We expect the extraordinary to be the routine from our police officers.
Fresno’s cops deliver day in and day out on this expectation, as I discovered Tuesday night.
At the same time, the incident in question makes me wonder if there’s room for improvement in the operational system.
The incident was the “gun battle” (Fresno PD’s term) at University Inn on Shaw Avenue, across the street from Fresno State’s Save Mart Center. The local media covered the event in full. I got there in my role as editorial adviser for The Collegian (the university’s student-run news platform) shortly after the police had taped off the crime scene.
The essence of the incident, based on police statements that night and in a subsequent news release, is this:
A City of Fresno police officer was dispatched to the motel at about 10 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 27. People had complained that a suspicious person was knocking on doors.
The officer, a veteran with more than 20 years on the force, pulled into a parking lot. He got there just in time to witness a gun battle. There may have been as many as six people in the fight – a group of two vs. a group of four.
The officer radioed for help. He then went to work. He told everyone to drop their guns. They paid him little or no mind. Two of the suspects fled into some nearby bushes. They soon emerged. The gunfire resumed. The officer at this point returned the fire.
In the end, at least two suspects got away. One suspect was wounded. He was taken to Community Regional Medical Center, where he was listed in stable condition as of Wednesday. Two other suspects were arrested. Two handguns were recovered.
It’s not clear at this point whose bullets wounded one of the suspects.
Many Fresno police officers responded to the scene. Their search that night for two (or more) fleeing suspects was unfruitful.
On a personal note, permit me to praise the work of The Collegian team: Editor in Chief Cresencio Rodriguez-Delgado, Managing Editor Chueyee Yang, News Editor Razmik Canas and Layout Designer Juan Alvarez. They were minutes away from sending the next day’s paper to the presses when they learned of the shooting. They put things on hold and rushed to the scene. Within six hours, they had produced a comprehensive and riveting report on a potentially deadly incident on the university’s southern border.
I have three comments on what happened at University Inn. The first two center on quotes from Deputy Chief Andy Hall, who conducted a roadside news conference at 1 a.m. Wednesday.
1.) Hall said the officer was by himself for three to four minutes – “which is an extremely long time to be by yourself in an active shooting situation.”
The Deputy Chief makes an excellent point. The six suspects initially were intent on killing each other. Then a police officer showed up, adding a new risk to their thinking. It’s unclear to the general public at this point whether any of the six ever shot at the officer. However, there can be no doubt that there were bullets flying in many directions while the officer was on his own. He remained in harms’ way, doing his duty with no backup, for 180 to 240 seconds. Fresno is blessed to have such a brave and resourceful police officer.
2.) The officer was wearing a body camera. Hall said he reviewed the video before speaking to reporters.
“I was really amazed at how calm the officer was able to maintain himself,” Hall said. “He was able to control the people who were coming out of their rooms. He was able to provide aid and comfort to the shooting victim. He was very composed.”
Once again, the Deputy Chief makes an excellent point. Swirling events put a lot of pressure on the officer’s attention. It sounds like he did an excellent job of prioritizing his duties and an equally excellent job of executing them.
3.) I do not know the make-up of peace officers and emergency responders who eventually arrived at University Inn. I’m guessing an ambulance was there. Perhaps the Fresno Fire Department, as well.
I was beginning my walk home from The Collegian office shortly after 10 p.m. Tuesday. I was near the tennis courts along Cedar Avenue when I saw a marked Fresno police car, sirens and emergency lights going full bore, heading south on Cedar before turning onto eastbound Shaw. Soon, a second marked Fresno police car followed the same path.
When I got to Shaw, I saw two unmarked cars, sirens blaring, head east on Shaw toward the crime scene. I’m assuming they were part of Fresno PD. At this point, I, too, headed toward University Inn.
Fresno State and University Inn are on the eastern edge of the Northeast Police District. I do not know how Chief Jerry Dyer and his management team deploy their patrol officers among the five policing districts or within each district. But it seems safe to say that, given the size of each district, one reason that the officer responding to the initial call for service at University Inn was alone for three to four minutes was the conundrum of time and distance.
However, there is a full-fledged police department operating 24/7 just a short hop from University Inn – the Fresno State Police Department. And it is my understanding that the Fresno State officers have authority to act when necessary within the university’s sphere of influence. I occasionally see Fresno State squad cars patrolling through El Dorado Park west of Bulldog Stadium.
Do Fresno PD and Fresno State PD have a mutual aid agreement? If so, was Fresno State PD contacted immediately after shots were fired almost within the shadow of the Save Mart Center? Was Fresno State PD asked to come to the aid of that lone officer involved in a “gun battle” with up to six shooters?
These questions are relevant beyond simply the humane act of helping a good man in peril. As already noted, at least two suspects got away on foot. This may have happened in part because Fresno PD couldn’t get enough people on scene fast enough to set up an effective perimeter defense. These suspects may have been armed. They almost certainly were desperate. They could have easily crossed Shaw at some point and roamed through the darkened but by no means empty campus. As I’ve said, I walked across the heart of the campus a few minutes before the shooting. There were lots of students in the Student Union, at the Madden Library and on walkways heading to their dorm rooms. A case can be made that Fresno State PD had a strategic interest in deploying its assets to ensure that an isolated incident at University Inn remained isolated in that area.
I understand that there’s much I don’t know about the working relationship between Fresno PD and Fresno State PD. Perhaps Fresno PD in a dangerous and rapidly changing situation like the University Inn shooting finds it preferable to limit all armed responders to department personnel. We all remember the deadly Minkler shootout of February 2010 when so many peace officers from different jurisdictions responded in such a hurry that command chaos ensued.
Deputy Chief Hall in the dark of early Wednesday morning told reporters that Fresno Police Auditor John Gliatta was already being kept abreast of developments at the University Inn incident. Gliatta produces a quarterly report on Police Department actions and policy.
The courageous and effective performance of the first Fresno cop to arrive at University Inn on the night of Feb. 27 is surely worth a word or two from Gliatta in his next report.
So, too, the nature of the Fresno PD-Fresno State PD alliance when stressed to the maximum, as might have been the case on Feb. 27.
The Education Code gives campus police full jurisdiction within an one-mile radius of the campus boundaries. In the case of Fresno State, that means officers can patrol as far north as Alluvial Avenue, as far west as Fresno Street and as far south as Ashlan Avenue. As for any agreement between Fresno PD and university police is concerned, the only formal one I’m aware of is for policing at football games and such. As far as I know there’s no mutual aid agreement per se. I do know there’s an informal agreement that university PD handles issues with the Greeks on Shaw and on Greek Mall.
Police should be instructed to shoot first, ask questions later.