Upfront

Wanderlust
By Joel E. Gordon

Sometimes a news story is told that brings back a memory of our own careers or incidents. When I read about Officer Dan Anderson in August of 2016, I found myself reminiscing about a job performance evaluation that I received during my Crofton, Maryland policing years.

The headlines on Officer Dan Anderson’s story read Cop Fired for Responding to Officers’ Cries for Help at Active Shooter – Brier Police Officer Dan Anderson was fired from his employment after he responded to other officers’ cries for help as they responded to an active shooter at a party.

The incident occurred on a summer night in the affluent suburb of Mukilteo, Washington. The 19-year-old shooter showed up at the party of his friends while armed with an AR-15 and was upset that his ex-girlfriend was moving on with her life without him. After arriving at the house party, he found his ex-girlfriend and started shooting at her and the people at the party who had been his friends.

Three people were murdered in the shooting including the ex-girlfriend. In addition, one other person was also shot, but survived.

The night of the shooting, Officer Dan Anderson was working in the nearby small city of Brier, Washington. Officer Anderson heard Mukilteo officers’ cries for help while responding to the active shooting, and so the 25-year law enforcement veteran, who had recently retired from a full career in the State Patrol, answered the call.

Thanks to his quick response, Officer Anderson was one of the first police officers on scene of the shooting. They made entry to the house and took the shooter into custody.

While many people would expect Officer Anderson to be commended for a job well done, the Brier police chief disagreed.

Brier is a small town of only about 6,000 people, and commonly only had one patrol officer working at night. Officer Anderson was the only officer working in the town on that night, and when he left the city, no officers remained in the city to answer calls. According to Officer Anderson, the Brier police chief was so upset about the incident that he fired the veteran police officer for leaving the city unprotected.

To put things in context, Brier frequently has nights where there is not a single call for service. The low call volume is why they only need to staff one officer at night. Violent crime in Brier was extremely low. The chances were exceedingly low that there would be a call where someone’s safety or property would be in immediate danger. In the unlikely situation that such a call did come in, other agencies would potentially be available.

The firing was able to smoothly go through, because Anderson was still in his probationary period. He had only been with the police department for about eight months at the time he was fired. The official reason for the termination was due to “performance issues.”

It happened to me…

As the lone midnight shift officer, when not teaching D.A.R.E. in the Maryland Special Tax District of Crofton, I too frequently had nights with little to no calls for service. Crofton is a suburban community roughly halfway between Baltimore and Washington D.C. and is home to many high-earning dual income federal employee households. Crofton’s affluent Special Tax District, built around a private golf course, comprised a population about 10,000, but the general Crofton vicinity was much larger in size. Working in conjunction with the Anne Arundel County Maryland Police and being dispatched on their western district radio frequency, I would routinely back up Anne Arundel County officers on area calls for service outside my jurisdiction. Legal and potential workers compensation issues notwithstanding, I always was one to put officer safety first and was not reluctant to work closely with my fellow officers who had concurrent jurisdiction within my own Special Tax District primary area of responsibility.

Luckily, I wasn’t fired for my dedication to duty and the safety of my fellow officers, but lo and behold I was chastised in one of my written performance evaluations for suffering from “wanderlust” for time spent outside the Special Tax District boundaries.

Most police officers would agree that it would be a higher priority to respond to officers in need, rather than having an officer physically present in a city with no calls, but not everyone does.

In my case, I took the criticism and moved on, never changing the way that I worked. It is incumbent upon all of us to always be willing to help one another beyond any other concerns. The thin blue line is becoming increasingly thinner in many jurisdictions, and we must never let artificial boundaries keep us from looking out for our own then, now or ever.

Joel E. Gordon was a D.A.R.E. Instructor and patrol officer with the Crofton Maryland Police Department and is a past Chief of Police for the city of Kingwood, West Virginia. He has also served as vice- chair of a regional narcotics task force. An award-winning journalist, he is author of the book Still Seeking Justice: One Officer’s Story and founded the Facebook group Police Authors Seeking Justice. Look him up at stillseekingjustice.com