Recently, as I record this, we got an order for a program we produced so long ago, dinosaurs still roamed the earth. It actually took me a moment to remember what it was all about. Then, it dawned on me why it still had legs and still could make a difference a generation of cops later. Because it saved lives then, and it could absolutely, positively save lives now. Like so many dozens and dozens of programs we’ve produced for law enforcement over these many years. They can still save lives…and do.
This particular program was called very simply: ‘Jack in the Box’ and it revolved around a nighttime stop by officers in suburban Detroit of a vehicle that matched the description of one used in an armed robbery. Here’s how my partner, Don Marsh and I opened that program way back when:
“Even veteran street officers say they have never seen anything like it, but there, it was a potentially lethal Jack in the box or in this case, a totally unexpected Jill in the box. Hello and welcome to In the Line of Duty, I’m Don Marsh and I’m Ron Barber. For officers at the Livonia Police Department in suburban Detroit, there were lessons learned for a lifetime and for you too. There’s plenty to put in your hat as well. It all falls into the category of this never happens, but it did. Please watch carefully. It all started at this Livonia gas station when a frightened clerk gave a most unusual description after an armed robbery.”
“And the complainant, when she called into the 911 dispatcher gave the description as being a black female that was a perpetrator, uh, six five was her height and, uh, escaped in a red Eagle Talon. And she gave the numbers on the license plate. She could not provide a complete license plate number. Uh, the dispatcher relayed that information to our vehicles, which were out on the street. Part of the officers that were working that night is our special operations unit, which is a five man unit. Uh, officer Greg Yon is a canine handler for the department and also works in that unit.”
“I positioned my car at middle belt in 96 and was spotting traffic. And I had checked one red car that went by previous to coming up with the suspect vehicle. That wasn’t the car I’d pulled over on the shoulder to continue monitoring traffic. I saw a red Dodge Intrepid go by and pulled out to check that. When I got out behind the Intrepid, the last three on the license plate matched, um, knowing the description as a female being six-five, I was looking for a taller occupant in the vehicle. The driver of the vehicle appeared to be tall. Um, it was kind of odd that a female, first of all, would be six foot five inches tall. Um, so I was thinking immediately that maybe the person was wearing a wig or there was a second vehicle involved. Um, I radioed in our location and that I probably had the suspect vehicle and I was waiting for backup. I continued to follow the car eastbound on 96 as I was following it, I was radioing in asking if they did have a second subject, if any of the witnesses saw somebody else get in the car. And they said, no. So at that point I was expecting one person in the car. Um, also the description of the female. She supposedly had a long dark jacket on with the hood on it. And from what I could tell from behind the vehicle at the time, the driver of the vehicle did have on a dark shirt or jacket on with a hood on. So I, at that point, I couldn’t tell if it was actually a male or a female.”
So, cutting to the chase, officers did stop the vehicle and they did find a six foot five inch male driver, not a female. In addition, officers found a wig and a purse on the passenger side, which made them think, yep, looks like the perp, a tall male, wore a wig and carried a purse during the armed robbery in an attempt to disguise himself. But as they were soon to learn, when you automatically assume so, it can come back to bite you in the hindquarters. Officer Thomas Goralski searched the front of the vehicle, and then he searched the back.
“Uh, I immediately started thinking, okay, we’ve only got one black male here, but he’s a taller man. And he could have been the subject in their robbery. Maybe he was wearing a wig or whatever, but I was pretty sure at that point when I saw the person in the gloves and they’re not being a female in the vehicle, this man had either done the robbery or was involved in it. So then I began searching the rest of the vehicle, got done with the interior and finding more evidence. And I, uh, went to the trunk to open that, to look for, uh, more evidence of the crime, maybe a wig or the money or the gun. When I opened the trunk, I didn’t immediately see anything. It was all black and I scanned the trunk. And as I looked down, I see a pair of eyes. Um, at that point I just reacted. I really don’t remember what I was thinking. Just thought, oh, geez, let’s take some cover here. So I slammed the trunk down, got my gun out, reopened the trunk. Uh, I had already notified the other officers, I’ve got somebody in the trunk. I probably was screaming. I don’t remember, but uh, got my gun on her, grabbed her by the back of her coat and immediately got her outta the vehicle and controlled and, uh, cuffed. And that’s, uh, that’s how it happened. It was quite shocking. I never saw anything like that before.”
And thanks be to God there weren’t dead cops that fateful night, because as I said in that original program: “It wasn’t until later when Livonia slowed the tape, they could see the woman trying to shake a weapon from her hand. It turned out to be a loaded nine millimeter Smith & Wesson cocked with a round in the chamber.”
After reviewing that program produced in 1995, it made me realize how it can still save officers lives and it will still continue to make a difference. It’ll make a believer out of you, too. As a trainer, chief, sheriff, or just a cop who wants to always do everything you can to get home in one piece at the end of the day or night, it’s Volume one Program nine from In the Line of Duty: Jack in the Box. To this day, it’s one of the very first critical incidents literally caught from beginning to end on cruiser cam, including interviews with every officer involved. Ask those officers who were involved that night if they feel every cop today can watch it and learn, and I can tell you right now what their answer will be. Thanks for listening. Email me with your comments and feedback..firstname.lastname@example.org. Get a free two-week trial to law enforcement’s only reality based online video library. Visit email@example.com. I’m Ron Barber and that’s Stuff You Never Ever Learned at the Academy.