In early 1999 I saw a situation where the Ogden-Metro SWAT team was dealing with a guy in a house with a gun.
Wednesday night’s tragedy reminded me of that. The situation, then, made me wonder, “What does a cop think as he’s walking into that situation?”
As it turned out, the cop who was central to that situation, the guy walking at someone who might have a gun pointed at him, was a friend, a cop who I’d met on his first day on the job two years earlier and with whom I’d shared some interesting stories since.
So I called him an asked. Here’s the result, a column that ran March 16, 1999:
When it’s your job to face a gunman
It was cold, it was dark and the five men in the murk of night were doing something insane.
They were walking up a sidewalk toward a house in which was hidden a man who might have a loaded gun and who might shoot it at them.
All they had to protect themselves were one shield, bulletproof vests that have been known to leak, and each other.
There was no jockeying to be the guy in back, either.
It wasn’t a big deal, as it turned out.
A 24-year old man from West Ogden had run from a traffic stop last Monday and hidden in a house. He ran because of two outstanding warrants for felony weapons charges, which made him potentially dangerous.
The SWAT team was called.
These guys look real scary, all in black and camouflage with equipment hanging everywhere and guns straight out of a Rambo movie.
But they aren’t of course. They’re your neighbors.
One took off his mask and smiled. It was Derek Dela-Cruz, an Ogden officer. He signed on to the OPD just two years ago, joined the SWAT team a year ago.
He has a wife and two little children and lives right in Ogden. Cuddles his baby, loves his wife, tries to keep a roof over their heads.
And walks up sidewalks toward armed men.
What’s he thinking?
“I think fear is always there in any call,” he said. “I think SWAT operations are generally a little bit safer because it’s so methodical and deliberately planned out.”
Safer? But the guy could have a gun. “It’s a matter of knowing what you are getting into,” he said. Knowledge gives comfort.
And, scared as he might be, he’s not alone.
“What I find assurance in is that on any SWAT call the guys I’m with are so well trained. That’s my comfort. I find strength in entering a house like that because we’ve gone through the same rigorous training programs, we shoot together, we have high physical standards.
“And there’s a little bit of esprit de corps, just like in the military,” he said. “That makes being on the SWAT team enjoyable.”
Maybe getting shot at is enjoyable? Well, it takes all kinds.
Nobody got shot at in this incident. Despite what the movies say, the Ogden-Metro SWAT team’s goal is to get people to surrender without gunfire and in hundreds of incidents it has always managed to do so.
Dela-Cruz, and all the other members, are glad for that.
But one thing hit an odd chord. When the officers brought out the suspect, some young people across the street called out to him. The suspect has local gang connections, police said, and there was an unmistakable admiring tone to the calls, as if the guy were a local hero.
Didn’t that bother Dela-Cruz?
“I think the hardest part about this job is being misunderstood,” he said.
“You’re there doing your job for the sake of the general public, and sometime they just don’t understand. Sometime they assume you’re there to harm one of their friends. But I think for the most part people are understanding about it.”
Wasatch Rambler welcomes your ideas or comments. You can reach Charles Trentelman at 625-4232, or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.