Tuesday, February 21, 2012

On the Scene of a Police Standoff

   I woke Thursday to find four inches of snow covering the ground figuring I'll be shooting snow pictures today. There are several accidents on Rt. 422 and by 8 a.m. I'm dressed and ready to drive out to photograph the crashes and the rush hour traffic jam that no doubt would have been part of the story.
   But breaking news stories change quickly and I received several calls and texts on a man with a gun with Pottstown police surrounding an apartment with guns aimed at the building. A call like that will get the adrenalin going.
   Many times calls on incidents turn out to be nothing, but today's was serious. Now I'm rushing. Urrrr, it never seems to fail when something big is going on I get delayed. I start the car, but have to clear all the snow before heading over. With the streets a bit slippery I'm careful but still intense trying to get there. Then, I come up on two school buses crawling along Manatawny St. They turn onto State and out of my way, but a water delivery truck decides to pull in front of me as I continue down the road.
   I clear all traffic on N. Hanover St. and park near Gay St. I can see police in positions near the Logan Court apartments. I work my way down to get a safe spot where I can shoot photos showing more than a police car blocking the road. It's early in the incident and I'm able to get across from the building and stand up against a wall. I photograph four officers using a patrol car as a shield with guns drawn down on the building. This is the lead photo for The Mercury and website. I also get audio and video of police trying to talk the subject from the building with them stating over speakers, "Albert, This is the Pottstown police department. Come out of your apartment through your sliding front door with your hands in the air unarmed!"
   It turns out to be a long standoff with the man holed up in his apartment refusing to exit his home. The day is cold and a stiff breeze is blowing the fluffy snow from trees down onto the officers who are steadfast at their post. Some are holding weapons with their bare hands for hours without moving around or taking a break.

An elderly woman looks out her apartment window where I'm standing. I give her a wave and she smiles back at me closing her blinds. After and hour or so, my daughter texts me and asks if I'm at work. I tell her yes not letting her know the situation going on around me. She fills me in on the days events with her kids and I chit chat until I text her that I have to get off the phone. It breaks up the tension of the moment.
   CMERT, a tactical SWAT team, dressed in military style fatigues and helmets arrive and set up. I am moved back as they begin their operation. From the several locations I work my way around, I photograph renters being assisted by police as they cleared the complex for their safety. I also snap pictures of the CMERT team and their armored vehicle along with the Montgomery County sheriff's robot moving in on the apartment.
   Then police deployed a flash bang grenade to try to stun the man inside.  This tactic fails. A short time later, the suspect fires five shots with police returning fire. In the years that I've been at the paper I don't remember anyone ever firing on police when I was on the scene. But I was in a safe area away from danger.
   By now it's 5pm and police lob canisters of tear gas into the apartment. Photographer Kevin Hoffman is working the late shift and is on the scene with me. It's getting dark. I have delayed long enough and I can't stay at the scene any longer. I've sent back photos from my phone and tweeted various events without getting detailed in case the suspect was watching on twitter,  but I need to head back to The Mercury. I have been out in the cold for nine hours from close to the start and editors want the higher quality images and video that I have.
   I get a video on line and a gallery of photos together along with what is used in the paper. It's after 7 p.m. and I get a call from Hoffman that he has a good photo of the suspect being taken from the apartment. The story is complete.
   I don't look for these kinds of events to happen, but if they do I will be there to cover them. It's what I do. The Mercury had their highest numbers on the internet site that day so it must be what readers want to see when a story like this takes place.
   I thought I'd be able to do a follow up in the morning, but instead I'm on my way out with police reporter Brandie Kessler. We're heading to Manatawny Rd in  Earl Twp. for another SWAT incident after an alleged murder. 'Here we go again. Buckle Up!'

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