On the afternoon of New Year's Eve, a resident in the prosperous neighborhood of West Annapolis called city police to report that someone dressed all in black, with a ski mask and a hoodie, was roaming the neighborhood with a rifle and a handgun.

Officer Jason Shreves, a 10-year police veteran who spent five years on patrol in West Baltimore, was responding when he was flagged by a frantic woman in an SUV. Hurry, she said. There's a man with a gun.


"This is about to get real," Officer Shreves remembers thinking.

He turned a corner and saw someone dressed all in black and camouflage, carrying what looked like an AR-15 assault rife. He was wearing a ski mask and a holster with what looked like a hand gun in it.

"Drop the gun and get on the ground," he shouted. He'd drawn his service weapon, a .40-caliber semi-automatic.

The suspect obeyed and was handcuffed.

But when the police officer took off the ski mask, he saw the frightened face of a 13-year-old boy. The teen had apparently been strutting around the neighborhood with all his Christmas stuff, an Airsoft rifle and an Airsoft pistol, both of which shoot plastic pellets.

And nobody died.

"We tried to impress upon him how it could have been a very different ending," said Sgt. Jessica Kirchner, Officer Shreves' superior.

It had a very different ending in Cleveland, where 12-year-old Tamir Rice was also playing with a toy gun and was shot to death by a rookie police officer within seconds of the officer's arrival at a playground. That officer, too, was responding to a call about someone waiving a gun around. It's unclear whether Tamir was given any directives, though it doesn't appear that the boy would have had time to react if he were.

The Annapolis scenario was different from Cleveland's in many ways, including the experience level of the officers. But it too might have ended tragically if the officer or the teen had made other choices.

Why didn't the Annapolis police officer shoot? That's asking about all the decisions he made in fractions of seconds.

"He didn't turn toward me. He didn't come toward me. He didn't raise the gun or point it at me. When I told him to drop the gun and get on the ground, he complied immediately," said Officer Shreves.

"I didn't feel like he was a threat to me or others."

But afterward, he had to catch his breath.

"Every time you get something like this, nothing is the same. What would have caused me to take action? I was questioning myself.


"That ski mask comes off and I see this baby face."

Annapolis police took the kid to the station and had a long conversation with him. There were tears. When he was released to his parents, Officer Shreves shook his hand. But the parents did not seem to comprehend the gravity of what had just happened.

"Their reaction was not what I thought it would be," said. Sergeant Kirchner.

Though only 13, the boy was 6-foot-1. In addition to the fake pistol and fake rifle, he was carrying a very real tactical knife in his pocket. He was wearing a real holster, and it wasn't until he was on the ground and disarmed that Officer Shreves and his back-up, Officer Benjamin Allen, realized the pistol in it wasn't real.

The officer is white. The kid is white, though that was not immediately clear because he was wearing so much clothing and a ski mask. And this took place in a really nice neighborhood.

Was Officer Shreves confident he would have reacted the same way in some of the drug-infested rats' nests of Annapolis? What if the kid had been black?

"I am confident that I would have handled it the same way anywhere else," he said. Why?

"Because I told him to drop the gun and get on the ground, and he complied."

As a parent, I am regularly ambushed by the kinds of conversations I didn't realize I needed to have with my children. The warnings, the instructions we give when we suddenly realize some new way in which they are vulnerable.

We can all add another item to that list. When the police bark an order, comply. It doesn't matter what color you are. Or if you are just a kid.

Susan Reimer's columns appear on Mondays and Thursdays. She can be reached at susan.reimer@baltsun.com and @SusanReimer on Twitter.com.