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Code 3 Christmas

I sensed I just interrupted an armed robbery. Adrenaline flooded my system, giving the illusion that time had slowed.

Andrew Fritz
June 17,  2021
Perspectives

Zoo lights! Point Defiance Zoo has the best light show in Washington. Each year our entire family has a reunion at the zoo. As usual, it was amazing. I wish this story was about the zoo. It is not. What happened on the way home is the story.

Stacey, sorry, but I really, really, really need to use the bathroom. I’m going to take the next exit.”

“Seriously, you cannot wait? I’m so tired,” she complained. “Haha, old man bladder,” my daughter teased.

I took the next exit and spied an AM-PM store. I walked up to the clerk who was assisting a customer, “Hello, sorry to interrupt. May I use your bathroom?”

“Get out!” the clerk replied.

“If your policy is bathroom use for paying customers only, I will buy something on the way out. I promise.”

“I said leave, get out now!” followed by pounding his fist on the plexiglass enclosure separating him from the rest of us.

The clerk appeared distressed, I assumed there was a threat in the store which would explain his insistence that I flee, “Sorry, I’m not leaving until I know you are okay?” The clerk stared at me, then to the “customer,” then back at me again. He looked terrified.

I sensed I just interrupted an armed robbery. Adrenaline flooded my system, giving the illusion that time had slowed. My urgency to use the bathroom vanished. My relaxed posture transitioned to a defensive stance. My attention turned to the man at the counter.

“The man told you to leave. So leave. Go use the backside of the store if you have to go so bad,” the man at the counter demanded.

When he turned to tell me to leave, I noticed the handle of a gun sticking out of his pocket. The energy dynamic changed when the man was aware I saw the gun. I was on the receiving end of a quiescent glare.

I locked my eyes on the assailant while asking the clerk, “Are you being robbed?”

“Yes!” he replied.

Hope for the best, plan for the worst. I assessed two options. Stay close to the gunman for the tactical advantage of a hands-on response if he attempted to access his weapon or back away, exit, and call 911.

I decided evacuating was the worst option as it exposed me as an easy target for the perpetrator to draw his weapon.

Confronting was the best option given my proximity to the felon, “You’re under arrest, keep your hands where I can see them.” I figured one of two things would happen next. If he argued, then he likely had a fake gun. If he went for his gun, I would attempt a wrist lock and torque the weapon inward until the suspect was forced to release the weapon to me.

“What! You can’t arrest me.” [He then said words that are not appropriate for kids. Sorry kids, you get the redacted version of the story.] He chose to argue, a good sign his gun was just a prop.

“You have the right to remain silent, anything you say can be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one shall be provided for you. Do you understand the rights I have given you?” I figured mirandizing him would scare the guy off. He was not scared off.

So, I commanded, “Keep your hands where I can see them or I’ll put you on the ground.”

The man backed away and I closed the distance. I knew if he was able to get out of arms’ reach he could access his weapon.

The robber attempted to get away from me. I pursued. He placed his hand on the weapon. I moved in to trap his wrist. He cleared the weapon from his pocket as my hands were reaching to disarm. As the barrel cleared his pocket I realized it was a fake gun.

I disengaged and backed up, “seriously, you are robbing a store with a toy gun? You need to leave before the police get here.”

He then pulled the trigger producing a blow torch of flame. So, it was a weapon after all, sort of. “I have one of those in my kitchen. Great for caramelizing frosting, not so great for robberies. Put that away before you hurt yourself.”

“I don’t have to do…” (redacted) Apparently the robber was not going to leave without cash. He put the torch back in his pocket and changed his position to a fighting stance.

I adjusted my stance to counter his and switched to de-escalation tactics, “I don’t want to hurt you. Let’s call it a night. You won’t go to jail if you leave now, I’m certain the police are on the way.”

I was unaware that there were two robbers. Another man came around the corner with a black cloth over his hand pointing it at me. I assume with the intent that I believed it was a gun. “Cool, magic, you got a rabbit under that? You don’t have a gun. Please leave.”

He backed away when I called his bluff. The first robber swung his bag on my head while my attention was turned to his accomplice.

I redirected my attention back to the first robber while keeping the second robber in my peripheral vision, “Hitting me with your purse is not going to help you. You both have time to leave before the cops arrive. Think about it. Now you have added assault to this crime. Hope you like jail. It is time for you to leave.”

The men glanced at each other, nodded, and then walked out the front entrance. I turned to the clerk, “Lock the doors!”

The clerk had a button under the counter he hit and the doors locked.
The clerk had a button under the counter he hit and the doors locked.

The clerk had a button under the counter he hit and the doors locked. I observed the men talking outside the entrance making some kind of plan. Then they tried to open the door. Frustrated that they were locked out, they motioned me to come outside while shouting words not fit to print. I was on the other side of the glass ignoring their demands dialing 911.

The operator answered, “I need a code 3 response to AM PM, armed robbery in progress, officer requesting backup.”

“What is the location?” the operator inquired.

“I have no clue. I pulled off the highway to use the bathroom. Look at your screen. Use the address from where the call was made. Send officers to that address.”

A few seconds later the sound of sirens filled the city of Federal Way. I waved at the men on the other side of the glass. They bolted off into the darkness.

The officers entered the store. I provided a written statement and pressed charges for the assault should the suspects ever be apprehended. “Dispatch said you’re a cop. What department are you with?” The officer inquired.

“I’m no longer a cop. I teach 5th graders now. I figured you would move a little faster if I used the cop angle.”

“True.” The officer grinned. “You stopped a bad thing from happening tonight. Good job. Do you need medical attention for the blow to your head?”

“No, I am blessed with a thick skull. I found his assault annoying, not painful. I told the perp that hitting me with his purse was not going to do him any good.” That caused the officer to crack up.

When I was done with the report I turned to the clerk and said, “I still need to use the bathroom.” The clerk smiled and walked me back to the employee only bathroom.

As we entered the back of the store the clerk said, “You know, there were four of them. I think two of them ran out the back when you started reading that guy his rights.” This information made me feel a little sick to my stomach.

I returned to the car. I can attest that the car ride home was far more frightening than what I had just gone through in the store. My wife and daughter were livid with my choice to confront the thieves. I did not realize they watched from the truck and called 911 shortly before I did.

According to Stacey, I was supposed to have left when the clerk ordered me to leave. “The clerk was pounding on the plexiglass telling you to get out. It’s not rocket science. The store was being robbed. We knew it the moment the clerk told you to leave the first time. We figured you would bolt back to the car and call 911 like a normal person; but, no, instead we watched in horror as you engaged the criminals. What were you thinking!?! We love you! That’s why we are furious.”

“Are you finished chastising me?”

“Yes.” She said bluntly.

“Are you ready for the moral of the story?” I said ruefully.

“I know I am going to regret this. Okay, Andrew, what is the moral of the story?”

“I got to use the bathroom!” Stacey glared a moment, then smirked, and reached over to hold my hand for the trip home.

In the remote chance this ever happens again, I would make the same call. I was not going to leave the clerk alone in that situation, nor was I interested in making myself a target if I chose to flee. My training may be rusty, but I knew the odds were better if I intervened.

*******Disclaimer*******

I am a trained law enforcement officer. That is the only reason I involved myself with a crime in progress. Do not under any circumstances involve yourself in a crime in progress. Leave the area immediately. Once in a safe location, call 911. Do your best to remember descriptive details about suspect/s and location.

GLOSSARY

1) Quiescent, a state of being inactive.

2) Rueful, expressing regret in a slightly humorous way.

3) Code 3, police jargon for lights and sirens response to an emergency.

4) Adrenaline, a hormone produced in the kidney that is released when danger is sensed. The effect is elevated heart rate, breathing, and strength. Often produces the illusion that time slows down.

5) Assailant, a person that attacks while committing a crime.

6) Perpetrator, a person committing a crime.

7) Proximity, the distance between objects.

8) Redacted, information removed or not provided.

9) Torque, a twisting motion.

10) Chastising, to punish.

11) Mirandize, an explanation of civil rights provided to a person under arrest. Police officers are required to explain that a person under arrest has the right to an attorney and the right not to speak to the officer.

12) Felon, a person committing a serious crime.

13) Accomplice, a person that helps another person commit a crime.

14) Peripheral vision, objects you see to the side while staring at something else.

5th grade public school teacher for Lake Stevens School District since 2006 at Glenwood Elementary. 1992 graduate from Washington State University with Criminal Justice Degree. Obtained a Master’s Degree in Teaching in 2006 from Heritage University. Prior career, Deputy Sheriff for Pend Oreille County. I was the lead detective that shut down Washington State’s largest puppy mill, over 200 mastiffs and retrievers rescued. My case aired on Court TV. All parties were convicted.

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