SIGNAL 13 … With a Heroic Ending
By: Joel E. Gordon
Baltimore Police Department Western District Circa 1981: 2.7 square miles of area with 177 officers assigned to patrol it. This was the area that I was assigned to, fresh out of the police academy, when I asked to be assigned to a high crime area.
Officers worked with the realization that the calls for service keep coming before and after each and every shift and long after any retirement or separation from the agency. The goal was to police to the best of our ability, and as the old Baltimore Police saying goes, get to “Go home to eat your spaghetti.”
Historically, with sadness, not all officers assigned to the Western District have gotten to go home at the end of their shift when policing the high crime and violence-ridden west side of Baltimore.
Signal 13 is the Baltimore Police code for officer needs assistance. During my time as a Baltimore officer, I only called a signal 13 on myself one time during a lone confrontation with a knife-wielding man. Always and likely forever, I cannot hear a Signal 13 via police scanner traffic or recorded video without feeling that I need to begin heading out to help.
Fast forward to Western District 2018: Urban blight has continued to erode the neighborhoods of West Baltimore with an increase in vacant homes, open-air drug markets, violence and crime with vastly fewer officers available to patrol it due to a shortage of officers in the department. When I watched, via the Internet, the police released video of Officer Philip Lippe’s encounter with an armed subject and heard the calls of Signal 13 being broadcast you can just imagine my angst as I watched him being shot in a gunfight and returning fire along with fellow officer Steven Foster.
The encounter occurred on Sept. 23, 2018. Lippe, a three-year veteran of the department and Foster, a five-year-veteran, pursued a 29-year-old man because they thought he was involved with drug trafficking in the area. Both officers were in full uniform.
Video from Foster’s camera shows him driving a marked police car as Lippe sits in the passenger seat. They followed the male, who was on foot. As the officers stop and get out of the cruiser, the suspect is lying on his side, on the ground uninjured, and facing them. Lippe points at the suspect with his left hand and, seeing that he is armed, orders him to drop the gun in his right hand.
As the male suspect began to fire what would later be determined to be 10 rounds at the officers, Lippe and Foster returned fire with a total of 30 rounds eliminating the threat which resulted in the death of the suspect.
Lippe can be heard in the video of the four-minute duration yelling, “I’m hit!”
Foster briefly leaves the alley and attempts to call for backup on his radio. Foster returns to the alley and tries to calm Lippe, telling him, “He’s down.” The suspect can be seen lying on the sidewalk, now facing away from the officers and bleeding.
Foster assesses Lippe for injuries, pulling at his shirt and bulletproof vest. The video shows him telling Lippe to get in the police car.
“Get that gun away,” Lippe says of the weapon. Foster goes to the suspect and then returns to the cruiser.
“I’m good. Let the medic get here,” Lippe tells Foster.
Lippe was struck by three bullets; one hit his body camera, another was deflected by his bulletproof vest and a third grazed his elbow. Footage from Lippe’s camera was destroyed in the shooting so all video obtained was from Foster’s body cameras vantage point.
It was learned that the suspect had been paroled on Jan. 18, 2018 after serving nearly 14 years of a 20-year sentence for a 2004 murder. The recovered firearm that the suspect possessed had an obliterated serial number and was equipped with laser sights.
Interim Baltimore Police Commissioner Gary Tuggle said of the incident that “Those officers were in that particular area doing what I expected and what the public expects, and that’s crime suppression. At the end of the day, we are fortunate, not just as a police department, but as a city, that we did not lose an officer during that shooting. There was clearly intent on the suspect’s part to kill this officer.”
Thankfully, Officers Lippe and Foster got to go home that frightful day in September and are available for us to give them our thanks, respect and admiration. I was proud to have the opportunity to nominate Officer’s Philip Lippe and Steven Foster for 2018 Blue Magazine Valor Awards and congratulate them on their heroic acts under fire and their continued dedication to the city which I too proudly once served.
Joel E. Gordon is a former Field Training Officer with the Baltimore City 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