Police: Kids brandishing BB gun a teachable moment

James David Dickson
The Detroit News

A concerned citizen sees two kids walking down a street on the north end of Redford, one of whom pulls out a handgun and cocks it. The citizen calls 911 and give a description of the youngsters.

Police arrive moments later to find three children, including the two described in the 911 call, sitting on a front porch. One by one, the Redford Township police officer asks the children to come down from the porch, where he checks their hands, makes sure they’re not armed, and sits them on a curb.

The handgun in question, inside the home but in plain view, wasn’t the kind that fires bullets. It was a BB gun, but looked real enough to fool even experienced officers, said Sgt. Duane Gregg, a 25-year veteran of the force.

Gregg, a traffic sergeant who is part of the team that handles social media duties for the Redford Township Police Department, shared the story as a teachable moment in a Facebook post Wednesday morning. The incident took place Tuesday afternoon on the north side of town. Police aren’t being more specific about where, as the incident involved juveniles, Gregg said.

“Officers sometimes have to make decisions in a fraction of a second,” the post read. “Look at the pictures of this BB gun. Notice that there is no orange or red tip. This is a replica of a real handgun. Tell me that in a split second that you can positively identify this as a toy, especially if it was pointed at you.”

When Gregg arrived at the scene to assist the officer who first took the call, he said he found the officer on the front lawn holding the look-alike weapon.

“I couldn’t tell what he was holding,” Gregg said.

“This is the type of incident that has the ability to go very badly in a heartbeat,” the post read.

In November 2014, 12-year-old Tamir Rice was playing with a toy gun at a Cleveland park. Someone saw him with the toy and called 911. Police arrived and shot him fatally.

While the Cleveland Police Department would issue no official apology and a grand jury declined to charge the officer who killed Rice, the city of Cleveland settled the Rice family’s federal wrongful death lawsuit for $6 million.

“That’s why I put it on Facebook,” Gregg said, to warn the public of the dangers of guns that look real. “These kids didn’t think about the consequences of what they were doing.”

In the end, no one was hurt, and the three kids, ages 15, 12 and 9, were never handcuffed, though they were detained as police investigated.

The 15-year-old, who Gregg said was not one of the teens described in the 911 call, was turned over to the custody of a parent. The parents of the 12- and 9-year-old weren’t immediately reachable and had to pick up the children at the police department. The 12-year-old was the one who’d been carrying the BB gun, police said. Gregg did not know if the BB gun was loaded.

Gregg said the children are not expected to face charges.

“Parents, pay attention to what your children are playing with,” the post read. “Educate them about the dangers involved in an incident like this, and keep them safe.”

“The officers didn’t overreact, and the kids didn’t overreact,” Gregg said. “The kid complied with the officer’s directives,” and Gregg said he hopes that an incident that could’ve been much worse will be a learning tool.

“This ended well for these kids,” Gregg said, adding that it was “reckless” to brandish what appeared to be a weapon in a neighborhood. “But it had the propensity to not end well.”

On Facebook, followers of the department’s page praised the officer’s actions and urged toymakers to make clear which guns are real, which are BB guns, and which are toys.

“Why can’t they be bright orange or yellow airs soft guns?” one woman asked. “Who could see an orange tip from any distance? The entire ‘play’ gun should be a neon color.”

“My boy love(s) playing toy guns. But even with toys there are rules,” another woman wrote. “First of all being the gun can’t even remotely look real, secondly, they know never to point them at anything unless it is food or they fear for their lives. Period.”

“That’s why I always say toy guns like Airsoft should be molded out of bright colored plastics and not black,” a man wrote. “That way officers know and people know they are not real guns. BB guns as well.”

Gregg explained the dangers police face with all the guns, real and otherwise, on the street. He pointed out that even pink guns, which might appear to be toys, are sometimes real.

“You have toys and BB guns that look real,” said Gregg, “and real guns that look like toys.”