When fear comes in door, doubt about police flies out window

The last sound any homeowner wants to hear while lying fast asleep in a bed shared with the only other occupant of the house is a main door opening. Followed by a security alarm beeping. Followed by two hearts pounding.

It was shortly after 5:30 in the morning when I called 911 to report our house had been broken into recently. It was about 5:40 when my faith in local police had been momentarily restored.

My husband and I shot straight up in bed, turned to look at each other and burst into survival mode.

In those crucial moments between a break-in and a potential confrontation, time is precious. What you choose to do with it can mean the difference between sirens on your curbside or police tape on your lawn.

Knowing this, I reached for my cellphone with shaky hands. My husband reached for his courage with shaky instincts.

As he and our timid dog, Penny, darted downstairs, I carefully pressed those three numbers synonymous with an emergency.

No one wants to place a phone call intended to eventually reach police, but if you live in Las Vegas and read the news, you might be even more reluctant.

Last November, the Review-Journal published a yearlong investigative series into officer-involved shootings. “Deadly Force” used 20 years of hard data to establish what the public long suspected: The Metropolitan Police Department shoots to kill at a higher rate than other urban police agencies.

The series spurred an eight-month U.S. Department of Justice investigation into the police department’s use of force, which resulted in 75 recently released findings and recommendations.

As a Las Vegas resident, the DOJ’s involvement made me feel both worse and better about local police. Worse because it was bad enough to warrant federal intervention. Better because something good might come from it.

That said, none of those thoughts dared enter the stampede going on in my mind when I dialed 911. Downstairs, I thought I had a husband and dog in danger. Upstairs, I had an operator conducting a telephone interrogation.

“I think someone broke into my house,” I told her.

What was my address, she asked. I gave it to her. Who was I shouting to? My husband. Where was he? In the kitchen. Did we live in a one- or two-story house? Silence.

She had the vitals. Now I needed some answers. My husband, who left his wife and possibly his life upstairs, finally yelled them back to me.

Embarrassment is usually an unwelcome emotion. Not when terror is the alternative.

Unless the police could arrest the wind that blew open the door leading to our garage, I explained to the operator, we didn’t need her help anymore. I apologized and exhaled for what felt like the first time since picking up the phone. She assured me it was no problem, not to worry.

Not one minute after ending that call, my husband and I heard sirens in the distance. Could it be? Nah. We agreed it was a coincidence as our hearts still canoodled with our throats. The feeling of imminent doom doesn’t easily surrender.

Neither do negative thoughts about local police. When they ring your doorbell minutes after you place a 911 call, however, those thoughts might consider renegotiations.

There we stood at our front door – Penny, my husband and me – with our bedhead on blast. The man in uniform was patrolling the area when he got the call on his radio. He “just wanted to make sure everything was all right.”

What was that foreign feeling I was having? Confidence in local cops? Why, yes it was. Well, look at that. Police making residents feel safe.

The truth is, I have no idea how he would’ve handled an intruder more menacing than Mother Nature, but for a moment that cop greatly improved my opinion of the agency that employs him. I say “for a moment” because there’s a lot of work to do to change the culture of Metro and, let’s face it, the public’s perception of them.

But for one member of the public to feel pleasantly surprised after dialing 911 is at least a baby step toward that end.

My husband upholds that he and Penny won both the award for bravery and stupidity that morning, while I won the fast-thinking award. Since we’re passing them out, I’d like to give that cop who showed up on our porch in record time the award for most-improved image.

X=Why runs every Sunday in the Living section. Contact Xazmin Garza at xgarza@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0477. Follow her on Twitter @startswithanx.

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