Police officer deaths hit close to home

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It’s always in the back of my mind. I suppose that’s true for anyone with a family member or friend in law enforcement. You can’t help but have that tiny, nagging sense of dread that says, “What if …?”
It’s always in the back of my mind. I suppose that’s true for anyone with a family member or friend in law enforcement. You can’t help but have that tiny, nagging sense of dread that says, “What if …?”

Yet it never hits home – really – until an event like the recent murder of four Lakewood, Wa., Police Department officers, who were gunned down while sitting in a coffee shop before beginning their shifts. Or the April shooting of three Pittsburgh, Pa. officers. Or the April murder of two sheriff’s deputies in Florida. Or the March killing of four Oakland officers.

But the Lakewood ambush hit me especially close and hard.

My brother is a police sergeant. He began his law enforcement career nearly 18 years ago, after serving in the United States military. And he is a former Lakewood Police Department officer.

But beyond the badge, my brother is human. On various ride-alongs, I’ve witnessed him perform as a complete professional, including an instance where he and his colleagues stood silently in the dark hours of night, guns drawn, waiting for a group of burglars to exit a major retail store. Throughout his career, he’s been punched and kicked, had bones broken, and yet he continues to put on that uniform every day it’s required of him.

Off duty? He’s goofy and silly and simply put, my big brother. Sometimes we forget that police officers are regular people. They are moms and dads and brothers and sisters, they work long hours and, yes, sometimes they stop by coffee shops before they head into work.

The only difference is that most of us don’t have to worry about our safety when we’re “off the job.” Police officers do. It’s inherently dangerous. They are potential targets on and off the clock simply because they’ve chosen a profession that takes on crime and those who commit it.

That’s apparently what happened Sunday, Nov. 29. Four people were targeted and murdered simply because they wore the uniform. And my brother proudly wore his as he drove his police car in the procession and attended the memorial service at the Tacoma Dome Tuesday in Washington for his fallen brothers and sister.

There is a special bond – a brotherhood – among police officers that I can’t even pretend to fully comprehend. I have only one brother, but he has thousands of brothers and sisters, each one for whom he would take a bullet.

But that’s not where it ends. My only sibling – as most officers – would protect those in the community he serves with his life, regardless of their personal opinions of him or the job he’s paid to do.

The City of Lakewood is no exception. He worked alongside his former colleagues and friends Greg, Tina, Ronald and Mark, serving and protecting those who required it. But those four fine officers who spent their lives protecting others were unable to protect themselves that day in the coffee shop.

Now, Lakewood Police Department staff, family and friends continue mourning – as do all those who wear the uniform. Black strips of tape have been placed across badges, thousands gathered to show their support and tears have fallen for those who fell – and for those left behind in just a matter of moments.

The four officers had nine children between them. They weren’t just police officers. They were “Will you play catch with me?” and “Can you help me with my homework?” They were regular people who simply did a job that some people choose to dislike. And they were shot dead because of it.

In February, my brother will marry a sheriff’s deputy who protects the county she serves just as diligently. Perhaps someday, my police sergeant brother and sheriff’s deputy sister-in-law will also be asked, “Will you play catch with me?” and “Can you help me with my homework?”

But the nine children of those Lakewood officers now face a difficult world: A world without mom’s comforting voice after a bad dream; a world without the feeling of accomplishment helping dad fix a leaky faucet.

It’s a void felt by all the brothers and sisters in blue – and even a few of us outside the brotherhood. Hearts will slowly heal among police officers. They have to. Officers must have a clear head to focus on the tasks at hand every day they step onto the street – whether on or off duty.

It’s a sad realization we’re reminded of when an officer falls: It’s dangerous for them and scary for those of us who love them.

As my brother returns to the California community he protects after honoring his former Lakewood colleagues and friends, the tiny, nagging sense of dread in the back of my mind returns. But with that concern comes an overwhelming sense of pride, not only in him, but in all upstanding men and women who choose to wear the uniform.

To contribute to the children of the fallen Lakewood Police Department officers, visit the Lakewood Independent Police Guild at http://lpig.us/. One-hundred percent of all donations go directly to the officers’ children.

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