BB gun shooting incident puts Dover police on increased alert

DOVER — Maybe they were high powered firearms, maybe not.
Last weekend, Dover Police officers made split-second decisions with potentially grave consequences after an unknown type gun was triggered towards them several times.

A bicycle-riding 13-year-old male reportedly pulled a weapon and shot toward two law enforcement vehicles arriving at the Dover Mall for a disorderly conduct complaint on Saturday, June 22.
The teen and three other male juveniles (ages 12 to 14) from the Dover area fled on their bicycles before a chase and apprehension.

Only then were the weapons — tucked in the suspects’ waistbands — confirmed to be three BB guns, police said.
The potentially lethal threat was no less real until the kids were arrested.

As for the weapons, “They look like they could be a Ruger, Sig Sauer, and/or Smith & Wesson Sigma,” National Law Enforcement Firearms Instructors Association Executive Director Jason Wuestenberg said after viewing publicly posted photos of the confiscated BB guns.

Speaking for Dover Police, Master Cpl. Mark Hoffman said arriving patrol vehicles were within approximately 100 to 150 feet of the juveniles when struck by four to five BBs from a gun discharged nine to 10 times late in the afternoon.
“The only indication that the weapon that was fired was a BB gun, was the sound of the BBs hitting the car,” Cpl. Hoffman said.

“Even then, officers cannot solely rely on that as a guarantee that this weapon was a BB gun.”
The officers were nonetheless endangered by the BBs discharged.

“There is always the risk of injury with BB or pellet guns especially to the eye, which would likely be a career-ending injury for officers,” Mr. Wuestenberg said.
There’s no reading the mind of someone pointing a gun, International Association of Law Enforcement Firearms Instructors First Vice President Emanuel Kapelsohn said.

“An officer has to believe when (a gun) is pointed at him that the person intends to use it with potentially deadly force,” he said. “BB guns, air or pellet guns can kill you, blind or seriously injure you.”

In Dover’s recent high speed confrontation, there was almost no time to assess the situation for the two officers arriving in separate vehicles.
“These particular models of BB guns offer little to no features that they are not a real handgun, especially from a distance,” Cpl. Hoffman said. “When confronted with something like this, officers have a split second to react to a potentially life or death situation.

“Fortunately, we are talking about the arrest of four suspects and nothing more serious in this incident.”

Increased youthful threats
Generally speaking, police are faced with increased violent threats and criminal actions regarding teens and younger.
“I think we have a natural tendency to approach any situation with juveniles a little differently than others,” Cpl. Hoffman said.
“However, when dealing with juveniles who may be armed or are suspected of being involved in violent crime, you have to treat the situation accordingly. Our officers want to and should go home to their families at the end of every shift.”

Youth and adults alike don’t always grasp the gravity of what they’re carrying.
“It is more and more common to see adults and juveniles carrying and treating BB guns or other similar items as if they were real,” Cpl. Hoffman said.

After the confrontation, acting Dover Police Chief Maj. Tim Stump took the rare step of issuing a public statement saluting the officers for actions in the “high risk” setting.
“It’s times like these that shed light on the great importance of having a well trained department,” the statement read in part.
“What could have been a tragic ending turned out perfectly and I’m thankful for that. I am sure the officers are as well. The juveniles were apprehended and no one was injured. The officers actions were remarkable.”

Similar situations with more serious resolutions have quickly made national news. “We have seen countless incidents across the country where officers were forced to make difficult decisions involving Use of Force when confronted with BB guns similar to those used in this incident,” Cpl. Hoffman said. “Similar style BB guns are often used in other crimes as well.”

An online search shows multiple BB gun-police related incidents nationwide, involving youths and adults, fatal and non-fatal, shootings and disarmaments before weapons were discharged.
In March, an Oklahoma City Police officer shot a 14-year-old boy who allegedly didn’t heed an officer’s command to drop a BB gun while playing with friends in an abandoned home. According to published reports, the youth suffered hip and leg injuries and his attorney claimed afterwards that the officer failed to identify himself properly and used excessive deadly force.

Oklahoma City Police said they were initially called to the scene by a 911 caller reporting a break-in by four people, two with guns that weren’t confirmed to be real.

‘Good police work’
City mayor Robin R. Christiansen, who oversees Dover’s the police department, echoed the chief’s thoughts and said he’d author letters to enter into the officers personnel files.
“People always have bad letters in their files and these two young officers deserve good letters in theirs for good police work,” Mayor Christiansen said. “The officers were cool under fire and made a perfect decision. Those young folks should go to the police officers and thank them for allowing them to live out their lives.”

Added the mayor, “As a father and grandfather I was stunned, sickened and scared.
“People across the spectrum here and the nation should be extremely concerned that these young folks have no fear and do not understand the consequences of waving a BB gun, a pellet gun or whatever at police officers.

Dover Mayor Robin Christiansen

“We nearly had a tragic situation that would have left four families grieving for the loss of their children due to their senseless actions.”
According to Cpl. Hoffman, police were initially called to the scene by mall security “for a group of juveniles being refusing to leave and antagonizing security at the Food Court entrance of the mall.

“As officers arrived, it was reported to them that the suspect had ridden to the front side of the mall, near Dick’s Sporting Goods. The juveniles then fled from the officers with one shooting the BB gun at them.”
Mall security had earlier asked the youths to leave the property after they continued to loiter, according to Cpl. Hoffman.
“The suspects became belligerent with security and refused to leave the area,” he said.

Police were called to the scene at 4:23 p.m., arrived at the mall at 4:31 p.m. and made arrests at approximately 4:41 p.m.
According to authorities, the four kids fled southbound from the mall, traveling through nearby Dover Downs property. Two were apprehended in front of Michael’s Craft Store and two in front of TJ Maxx.

Delaware State University Police crossed U.S. 13 to the nearby mall as well. Several mall patrons and Firefly attendees were in the area at the time.
The alleged shooter was charged with two counts each of aggravated menacing and second-degree reckless endangering, along with criminal mischief, resisting arrest and second-degree conspiracy.

The other three juveniles were charged with disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and second-degree conspiracy. All were released to their parents’ custody pending future court dates.
The trio of BB guns were confiscated as evidence.

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