Who Is Breaking In?

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The classic self-defense moment starts with an unexpected noise at night, like the tinkle of breaking glass or the chihuahua barking. You sit up to reach for your self-defense firearm. Your spouse is snoring, so you shake his or her arm. As your head clears and your senses wake up, you become aware of movement, feet shuffling and flashlights. Now what?

Protect and Serve

The noise outside might be police searching for some knucklehead who just held up the local 7-Eleven … or the police might have the wrong address.

One fall evening in 1972, Sam Taylor, the first black student body president of the University of Florida, was home studying. His wife and daughter were watching television. Suddenly, the Gainesville, Florida, police department burst through the door. Sam and his wife found themselves handcuffed on the floor; their daughter screaming, door busted and furniture broken. Later, the department apologized (sort of) for having the wrong address with a “my bad.”

Just this year, Amber Guyger arrived home at 10:00 p.m. to find the door open slightly and a man inside. As a Dallas cop who thought she’d encountered a burglar, she shot. Guyger, it turns out, went to the wrong apartment. Her apartment was on the third floor, directly below that of 26-year-old Botham Jean’s apartment on the fourth. She was fired, arrested, convicted of murder and sentenced to 10 years in prison. But Jean is dead.

A white man with salt-and-pepper hair, wearing a black leather jacket and blue jeans, uses a crowbar to pry open a residential patio door. The man has a bright silver revolver with wooden grips tucked into his left hip pocket as he breaks in.

How do you know who is breaking in? Use your head, dial 911, hunker down and maybe hope for a dose of luck. (photo by Rick Sapp)

Atatiana Jefferson and her 8-year-old nephew were playing video games at 2:30 a.m. Jefferson heard a noise, grabbed her handgun and cautiously went to the back bedroom to investigate. Outside, searching for a fleeing perp, Fort Worth law enforcement officer Aaron Dean saw her holding a pistol and fired through the window. The officers, who peered through several windows and sliding glass doors, never announced their presence. Dean was arrested for murder.

Bad Guys Abound

In May 2014, Latino street gang “Big Hazard” of the Los Angeles neighborhood Boyle Heights broke into four apartments occupied by black families. The gang broke windows and set the apartments on fire. No one died, but the defenseless families — mostly older people or families with little children — all fled. Only in June 2019 was one of the gang members convicted and sentenced to prison.

Chicago’s Grace Abbott Homes, the notorious “Towers of Death,” were torn down in 2007. Rival gangs fighting over drugs, drug money and “turf” routinely sent members to rob and terrorize residents. The final blow that caused the city to tear down the projects was a gang attack on a 52-year-old woman. She called the police while the gang members were breaking in, but no one responded. The gang robbed her and shot her four times. Her body wasn’t discovered for two days.

Two ex-cons invaded the Clutters’ rural Kansas home through an unlocked door in November 1959. They were looking for a safe full of money. Finding little of value, they slit Herb Clutter’s throat and murdered his wife and two children with shotgun blasts to the head. They departed with a small portable radio, a pair of binoculars and $50 in cash. Eventually, the two were captured, convicted and hung.

How Do You Know?

You hope police will announce their presence, but anyone can shout “Police! Open the door!” Not even a red or blue flickering lightbar is proof of police presence. (My neighbor’s son fooled me with that one not long ago.)

Every possibility has its downside. Outdoor lighting and a home security system may help, but blaring sirens in the dark during a moment of panic could make your situation worse. And nobody wants to shoot a cop. Grabbing your gun in one hand and calling 911 with the other lets you go on record. Getting to know the cops who live in your neighborhood is an even better idea.

Maybe the only solution — and it doesn’t feel very satisfying — is to use your head, dial 911 and hunker down.

About Rick Sapp

Richard “Rick” Sapp was a U.S. Army infantry platoon leader until recruited to the 66th Military Intelligence Group. There, he worked with the West German KRIPO (Criminal Police) at Czechoslovakian border stations during the Soviet invasion of 1968.

Returning to the U.S., he earned a Ph.D. in social anthropology after studies at the U.S. Air Force Academy, Catholic University of America and the University of Florida, following which he moved to Paris, France, for a year.

After four years with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, he turned to journalism and freelance writing, specializing in outdoor features. His journalism experience includes newspapers and magazines. He has authored more than 50 books for a variety of international publishers.

Rick is married and lives in Florida.

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