The police, an open door, and probable cause



I’m glad the encounter came out as well as it did. Lesson learned.


Did the police officers say anything to confirm that they didn’t just kill your husband out of race bias or classism? That if they’d seen a flicker of dark skin in their flashlights they’d have gunned him down. Is it possible that they were already aware of the danger of surprising the homeowners instead of a burglar and knew that burglars usually don’t break into a house and then go sleep in the bed? That is still a sort of prejudice, I suppose, but not a race or class based one. They probably also didn’t perceive events as happing quite as fast as you and your husband given your respective states when they entered the room, and perhaps had made the “no shoot” decision even before the two of you were fully awake.

It is an interesting post, but that sentence of race/class bias just has a big “confirmation bias” flag on it. Especially given all the reasons that a policeman might have failed to get off a shot in that situation even IF he actually should have.


you don’t pay attention to Radley Balko do you?


I have no idea about the specific officers involved, who were very professional. And that’s why I chalked our good experience up to a mixture of things … privilege and circumstance, training and luck. But given the long history in this country of police being more prone to shoot unarmed civilians if those civilians aren’t white (and/or are living in less well-off neighborhoods), I think it’s only reasonable that someone would come away from this situation wondering what might have happened if we’d not been the people we are.


We laugh 'cause it’s funny; we cry 'cause it’s true. Thank you.


Wow, this could have gone much differently. I share your husband’s affinity for “sleeping free.” One early morning we had a policeman knock on the door to serve a warrant on someone that used to live at our address.

I stumbled out of the bed at 4am to answer the door and couldn’t figure out why the cop wouldn’t look at me while handing me this paper. Fun times.


Based on your account, I’m leaning more toward the officers’ training and professionalism affording you a positive outcome here than whatever perception you have of your status and privilege. They sound pretty awesome. (And I’m sure this wasn’t their first rodeo.)


So, what would have happened if he’d managed to swing at a copper?

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At 3am our dog started barking, I got out of bed to see what was going on, to see a flashlight sweeping our living room. I ran back to the bedroom, grabbed my shotgun, told my wife to call 911 and returned to the front of the house. Saw that the light was in the hands of a man in dark clothes at the side of the house near the cars. At that point my wife was told by 911 that police were already on site.

Apparently my recently damaged car parked out front matched the description of a hit and run. Luckily for all involved, I didn’t chose to leave my house or otherwise confront the cop who was in my driveway looking for the driver. He’d not turned on his blue lights, but questioned me at the door to make sure I wasn’t the hit-and-run driver. I didn’t see much reason to tell him that I’d had a shotgun pointed at him minutes before.

Frightening how easily it could have ended really badly.


You’ve got an open door, an open garage, and no one has responded to your announcing your presence. You’re compelled to enter the building. How do you proceed?

Now, we don’t have all the details, which is a shame. All we know is that the police entered the home, and that they had flashlights, and that they got within “6 feet” of the inhabitants before waking them, inadvertantly prompting the husband’s defensive response. So what exactly happened?

Did the responding officers proceed into the home slowly, continually calling out in non-threatening voices? “Hello? Is anyone home? This is the police. Hello? Is anyone here? My name is Officer {Surname}, I’m with the {Location} Police Department. Is anyone home? Hello?”

Somehow, I don’t quite think so. I know that if I awoke to a concerned sounding voice calling out “Hello?” and is “Anyone home?”, although I would be confused and perhaps startled on being woken, I most certainly would not respond violently or abruptly. I’d either collect my wits and listen for a moment longer, at which point I’d hear one of the numerous repetitions of “This is the police” and I’d be somewhat reassured as to whom was in my home, or I’d call out and demand to know “Who’s there?”, and then conversation is initiated and the situation can be diffused.

Did the officers perhaps enter the home quietly and stealthily? Given that the two officers allegedly managed to come within a few yards of the sleeping inhabitants before managing to wake them, it would be easy to imagine that this was the result of their not actively calling out once inside the building - presumably they chose to only call out at the entrance to the home, and were unheard due to a combination of distance and environmental noise.

But, why would a police officer behave that way? Isn’t it inherently more dangerous to surprise whoever is inside than to give them excessive forewarning in the form of repeated calls? Whether you’re surprising a sleeping family or a currently-pilfering house burglar, startling either party is liable to escalate the sitation and vastly increase the chances of violence breaking out.

Let’s assume the worst - the house is being burgled while the family is inside asleep. The police enter the home and begin calling out repeatedly, giving ample and excessive forewarning of their presence. How does the burglar respond? Really, there are only two logical courses of action for an interrupted burglar - flee, or fight.

Any sane thief would attempt to flee, especially if they’ve yet to be spotted and they have a good idea of where the police officers are (given that they’re calling out constantly, revealing their location). You’d have to be incredibly stupid or addled to try to fight the police officers when you could cleanly escape. The same also goes for endangering the home’s inhabitants - especially since they’re probably waking up to the sound of the police calling out, and they may themselves be armed. Better by far to slip away.

Contrast this situation with one where the police fail to announce their presence. They stalk through the home, peering about with flashlights. The house’s inhabitants, startled and surprised, will likely assume the worst about these silent intruders who have failed to announce their presence beyond calling out from the building’s entrance. The situation is highly likely to escalate as the homeowner feels threatened and within their rights and needs to defend themselves with force. Meanwhile, the thief is also liable to be caught unawares - similarly startled and surprised, and also overwhelmingly likely to feel cornered and immediately threatened, forcing them to defend themselves. It’s a recipe for violence and tragedy.

Now, I am not trained in police procedures, and I do not know the exact details of this or any other similar case. But I have the general perception - perhaps skewed or flawed - that the police rarely, if ever, enter a home in a manner in which they constantly broadcast their position, their identity, and their non-threatening intent to the building’s occupants.

Given that this method seems, at least in theory, far less liable to result in needless trauma or loss of life, one would assume it would be the standard operating procedure - so much so that it would be immediately perceived as such even by a layperson such as myself. Which is why I’m wondering that this does not appear to be the case.


This is one of the best short stories in the form of a list that I have ever read. Might be the only, but don’t let that take away from my enjoyment or your accomplishment.


When the Border Agency banged on our door at 4am (wrong door, as it transpired) I rolled over and asked my girlfriend to go find out what they wanted at such an ungodly hour.

I don’t think I have the same chivalry genes as your husband.


–Just to point out that “naked” might be part of what prevented things from taking a turn for the very worse. Since most burglers are clothed, the police probably realized that this was a freshly woken homeowner rather than an intruder. Lose fitting pyjamas or even worse sweat pants might have gotten a different reaction. That might have played as big a part as priviledge.


I’m told it’s unlikely that he would have been charged with assaulting an officer. The big thing is, you might get in one free punch in that situation (depending on the cop and the situation) but you’re expected to stop attacking when they identify themselves as police.

This is really one of those moments, though, when I felt damned lucky that we don’t feel a need to have a gun or other weapon by the bedside. Because, holy lord, that could have ended badly.


The police should have never had gone in a home unannounced. Why the hell didn’t they turn the lights on?

Deescalate everything. These cops created a dangerous situation. Someone could have died.


Fantastic post, @maggiek.

I get where some posters are coming from, I guess, but the insistence on perfect, rational assessment of the situation strikes me as kinda silly. We aren’t discussing a peer-reviewed study, or even a pop-science informational article (as terrible as those may sometimes be).

Rather, this was a visceral experience, and has every standing to be presented in that light. Dealing with our law enforcement juggernaut can raise a welter of emotions, even when the outcome is positive. That the author has taken a moment to reflect on her good fortune (in terms of status, class, or just dumb luck) does her nothing but credit, in my book. It shows, in fact, a level of rationality that escapes most people in even the most mundane circumstances. Let alone the average – Gaarrr! Defend! Kill! – expecting humanoid :wink:

In other words, save the pedantry for magnets or somesuch.


Thank goodness he doesn’t sleep in a hoodie.


I dunno… you gotta watch out for the naked burglars. they’re the worst.


Oh, if it was a knock on the door, or just a noise somewhere I totally would have just asked Maggie to go see what “her cats” were getting into. But waking up to someone rounding the corner towards the bedroom, some very low order thinking of my brain screamed “defend the pregnant wife”, after all, that baby’s got my genes. It wasn’t chivalry by any means.