A handsome hunk of carelessness

There's something unique about the relationship between police officers and their partners because of the need they have to rely on each other for their safety. Having a partner who can handle himself in a crisis situation is vital, since your imminent demise might be the reason for the crisis.

As a cop in New York City for 20 years, I was often in situations that required a skilled partner to back me up. Just as often, I was the guy doing the backup. Before being assigned to plainclothes undercover work, I spent a few years in uniform. One of my partners was a guy named Ronnie. Ronnie was handsome, well-built and meticulously neat in his tailored blue uniform and hat, which he wore slightly cocked to one side, like a beret. His muscular, athletic good looks and perpetual tan drew women to him like bees to a patch of honeysuckle. We couldn't have a cup of coffee in a diner without being surrounded by the female wait staff, repudiating his obvious wedding ring as they shoved phone numbers in his direction.

Yes, Ronnie was what women would call a "hunk." In addition to his looks, he had a sparkling personality and an infectious sense of humor.  He was also a good guy to have around when violence erupted. We fought our way out of more than a few circumstances that could have ended badly for us.

Yet, with all of his good points, he had a serious flaw in his judgment when it came to his gun, or, more specifically his holster. We used to have a department issued holster with a prominent ridge inside that kept the gun locked tightly so it couldn't be easily taken away during a struggle. In order to release the weapon you would have to grab the stock and twist it sharply before lifting it from its casing. After a couple of years of use, especially in high crime areas where the gun would often be drawn, if seldom fired, the ridge would begin to get worn down.

On several occasions, I mentioned to Ronnie that he needed to spring for a new holster, but he always maintained that it wasn't necessary.

"Ronnie, with that ragged leather sheath on your hip, you may as well just shove the gun in your waistband," I'd say, trying to shame him into a new purchase. 

"C'mon Bob, do you really think anyone is going to be able to take my gun from me," he'd laugh confidently. It always amazed me that a guy who was so careful about his looks, could be so careless about his life.

Well, as sure as God makes little green apples, Ronnie's carelessness was about to be challenged. One night we were called to a small apartment to handle a tumultuous family dispute. As was customary, we would separate the parties and try to get to the root of the problem. The man was yelling bitterly about something the woman had done and she was vociferously denying it, while dabbing at a cut on her lip. 

Every few seconds, the emotionally distraught man would lunge at the frightened woman, only to be restrained by my partner, as I kept her at a safe distance. Suddenly, as Ronnie was holding the man back and turning toward the woman to say something, I noticed the batterer reach for Ronnie's gun. He wrenched it from the worn out leather casing, bringing the muzzle to just about Ronnie's chest level, before I dived across the room and crashed into the wild-eyed lunatic.

I was probably no more than 10 feet away, but it seemed like I had traversed a football field to reach him. The impact sent both of us over a couch and onto a linoleum floor as I grasped his wrist with one hand and punched at his face with the other. My partner leapt over the furniture and stomped on the gunman's hand, crushing his grip to force the release of the weapon.

I'd like to tell you that we simply cuffed the guy and arrested him, but I'd be lying. The fear of death is always present in the mind of a cop; it's just the nature of the job. However, to think that you were almost killed with your own gun, is, strangely, even scarier. Hence, our fear turned to anger and retribution toward someone who almost made widows of our wives. Besides, after seeing what he did to the bloodied woman, we felt little regret when he tripped and fell a few times on his way to the station house.

Bob Weir is a former detective sergeant in the New York City Police Department. He is the executive editor of The News Connection in Highland Village, Texas.  Email Bob.