Hurry up and wait…and wait…

Some people may think that covering a standoff situation is dramatic and gripping. For the majority of times nothing can be further from the truth. Things move at a glacial pace.
There’s hours upon hours of waiting for something, anything to happen. And as often as not, the house that the suspect was supposed to be holed up in turns out to be empty.

I understand why things are so long and drawn out at these situations. The police would rather wait the suspects out than go in guns a-blazing. It’s better to have a suspect in custody than one dead on the floor, or worse, cops injured or dead. But it the wait doesn’t make covering these events any easier or, frankly, any less boring.

Last August covered a standoff in Stockton. A man wanted in a homicide in Georgia who was suspected to be holed up in a house on Alabama Avenue near Houston Avenue in Stockton.

I arrived on scene at about 2:30 p.m. Stockton Police had cordoned off the streets and surrounded the house about a half hour before. A crew from Channel 10 KXTV was there ahead of me. From behind the yellow crime scene tape at the nearby Van Buskirk Park we stood and watched. As usual for this kind of event there loads of people standing with us. Some were neighbors who were evacuated by the police while others were just curious onlookers.

There were calls on a bullhorn for the suspect to come out (that went unheeded). And must have been other behind the scenes things going on because there seemed to be nothing else going on.

Other TV stations with their live trucks showed up and waited along with the rest of us. The long minutes turned into even longer hours. Our feet and legs started to ache and eventually we ended up sitting on the cool soft grass of the park in the shade of a cork oak tree. After a while the spectators started to dwindle with only a handful of the most curious left.

One of the things about these kinds of situations is that once the SWAT team is positioned, it becomes a waiting game and not much happens, visually speaking. With nothing going on, my attention wandered to the things closest at hand to me. I began mindlessly picking at the grass, twigs and leaves around me as I sat on the grass. By then it was late afternoon and the shadows began to grow long as the sun sank towards the horizon. Like noticed how some fallen oak leaves caught the light. Backlit, they became like small golden  golden scraps laying on the ground. I stuck them in the dirt beneath the tree and with their shadows they made a cool composition.

I had other assignments to get to so I left around 6:00pm or so, before the resolution of the standoff (the house turned out to be empty), but I came away with a small tribute to the long hours of boredom.

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  • Blog Author

    Clifford Oto

    Clifford Oto, an award-winning photographer, has been with The Record since 1984. Through the changes from black and white to digital photography, he’s kept his focus on covering the events, people and life of San Joaquin county. This blog deals ... Read Full
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