoed from inside the apartment. My heart started to beat because this was obviously no routine domestic. I got on the radio and told the car that was sent to cover me that he needed to step up his response to code 10. It is uncommon and not recommended to enter a domestic violence alone, although it is routine whoever gets there first to listen at the door to determine the validity of the call. In a situation where the woman might die or be seriously injured if a cop waits for cover to arrive, I know most of us would enter alone no matter what the risk. I didn’t even have time to have to make that decision.

Just after I told my cover car to come code 10, the door flew open and a woman ran out into the hall screaming. I looked in the apartment and saw the woman’s boyfriend charging with a ten-inch serrated kitchen knife, the kind with the two tiny prongs on the end. I was speechless. I don’t recall drawing my gun, but I found myself suddenly holding it in my hand.

One thing was certain: All the “Police, freeze!” or “Stop or I’ll shoot!” lines I had practiced all those years were nowhere to be found. My mouth was open and the only sound I could make was one similar to a horse trying to blow the snot out of his nose.

He was about ten feet away from me and still running full speed ahead. The rule we were taught in the police academy with regard to knives is known as the twenty-one foot rule. This has been scientifically proven. Basically, a person within twenty-one feet of you who has a knife can get to you and stab you before you can draw your gun, fire, and (the most important part) stop him. This man was clearly within the twenty-one feet and judging by his speed would soon be able to gut me like a fish. I was raising my gun at the man when he saw me, fell to his knees before me, threw the knife, and put his hands in the air. We stood there for a minute, the tip of my gun quivering at his body, him wide eyed and staring at me. I kept him at gunpoint until my cover arrived and we cuffed him and took him to jail.