When the Intruder is a Cop

Written by Greg Ellifritz

Topics: News and Tactical Advice

  • SumoMe

Written by: Greg Ellifritz


Last week at work I responded to an urgent call for backup.  An armed homeowner pulled a gun on one of my fellow officers.


In the end, everything turned out fine.  No one got shot.  By the time I arrived at the home, both officer and homeowner had secured their respective weapons and were talking peacefully.  It was a tense situation for a few seconds and could have ended tragically.


Here’s how it went down….


The officer was dispatched on a “check the well being” call.  A high school student had called police to report that he had received several texts from his friend.  The text messages hinted that the friend was planning on killing himself.  The officer was sent to the friend’s house to ensure that he wasn’t suicidal.


It was 9 pm and dark outside.  The house was lighted up inside and the officer heard sounds that indicated the house was occupied.  The officer knocked on the door vigorously and rang the door bell.  No one answered.


The officer could have just left the scene at that point, but he is conscientious and wanted to make sure that the boy wasn’t in danger, or even worse, had already attempted to kill himself.


Seeing lights on at the rear of the house, the officer decided to try knocking at the back door.  He entered the back yard through an unlocked fence gate and was walking towards the back door of the house when the homeowner spotted him.


The homeowner was inside the house and couldn’t see well.  He heard his gate open and close, then saw a man dressed in all dark clothing poking around in his back yard with a flashlight in hand.  The homeowner ran to get his pistol.


By the time the officer reached the back door, he was looking down the barrel of the homeowner’s gun.  The cop drew his own gun, called for backup, shined his flashlight on his badge, and verbally identified himself as a police officer.  The homeowner immediately lowered his gun, then secured it before opening the back door and talking to the officer.  Tragedy averted.


Let me start by saying that no one in this situation did anything wrong.  The cop was trying to make sure a boy wasn’t going to kill himself.  The homeowner was legally defending his residence from a suspicious intruder approaching the back door of his house.  Some frazzled nerves, poor training, or a couple more pounds of pressure on either weapon’s trigger would have resulted in a tragic outcome.


How do we prevent situations like this from going bad?


We have to start by teaching cops to take extra care to identify themselves in any ambiguous situation.  Any time a cop is on another person’s property, he should be in full uniform.  He should repeatedly verbalize the fact that he is a police officer.  Basically, cops need to slow down a bit and look at their actions from the perspective of an armed homeowner.  Would the cop’s actions be thought of as “suspicious” by the property owner?  If so, it’s up to the cop to change his approach to ensure that the resident knows that the person lurking in the darkness is a police officer instead of a potential home invader.


Second, you as a homeowner must recognize that there are legitimate reasons for police to be on your property (and occasionally in your house).  Not every “intruder” is a criminal.  I hear a lot of talk from armed citizens saying “I never break any laws.  There’s no reason for the police to be on my property.  I’ll shoot first.  Better to be judged by 12 than carried by six….etc.”  That logic is wrong.  The homeowner in this story didn’t break any laws.  He didn’t have any reason to suspect that the police would be coming to his house.  Despite the fact that the homeowner did not violate any laws, there was still a legitimate reason for the police to be poking around his back yard.


There are lots of completely legal situations that could result in a cop, fireman, or utility worker to need to be in your yard.  Let’s use some logic here.  What is the more likely explanation for a strange man to be in your yard at night?  Is it more common that that stranger might be a first responder of some sort, or is it more common that the stranger would be a home invader?  Speaking for myself, I’ve never been the victim of a home invasion, but I’ve seen utility workers in my yard dozens of times…even at night.  I’ve had firefighters walking through my yard trying to find the source of a brush fire.  I live in a relatively safe neighborhood.  If I play the odds, it’s more likely that anyone on my property is a neighbor or first responder than it is that the person is a criminal.


We all just need to calm down a bit.  I’m not saying that you shouldn’t defend your property or yourself.  Just make sure that the person you are “defending” against is a real threat.  Shooting the policeman who is trying to ensure your son isn’t trying to kill himself doesn’t create the outcome you are looking for.


Cops need to make sure their actions don’t appear criminal.  Armed citizens need to ensure that they practice good target discrimination and take some training about how to adequately address threats in a low light environment.  Both groups need to be calm and clear thinking, without the automatic “I am right” egotistical response that is commonly seen.


Cops don’t want to get shot.  Armed citizens don’t want to mistakenly shoot a cop who is trying to help them.  Both groups want the same outcome.  But it is only by understanding the other group’s perspective that we can safely achieve it.




P.S.  Several folks wrote to ask about what happened to the suicidal boy.  It turned out that he wasn’t suicidal.  He was happy and in good spirits.  The texts that he sent were misinterpreted by the friend he sent them to.  He showed the officer the texts and explained the misunderstanding.  He never had any intention of killing himself.


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15 Comments For This Post I'd Love to Hear Yours!

  1. Dave says:

    The only exception to this I can see would be if Not-Police Officers knock on your door saying they ARE Police Officers. That happens too. I’ve always told my wife that if someone knocks on the door and says they’re LEO’s and they haven’t specifically been called by us…to immediately call 911 and find out WHY they are there. LEO’s also need to realize bad guys are impersonating them to gain access to homes.

    • Ian says:

      Again, I think you need to think about balance of probability here-much like the author said about the likelihood of someone being a utility worker/first responder vs. a true home invader. Impersonation happens-but I haven’t seen any types of data or news to prove that uniformed impersonation for the purpose of home-invasion is a common occurrence. Check-the-welfare calls, on the other hand, occur almost every shift.

    • Alex says:

      Indeed sometimes badguys impersonate cops. This is one of the most eggreious cases I can think of occuring in the U.S. A cartel Hit Squad posed as Phoenix SWAT in an assassination in Phoenix, AZ about 7 years ago. You can read in detail about it here: https://www.stratfor.com/weekly/mexican_cartels_and_fallout_phoenix

      Greg, do you have any ideas on how to deal with something crazy like that?

      Granted I think the odds are low of this happening; however, it’s not impossible. The only think I’ve come up with is; if time; call 911 and verify that actual police are there and if not have 911 send the real heroes in blue. In the meantime try to stay secure in a safe room or some place you can defend until the blue calvary arrives..

  2. Barry Graham says:

    On a similar note – Several years ago I was picking up my wife, who was a nurse at a hospital. A security guard, was patrolling the hospital parking lot in his Jeep. I was looking for a parking spot in the very crowded lot. He pulled up next to my car and recommended that I park in the auxiliary lot across the street. I’m a well groomed blue eyed, white guy driving a Buick and wearing a suit. However, it seems, the pistol, holstered on my belt revealed a bit. He said nothing. I parked in the auxiliary lot. A little later, I met my wife in the lobby to ride home. When crossing into the auxiliary lot we noticed about ten County Police vehicles in the lot. All the officers were behind their vehicles, facing us. One officer, acting as spokesperson stepped forward, looked directly at me and asked “Are you carrying a gun?” I stop and respond “Yes, I’m armed”. He orders “Let me see your gun!”. Suddenly, on an otherwise quiet day, I’m the subject of a life/death IQ test. So, dreadlocks and a shit box or stolen car are not the litmus test for police inquiry. (A similar incident at the Costco in Las Vegas resulted in the shooting death of a Concealed Permit Holder shopper. A nervous customer reported “man with a gun’ to the manager, who called police. They wanted to see his gun, when he complied, they shot the shit out of him.) My solution was – I responded very loudly, so all in earshot could hear “Rather than play show-and-tell with firearms, I’ll show you my ID, will that be okay?” After a pause, he answered ‘yes’. Sometimes we have to provide help for people who are not thinking beyond the immediate moment. So, if you print or reveal, don’t get sucked into putting your hands on your gun when police are investigating a complaint about you.

    • MarkPA says:

      Smart thinking.
      The cop’s question was incomprehensible. After responding by saying “Yes, I am armed” what could possibly be the cop’s purpose in asking to “Let me see your gun”? Is the cop a collector? Was he planning on bidding to buy the owner’s gun? What useful outcome could possibly come from responding directly to such a question?
      Maybe the cop would like to know where the gun is being carried. In a shoulder holster; in a back pocket; in the waist-band? Right or left side? Is he carrying Mexican? That sets some context. Shoulder holster? Left side? OK, then use your left hand to open your left side of your coat. Right-side waist-band? OK, then use your right hand to pull the lapel of your right side of your coat to reveal the gun. Now, we might be getting somewhere. But, all in all, where he is carrying is not particularly important. The subject has ADMITTED he is carrying a gun. Now, what are the odds that this subject is going to follow-up his admission by attempting the draw-on-a-drawn-gun?
      How about asking where the gun is, where his wallet is, and whether he has his carry permit on him? OK, so, he has a carry permit. How about taking off his coat and turning around back to the cop. Pull his wallet from his back pocket and find his permit. Hand it backwards toward the cop. Maybe this scenario isn’t the safest idea; but, there has got to be a safer scenario then inviting the subject to invoke suicide-by-cop to make sure that it’s the cop who goes home safe tonight.

  3. Ralph Mroz says:

    Two lessons I take from this, Greg. 1) If you have a gun, have a light right next to it and use the damn thing. The homeowner should have used the light to ID the “intruder”. His bad if not. 2) If your eyesight is so poor that you can’t see well, don’t go pointing guns at people. There’s no responsible counterargument here, IMO.

    1) above hits on one of your (Greg’s) and Claude Werner’s pet peeves — the abysmal state of CCW and civilian firearms training. The use of a light is never, in my experience, covered in them. Even the gun geeks, who will spend a fortune to learn how to shave 0.2 seconds off a drill, will seldom consider attending a low light course.

    Mr. Graham also makes a great point. I was never taught in the academy or in-service training how to respond to a lawful citizen with a gun. If any state or agency out there does so, they are in the small minority. So yeah, LE training sucks in many ways, too. But we both know that.

  4. Brad Hunt says:

    I had guns pulled on me several times as a meter reader. I never got too worked up about it and honestly, wondered why it didn’t happen more often seeing as how I was traipsing, unannounced, through 300-400 yards a day.

  5. Kendahl says:

    I think you were too generous with the homeowner even though his actions weren’t technically illegal.

    If you see a trespasser, call 911. If they have their act together (some don’t), they will know there is an officer on the scene. They will advise you of that and let the officer know he has been spotted. That should relieve apprehension on both sides.

    It’s wise to get your gun out but don’t confront the trespasser unless he actually breaks in. With few exceptions, like arson or shooting into the house, a trespasser lacks the opportunity to harm the inhabitants. That, of course, changes if he breaks in.

    A female friend of mine used to live in the country. One night, somebody rattled her door but eventually gave up and left the property. That was a wise decision because she was waiting on the inside with a shotgun. She didn’t say whether she had called 911 but, given where she lived, it wouldn’t have made much difference in response time.

    Deputies were dispatched to a rural home in Iowa after the wife called 911 to report a trespasser. A few minutes later, she called again to report that the her husband had shot the trespasser after he broke in. The 911 operator immediately forwarded this information to the responding deputies. By doing so, she greatly reduced the chances that they would mistake the homeowner for the trespasser. The trespasser, now deceased, turned out to have been a very dangerous fugitive.

  6. Tom says:


    Very well said. As a former LEO who just started training and carrying regularly agin (..I know…i know..:)), I appreciate your balanced, fair, and relevant articles man! I’ve spent the past week reading many of them. This one hits the head on the nail also. I applaud you for providing info to all responsible citizens who choose to carry.

    Thanks again,


  7. Hal says:

    I was about to make the point that Br’er Mroz made about the importance of having a flashlight, but he beat me to it.

    My experience differs from his, though, in that many, if not most, of the classes I’ve taken included a low light component and stressed how important target identification is.

    Anyone who’s taken a class w/ a low light force on force component is going to know that the light can draw gunfire. So, illuminate and move immediately. Assess what you’ve seen while moving. If shooting is appropriate, make your mind up, prep the trigger, illuminate and shoot. Repeat as necessary.

    Just my $o.o2

    Thanks for a thought inspiring post, Greg.

  8. Cotter says:

    I’m very pro police, but why this officer didn’t have his gumballs a-turning while yelling out “police” every 30 seconds I have no idea.

    The officer, from the information as presented by Greg, was not being very cautious…

  9. Terry says:

    Greg: AMEN!!! Excellent article. This should be a public service announcement.

    As far as the comment about the officer not having his “gumballs” flashing and yelling police every 30 seconds… that is not just bad form, it’s dangerous for the officer. Drawing a lot of attention to himself from someone inside who may be suicidal and maybe armed is not a good idea and possibly a way to create a barricaded gunman/hostage sutuation.
    Plus…some citizens call in and complain about flashing lights in their neighborhood and especially in front of their house.

    If the occupants didn’t respond to the knocking on the door, they probably would not have noticed the flashing lights.

    The officer did just about everything he could correctly.

    I would have had dispatch get a phone number for the address and try to call the house, but that’s just me.

    Greg’s comment about slow down, calm down and don’t point a firearm at anyone until you have decided they are a threat is spot on!!

    In this case, had the homeowner shot at the police officer he would facing charges.

    Just my 2 cents.

  10. Terry says:

    Regarding the “fake” policeman concerns, Greg has an EXCELLENT article about recognizing the differences between a real raid and bad guys impersonating.

    The specialized armored vehicles may not always be a part of an encounter with real police. In many areas of the country, regular old uniformed policemen will show up, in all manner of vehicles… vans, etc, etc.

    Since it’s true that generic raid jackets and badges are assorted other items emblazoned with POLICE are easily available, its a good idea to familiarize yourself with what the real badges and insignias of your local police look like.

    Many departments will add their custom logo to their raid gear, etc.

    Know the difference between a legit badge and a drug store badge and a cheap raid jacket vs one that has authentic patches from the local police, sheriff, etc.

    I recall a story I read and commented on years ago. A SWAT officer was mistakenly shot by a homeowner during a raid of the wrong house.

    The SWAT officer was wearing his team’s chosen tactical uniform which was some flavor of the day version of the latest rage tacti-cool camoflage military clothing.

    The homeowner spotted some dude wearing camo and sporting a rifle sneak by his kitchen window headed for his back yard, so he shot the guy. He said he thought the guy was some kind of nut, saw he had a gun and was in fear so he blasted him. I can’t recall the final outcome of that incident. I just remembered it because it stood out that some SWAT leader adopted camo uniforms that were not clearly identifable as the good guys.

    Hopefully all departments will make certain that all their personell are clearly identifiable as POLICE, etc. and avoid camo uniforms unless they are specifically needed on a mission by mission basis.

    One other instance I remember from my teenage days as a police explorer… the reason the Memphis Police banned baseball caps. PERIOD.

    It seems one dark and stormy night an elderly woman heard a prowler in her back yard and called the police. She indicated to the dispatcher she wanted to speak with officers when they arrived. Officers were dispatched and arrived quickly.

    The officer was wearing an all black police style raincoat without markings or a badge on the front and a baseball hat with department patch on the front. He knocked on the front door.

    The frightened elderly lady looked through her peep hole and all she saw was a man in all black wearing a baseball hat knocking loudly on her front door. She panicked and fired her 12 gauge shotgun loaded with birdshot through the door. The officer escaped with minimal injuries partially because he heard her pump the thing and started getting out of the way and partially because the bird shot did not fare well going through the solid wood front door.

    In her statement to investigators, she said the guy did not look like the police wearing a baseball hat. She thought police wore policeman hats and that she thought he was just another thug wearing a baseball hat.

    The department banned all baseball hats after that.

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