Every Cop’s Nightmare

GUMSHOE-DANNY-PITOCCO[su_dropcap style=”flat”]W[/su_dropcap]ELCOME BACK kind readers for another “helping” from the “gumshoe stew pot” of memories.

To start this real life account, let me let you in on one thing that is experienced among all real street “warrior” cops within their first “formative” years “on the job” – the same nightmare. This “police shared” nightmare that happened to me quite frequently during my “rookie” years as a neophyte crime fighter always was the same “nightmare” scenario under similar circumstances. This was the type of nightmare that would have me “bolt-up” in my bed and I would feel “cold sweat” all over my body that had me actually shiver.

Sometimes, I would try to cry out in a guttural scream from my sleeping nightmare world to my conscious world but it would somehow become lodged in my throat and it would prevent me from being able to breathe. (Ahhhhh!).

Okay, you may have already thought that these nightmares were caused by having sleep apnea (NO!) or my poor diet of graveyard cuisine of fast food via the gourmet kitchens of the “7/11” or “Mpolice-badgeickey D’s” that I woofed-down on my duty “code 7” meal breaks. (NOT!)

I just thought that these nightmares were unique to me. Just caused by my constant adjustment of my circadian rhythms from working graveyard and then trying to adjust to the “normal” family sleep schedule on my days off. I decided to keep these personal nightmares to myself. After all, I was the big, brave, street monster in blue and former US Marine to boot! I would not be defeated by some dream time escapades!

I might be sleep deprived and sacrificing some REM time but “Gung Ho!” Carry on, or in the immortal words of Monty Python, “It’s only a flesh wound!”

Fortunately, being a new cop with no seniority pretty much meant that I would be assigned a graveyard shift. This had me sleeping alone during the day when my wife was not my “bedmate”. So she was never privy to these periodic nightmare episodes.

Now let me describe the repeated nightmare to you folks.

I always found myself alone on duty walking down a dark alley or sometimes in a large industrial warehouse. I would suddenly come upon a suspect or suspects involved in some crime (I never found out what type of nefarious activity) and the suspect/s would immediately meet my arrival with a hail of gunfire! My legs would no longer be capable of moving and my pistol would be impossible for me to draw it from my holster.

Sometimes in the dream, I could draw the pistol but then it would not be able to fire! I was a cop who was totally helpless, unable to move, unable to act, just trapped! This was the point of my nightmare when I would attempt to cry out and “bolt-up” awake!

It was only many years later that I learned from my other close friends who were cops that they had experienced the same and recurrent “nightmares” also as freshmen cops on the streets.

You see folks, during the interim period when new cops make that transition to veteran cops, they all experience fear. It is not the physical fear, mind you, it is the fear of responding to a dispatched “911” call and not knowing what to do! Not being able to help the victim because you can’t even help yourself.

In time, I learned through “OJT” (on the job training) that to emotionally slow down and to mentally discipline myself when handling call – no matter what. In layman terms, “If no one was bleeding, take a deep breath, the cops were en route!” I learned that the best thing to do was to control myself before I could attempt to control anything else. Additionally, I always believed that God was with me and that He would see me through – and He did! I still here to tell the tale. Amen!

Funny, as I gained more “field experience” these nightmares started to fade away and disappear entirely from my nite-nite times. If I ever did “bolt-up” in my sleep – it was to pursue a less dangerous goals in which my equipment would function without fail!

Until next time folks, love the ones who love you.

Danny Pitocco
Danny Pitocco
RETIRED (as a Detective with the Snohomish County Sherriff’s Department, Washington State), Danny has over forty years of law enforcement experience across city, county, state and federal levels of government, including service as a Special Agent for the DEA, US Department of Justice. He’s a decorated law enforcement veteran, and recipient of the "Detective of the Year" award for Snohomish County, Danny is a certified composite artist and has testified as an expert witness in the field of narcotics and modus operandi of particular crimes in state and federal courts in California, and has given testimony before federal grand juries. Danny served four years of active duty in the US Marine Corps and loves Jesus as his personal savior.


  1. Danny as I read this and got to your reason for the night mares “it is the fear of responding to a dispatched “911” call and not knowing what to do! ” i thought back to many times when I started a job – not in any way dangerous – but still having nightmares about being called in to my manager’s office or the CEOs office for an unexplainable issue. I am such a rule follower and perpetually scared of doing the wrong thing. Reading your account makes me very glad I wasn’t a cop. The truth is I wouldn’t make it, but an even greater truth is, wondering why we get so petrified when we know God is greater then our fears. Thanks for continuing to share your stories.

  2. Danny: Certainly the jobs/careers that carry a physical danger element such as cops, fire fighters, and military have their own nightmare triggers with unique scenarios to play out.

    However, I think most leadership positions carry a “nightmare element” of being faced with a problem and not knowing what to do, or knowing but not being able to function.

    But, you touch on the key, that being mental discipline. I would include in that emotional disciple too.