Crime - Sacto 911

‘In seconds you can be fighting for your life.’ How routine calls can quickly turn dangerous for police

Deputy Mark Stasyuk, 27, died last week responding to a seemingly routine call at a Rancho Cordova auto parts store that quickly escalated to an “extensive firefight,” authorities said.

Officers in Rancho Cordova respond to an average of 115 calls for service per day, and they can turn dangerous in a moment’s notice – which means officers must remain vigilant, said Sgt. Shaun Hampton, spokesman for the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department.

“It is a challenge to balance the friendly officer posture that you would like to give people with the fact that you have to pay attention all the time,” said Jim Bueerman, president of the Police Foundation, a national organization focused on police policies and research. “(Officers) have to pay attention all the time because you never know what’s going to happen, or if someone is going to attack you.”

Stasyuk and his partner, Julie Robertson, 28, were dispatched to a customer disturbance call at a Pep Boys store. It was the kind of call that former Sacramento County Sheriff John McGinness described as the “epitome of routine.”

However, within 10 seconds of walking in the door, the two deputies faced a gunfight with suspect Anton Lemon Moore, 38, that left Stasyuk fatally wounded and Robertson shot in the arm. Stasyuk barely had time to react as Moore rounded the checkout counter and opened fire. Hampton said the Sheriff’s Department had to review more video from the incident to know if Stasyuk had time to pull his weapon in response.

“There are times when we respond to those calls, a seemingly innocuous call, and … in seconds you can be fighting for your life,” Hampton said.

In a 2015 study of officer line-of-duty deaths, 18 percent of officers died responding to disturbance calls, which are typically deemed “non-violent, nuisance crimes,” the study said. Deaths while responding to disturbance calls are second only to domestic dispute calls, which account for 22 percent of officer deaths.

“You learn there is no such thing as a routine call,” said Tim Davis, president of the Sacramento Police Officers Association.

“You can train, and you can train, and you can train, and you can gain experience, but there’s nothing that is predictable in our line of work,” said Sgt. Vance Chandler, spokesman for the Sacramento Police Department.

To mitigate safety risks to officers, they are trained to not respond to a call alone because that puts them at greater risk if something goes wrong. The 2015 study found that “the large percentage of officers who were on scene of a disturbance call were alone when killed.” They were either dispatched to the scene alone, or didn’t wait for backup to arrive.

Another risk to officers, the study and law enforcement experts say, is that the information reported by 911 callers frequently gives an incomplete picture, or can be flat-out wrong, leading officers to think they’re responding to a non-urgent call for service that is in fact a highly dangerous situation.

“Depending on nature of call, sometimes they’ll go with their holster unsnapped, or their hand on the gun,” Bueerman said. “This is all part of officer safety, and you try not to offend people by doing it.”

Following the death of Stasyuk, whose funeral is scheduled Saturday, Sheriff’s Department authorities tell deputies to be vigilant for their own safety, Hampton said.

“Just be safe. That’s all you can tell them. Be safe. Be alert. You’ve got to be aware of your surroundings at all times, not that either of those officers weren’t. Their guard wasn’t down. They were being vigilant in their approach. They approached that building like they were taught. They did everything by the book. You can do things by the book and things can go bad really fast because we never know what that other person is thinking.”

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