Growing up in Revere in the 50s and 60s I was friendly with a lot of cops. Most of them never had to unholster their weapon. Probably a good thing as regular target practice was not a regular practice.
It was a hot summer day, July 4th I think, around 1980, no traffic, sun shining, about 8 in the morning. I was driving down Columbia Road on the way to the office. Columbia Road separates Roxbury and Dorchester sometimes it can be a dicey area. I looked up the street to the corner of Columbia Road and Quincy Street and saw this group of 3 or 4 teenagers flipping what I thought was a football. I smiled to myself thinking, “what fun.”
Then I saw a distraught young woman standing outside of her car crying and screaming and I knew it wasn’t a football they were tossing. Yep, it was her pocketbook going from hand to hand. I put the pedal to the metal in my “Vet” (not really I had a 1975 Buick Skylark) and began the pursuit for the bad guys. I activated my siren burglar alarm so they might think I was a cop and went flying after them.
At one point I could have crushed one of the perps against one of the pillars from the railroad bridge we were going under, but thankfully I had the presence of mind not to. The group ran into a big park trying to get away.
I pulled up on the sidewalk jumped out of my car and assumed the position I saw cops do on TV, crouched down using my car as a shield. I was ready to make my capture but first I had to catch them. I reached onto my belt, grabbed my pager and made believe I had a gun. I yelled, “HALT OR I’ll SHOOT”!
My mind was racing and thinking what am I going to do if they do stop?
BANG, I mean BANG a gun went off! “WTF, was that?” I was shocked; I knew I did not shoot anything and I thought I must be in a movie and even looked at my fingers, wondering how this happened.
Did I have some mysterious powers? I was looking to see if there was smoke coming out of my fingers like watching an old cowboy movie where you could see the smoke coming out the barrel of a weapon just discharged.
Still mystified, I looked around and to my right was a tow truck with the driver out on the side of his truck and his 45-caliber pistol in the air, which he just fired. Then he runs after the kids, picks up a large rock and throws it at them, hitting one of them in the back.
I was still in shock wondering what would have happened had he struck the thieves? I have no idea if he fired at them or in the air to scare them. I looked at him, waved and left, still shaking. I would guess he returned the pocketbook to the woman after he retrieved it when they dropped it.
I continued to the office, told several people in the newsroom the story and had them laughing. Next day in the photo lab wall was a photo of the Cisco Kid, with his sombrero on, his bands of bullets hanging from his shoulders and a picture of me inserted instead of Cisco’s face. It was really funny.
But being there for gun arrests was very unusual back then. Cops did not pull guns out frequently. I can tell you there were many news photographers who never got pictures of a gun arrest. I have been very lucky that way.
My first gun arrest was a few blocks from the office when we were downtown. I got to the capture of a robbery suspect at the corner of Devonshire and Milk Streets and they had the suspect over a car. All of a sudden, one of the cops lifted the gun up and I got the shot. Could I have yelled show me the gun? I forget. Page one though.
I had a streak of about six-gun arrests in less than six months back then. It started in Peabody when reporter Bob Keeley and I were driving back to Boston and on the State Police radio I heard a BOLO about an armed robbery. Within a minute or two a cruiser spotted the truck about a mile in front of us.
We raced to the scene. The cop ordered the driver out by gunpoint and I took many photos. I had taken some really good photos and Bob ended up doing a story on the capture. Works out the suspect did not rob anyone and I don’t remember if any charges were filed. He reportedly mistakenly left a gas station without paying for gas.
During that streak I was cruising down Washington Street in what used to be called the combat zone (Washington and Beach Streets) when an incident happened and there I was taking photos of another gun arrest.
There was also the time there was a bolo for a person wanted for a stabbing or something like that as I was coming to work on my Friday morning midnight shift. All of a sudden the MDC police (now combined with State Police) spotted the wanted vehicle and chased it from the other side of Boston to about 100 feet of where I was parked.
As I was running over, the cop got out of his cruiser, gun drawn yelling for the perp to put his hands up. I ran over yelling “photographer, flash going off” as I did not want the cop to think it was a flash from a gun.
Another thing most news people don’t get to hear is the sound of gunfire and I have been at those incidents also. The scariest one was on Boston’s Fenway. I was in the Kenmore Square area when the call came in for an armed robbery on Jersey Street, near Fenway Park. It was at one of those mom and pop markets. Boston Police Office Gene O’Neil was shot at and the window of the store was blown out from the gunfire. He was not hit but it brought scores of cops and cruisers to the area.
The chase ended up on the Fenway and maybe 25 or more cops surrounded the area and there was one shot fired, then there was scores of “POP, POP, POP” sounds. It sounded like everyone with a gun was firing it. I hid behind a wall on the overpass next to a cop who stood behind his cruiser. I remember when his dispatchers called asking if he needed more help he told them “no” thinking any more cops there and who knows who will get shot.
The perp was not captured but in the spring a body of a man believed to be the suspect was found in the Muddy River where he had been chased and fired upon.
But sometimes I do use my common sense. I was working the overnight shift and there was a call for a suspect wanted for something in Brighton. BPD had him cornered in a backyard behind a building at the intersection of Commonwealth and Brighton Avenue, called Packard Square. I ran down the side of the building towards the backyard and all of a sudden a shot was fired in the backyard. I turned around and ran back to street and instead took the shot of the perp being put into the wagon. Common sense kicked it!