The Shotgun, the Rookie, and the Seasoned Old Timer

The Shotgun, the Rookie, and the Seasoned Old Timer. 

There was a time when most Manchester PD marked cruisers were equipped with shotguns. The shotguns themselves were Remington 870s, and the officers, at one time, had the choice of using buckshot, or my own preference, which was to load it with slugs. The problem with buckshot, for me, was that the further from the target you were, the wider the spread or “choke” of the pellets was. My worry was always that one or more of the pellets could miss the target and injure an innocent bystander. Also, working in inner city neighborhoods with densely populated areas and multi-unit tenements made using firearms even more dangerous to bystanders and the public. I also worried that both slugs or buckshot could easily penetrate the walls between apartments. So, when it came time to deal with deadly force situations, cops had to be cognizant and very careful about which firearm they used and how to deploy it. Normally, when it came time to shoot, you really didn’t have a whole lot time to ponder all these things. If someone indicated they are about to use deadly force, you have to react, and react quickly. As they always said in the Army, you fight the way you are trained, and that certainly applied to police work in general, and specifically reacting to and using any force on the job.  

Of course, during my time at MPD, very little in the way of policy or standard operating procedures came easy. The shotgun was a good example of this. In the early part of my career, every cop was trained and qualified to use the shotgun, if that officer choose to employ it. I hate to use the often used expression, but the shotgun was another tool in our tool box available to us if, in our prudent judgement, it was necessary and appropriate. Like much of police work on the street, that decision often had to be made with very little opportunity to decide the pros and cons of employing a weapon in general, especially in a deadly force situation. 

As I recall, the big debate at the time wasn’t really within the department but with those who ran the city. The police department wanted to place the shot gun in the front of each cruiser, where it would be locked into a rack, in an upright position. It was to be placed on or near the hump on the floor that usually exists between the driver and passenger seat. It could be unlocked by either the press of a button in an emergency, or, if that failed it had a hand operated lock which could be unlocked with a hand cuff key. The set up was simple, and, the weapon itself readily available for the cop when he / she arrived at the scene of whatever was unfolding. It was also highly visible in that location. 

The problem? The city fathers didn’t care for the appearance. Many in city government decried this seemingly logical plan because they feared it would give out of town businessmen and tourists a bad image of Manchester, although I don’t know how much tourism there was in Manchester NH back then. People were concerned that the appearance of these shotguns looked menacing and would send the wrong message to the public. Of course, I though that was the exact message we wanted to send to the public, especially to the criminal element in the city. But, some of the Alderman and others prominent citizens advocated for the shotgun to be locked inside of a case, and then locked inside of a special rack, which was then locked inside of the trunk. This configuration, in my opinion, made the shotgun useless in an emergency. Eventually, the PD and common sense won out, and we went out on patrol with a shotgun visible, easily accessible and ready for deployment when needed. 

In the early 1990s, the five biggest banks in NH went bankrupt and folded. In Manchester, we had many, many decrepit tenement buildings that had already been repossessed by those banks, and when the banks went belly up, we had all these buildings that no one owned and no one cared for. They soon became filled with squatters, to include prostitutes who were turning tricks in these filthy buildings, and they also became shooting galleries for drug addicts.

The plumbing was soon stripped from these buildings, including any type of usable fixtures such as toilets, sinks, stoves, you name it, it was ripped out and removed. On top of all of this, people were unlawfully living in these buildings. They used candles for light, and just discarded their garbage where they slept and ate and defecated.  

If I went into one of the buildings, there was no electricity, no heat, filth and the stink from piles and piles of excrement in the various rooms was overpowering. If someone wanted to make a felony drug arrest that badly enough, all one had to do was dare to enter one of these buildings, at their own risk, and locate whoever happened to be squirreled away inside and shooting up. At night, the squatters would sit inside, light campfires and /or candles for heat and light, smoke crack and drink Mad Dog 20 / 20. 

Of course, these buildings were firetraps and endangered the neighborhoods they were located within. All of these six or eight apartment tenements were wood framed, and when they lit, they burned quickly. And, we had many, many of those buildings burn to the ground in the 90s’ How we didn’t lose city blocks at a time during these fiery conflagrations is still a mystery to me. I came to believe that the Manchester Fire Department became experts at fighting these fires while protecting the building on either side that were often so close that the edge of the roof of one building sometimes overlapped the edge of the buildings beside it.

When I first started walking beats in these neighborhoods, they reminded of some of the neighborhoods I lived in down in the Dorchester section of Boston, except they were a lot dirtier. Drugs became rampant in the inner city neighborhoods of Manchester in the 90s. After sun down, several streets were filled with drug addicted prostitutes and active drug houses, sometimes several on each block. This problem became worse when “crack” hit the streets. I remember being told by a member of our Narcotics Unit that one of our walking patrol routes, designated then as Route 78, had sixty known, active drug houses within its boundaries. The center of that post was the intersection of Lake Ave and Union Street. It was, for a very long time the highest crime location within the State of New Hampshire, and possibly anywhere North of Boston. 

I never actually counted them, but there were plenty of active drug houses when I started walking that route on the midnight shift, something I actually volunteered for. It was a two officer assignment, and we rarely walked it alone after dark. Driving into the station for dayshift at 630 or so in the morning meant being propositioned by prostitutes at the red lights near the station, as well as drug boys leaning against street lights on Pine street, nodding their head at me to let me know if I wanted to buy something, their store was open. Yes, it really was that bad. 

Something else that both the city fathers and members of the senior command staff of the police department could not come to grips with was the sudden and noticeable deterioration of this city. During my first year of probation, we were always told that we should refrain making off duty arrests unless it was absolute avoidable, so I reluctantly ignored this each morning on my way in to work.  

Another observation I made in my early days of walking assignments, was that largely due open air drug markets with cars lined up to buy drugs at Spruce and Union Streets, bullet holes in the exterior walls of the surrounding tenements from nightly drive by shootings were plentiful. Yet despite this, many of our bosses were telling us not to make drug arrests, that was the job of the Drug Unit. Our job was to shake and find open doors and business burglaries.      

A cop, especially a junior officer, could literally get a bad time for making a drug arrest, but find an unlocked door, you got a commendation noted on your monthly evaluation. Being an out of towner, the high crime rate and deterioration of the City of Manchester didn’t particularly bother me (although my family and I now lived in Manchester), but the change and high crime really affected those who grew up here and some just weren’t willing recognize and deal with these new problems. 

What seemed to matter most at the time was the perception of those who live or visited the city, rather than dealing with the reality of what the City of Manchester was becoming. We were losing inner city neighborhoods, one after another to drugs and the inevitable crime and urban blight that inevitably came with that. 

Despite the discouragement we often received for making drug arrests, most of us who walked Route 78 regularly, and for that matter those who worked route cars in that area, started making drug arrests, regularly, sometimes multiple drug arrests every night. There was just too much going on out in the open to ignore it. On top of that, after it got light out, and the criminal element started to recede and go wherever they went after the sun came up, as I walked the alleys and neighborhood streets, people started leaving their houses for work. Kids were walking or being walked to school. Many left their homes and walked along in the back alleys among the detritus and remains of drug use, fights and illicit sexual activity left over from continuous criminal activity which occurred night after night. I had the opportunity to talk with these hard pressed folks who either grew up in this neighborhood or were not, for any of a number of reasons, able to move away from it. I remember being lectured by one of my training officers, Billy C, to always remember that most of the residents in these poor neighborhoods were good people, and needed both service from us and our protection so that they can live in these areas with some level of safety for them and their families. 

Their stories of what they saw every night, what their kids were exposed to on a daily basis, and the various ways they’d been victimized by the scourge of drugs that took hold of their community, made me become very sympathetic towards most of those who lived there. These people not only provided solid intelligence which I often acted on and always passed up, but they motivated me, and most of the others I worked with to go out to work every night and fight to regain control of those streets. For myself, and the partners I worked with at the time, whether walking or riding a route car, we started making drug arrests and other arrests for breaches of the peace, regardless of how some bosses within the department viewed these arrests. 

I think most of us felt like “what the hell are we doing here if not to go after the criminal element?”  So each shift, most of us went out to fight the war to control the streets. As time passed, certain bosses left, and certain officers were promoted, and thankfully the culture of the department started to change. The rank and file street cops were encouraged and sometimes rewarded for going out and making arrests, drug related or otherwise. I was fortunate to have had some great street supervisors at the time, as well as a few shift commanders who thought “outside” the proverbial box. This helped the situation, and morale, immensely. 

I guess the point of these musings about the crime rate and conditions in some of these neighborhoods is to explain the atmosphere that existed as we worked the streets during that time period. Violent confrontations with criminals occurred often, we fought regularly and it wasn’t unusual to have to unholster your weapon during the course of our duties. All of which brings me back to that tool in the toolbox, the shotgun. Most of the cops I worked with often referred to the shotgun itself as the “tube” and the two terms were used synonymously. Calling the shot gun the “tube” was for sure, a term of endearment for that menacing weapon.  

All that being said, the shotgun became my weapon of choice when responding to certain calls. I always said that if I was lucky enough to be told I was going to a gun call of some kind, or a robbery or holdup alarm, I wanted the tube. I always looked at my sidearm as my weapon of last resort, but I was bringing the tube to any potential gunfight. I wanted the most firepower at my disposal, not the least. Furthermore, when you arrive at a heated situation that has the potential to turn deadly, racking a slug into the chamber of a shotgun is a loud and unmistakable noise, and it almost always caught everyone’s attention and gave them pause to rethink their behavior. I say almost always. 

One midnight shift, a Richdale’s convenience store was robbed nearby my route. A description of the suspect was put out by the responding officer and included was the fact that the robber pointed a gun at the terrified clerk. I headed over to that area, and around the corner, walking through the Pearl St. Parking Lot, low and behold, I came upon a subject on foot who matched the description of the robber we were looking for. 

I pulled up, informed communications I was off with a suspect, and because I was searching for an armed felon, I pulled out the shotgun. I got out of my car, pointed my shotgun at the subject and ordered him to stop. His answer: “fuck you!” as he continued to walk towards me without missing a step. At that point I racked a round into the chamber to show this guy I meant business. Again I ordered him to freeze and show me his hands. He swore at me even more, and kept walking towards me. At one point he actually challenged, or dared me to shoot him.

“Shoot me” he demanded several times as he continued to advance towards me. I think he was bold enough to know that I was not going to shoot an unarmed subject, and although I believed he may have had a gun. In fact, if this really was the guy who just did the robbery, it was probable he had a gun. However he was not brandishing a weapon of any kind as he approached me.

How silly did I feel as I dug in my heels and pointed the tube at him? Pretty silly, actually, yet somewhat fearful for my own safety. Although this guy may have just robbed the nearby store, I didn’t see any weapon and did not know for sure that he was armed. However, he still headed straight at me. At this point I didn’t feel I could shoot him, but I was concerned that he was about to attack me. So here I was, with a loaded shotgun in my hand, and unless I shot him or butt stroked him in the head or stomach with the tube, I had no way to defend myself. I couldn’t just put the loaded tube on the ground and then start to grapple with him. This guy was acting irrational, and I instinctively felt he was going to attack me. He even told me he was going to kick my ass, and stick my shotgun up there as well. I also recognized that this may have been a “suicide by cop” ploy by this guy as well. I never saw this guy before, and I had no way to read his mind. Regardless, although somewhat fearful, I still felt I was not justified in shooting this bellicose individual. 

At that very moment, a second cruiser, having heard my transmission, screamed up behind me. It was a canine unit! The officer backing me up sized up the situation almost immediately upon arrival, pulled his dog out and gave the guy one warning. “get on your face or I’m going to send the dog! Do it now!” All the time the dog is growling and just trying to get free and begging his handler to let him go and chew this guy up. I could almost hear the dog’s thought process. Please partner please! Let me go. I’ll chase this guy down and just chew on his leg or whatever part I happen to grab at a little bit! Please? 

The guy wasn’t one bit afraid of me and my tube, but the dog sure got his attention. He immediately dropped to the ground and became compliant. My back up and his timely arrival with his four legged partner certainly prevented a disaster, which was rapidly turning into a no win situation for me. My hands were actually shaking as I un-chambered my slug and locked the shotgun back into it’s rack.  No, he wasn’t the guy who robbed the store. He was just another malcontent creature of the night, who apparently hated the world and especially cops. I arrested him and charged him with resisting detention and criminal threatening, for threatening to kick my ass. Both charges were misdemeanors, but screw him, I thought. I wasn’t cutting him any breaks. I may have even charged him with disorderly conduct!

I got no pat on the back for stopping that guy, or for not shooting him., and by that time I certainly wasn’t expecting one. The lesson I got at the time, was one that I had already learned. If I wanted to get a pat on the back, go look for unlocked doors and don’t cause any unnecessary problems or create nuisance for the bosses. Like I said earlier, as time went on, the culture of the department did change as the command staff turned over. It didn’t hurt when residents of the city, especially voters, demanded we be more proactive dealing with those who were preying on the weakest and poorest of us. 

As time went on, a lot of the guys I worked with used to bust my chops over bringing out the tube so often, but I just blew them off for the reasons i listed earlier. If I was going to confront an armed suspect, I was going to do it with a shotgun. It was that simple to me. I’m going home the same condition I went to work in, if I have any say or control in the matter. All too often cops never get the chance to defend themselves, especially if they hesitate to use deadly force as I did that night. I stand by my decision not to shoot that night, I know it was the right one, but I also know that situation could have turned out a lot differently because I chose not to shoot.  

The years went on, and eventually I moved on from Patrol to Detectives, and I spent almost half my career as a detective. During that time I specialized in certain crimes (investigating, not committing) at different points in my career. Towards the end, I was fortunate to have been partnered up with a fantastic guy for five years. As I became more a grizzled cop, I inevitably  became a bit more cynical. 

One day, near the end of my career, someone in the squad developed information that a guy was staying at a local hotel who had been committing bank robberies and was planning another. Believe it or not, we had several bank robberies each year in Manchester. Why people still rob banks in this day and age is one of the greatest mysteries which still confounds me.  The boss in the squad got us all together, and he came up with a plan to place the hotel under surveillance hoping to take this guy as he came or left the hotel, outside, fearing for the safety of employees, guests and other civilians. 

My partner and I got our assignment, and on the way to our unmarked vehicle, I grabbed a shotgun out of a parked cruiser, which had not been signed out. We headed down to Brown Ave, where we parked and watched. We knew who we were looking for, he was reported as armed and dangerous and I believe he had a significant record. During that time, my partner and I usually carried a case load of a hundred cases assigned to the two of us at anyone time, so after a few hours I started to bitch to my partner about what a waste of time this was and we should be doing our assigned case work instead of sitting here for who knows how long for someone that is probably not going to show, or is long gone.  

My much younger partner, looks over at me and he says something to the effect of “Are you shittin’ me? We’re getting paid to sit here, you’ve got a loaded shotgun on your lap, we are waiting to confront and apprehend an armed felon. You’re telling me you’d rather be back at the station doing paperwork?”

I knew he was right, and I was immediately a bit embarrassed that I made that statement or even felt that way. I couldn’t argue with him. I thought back to all the years before I got on the job, yearning for the day when I could protect the public by confronting and arresting an armed and dangerous individual. And here I was complaining about this stakeout when I could be doing paperwork instead! I was getting “long in the tooth” and cynical indeed. 

The stakeout continued, and I thought “Hell yeah.There are worse ways to make a living”. But after all the temporary assignments to Burglary and Robbery details over the years, the many stakeouts, the arrests, coupled with my experience on homicides had made that day seem like no big deal, just another day at work. But, thanks to my partner who gave me a reality check, I realized this really was a big deal! 

A short time later, the guy we were looking for showed up outside the hotel. The information was good, and the plan worked. We moved in on him outside in the parking lot, and I was the only one with the tube out. I racked a slug into it and held him facedown on the ground as other detectives cuffed and searched him. I simply told the suspect in no uncertain terms that if he moved I would kill him. Apparently he believed me. As he was loaded him into the wagon, I thought that we may have prevented more hold ups by grabbing him there and then. I felt good about that. Something that doesn’t happen often enough in police work. The case on him was assigned to other detectives, so my partner and I headed back to the station to continue our own case work. In my case, in compliance with MPD SOP, I had to note somewhere in the mountain paperwork which this arrest entailed that I brandished a shotgun and held on the suspect as he lay face down on the pavement. 

On the way back to our car, my partner and gave each other high fives. All the years I had on the job, all I’d seen and done, I had to admit, It still felt good! I knew my partner was right earlier when I was grousing. For that moment, despite all the BS and hardship that came with the job, it still felt like I had best job in the world! Not bad for an old timer.

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