Twenty years ago today, I responded to locate a missing police officer in a neighboring town. He went to a possible prowler call, but was no longer answering his radio. I knew the young man. I had backed him up frequently since his agency had only one officer on duty during the Midnight watch. We shared some arrests, a bit of chewing tobacco, and some laughs in a few short years.
My K9 partner found the missing officer within minutes of our arrival, but he had been shot by the suspect and had already bled to death. I was in shock. But I did my job. I tracked south and cleared the wooded area east of the buildings. I remember coordinating the search for the suspect with fellow K9 units and air support. I briefed our tactical team and eventually took our originating agency report.
Who knew from CISM back then. The police officers from his agency were recalled from off duty in the middle of the night and I told them what had happened to their co-worker. It was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do.
The suspect was identified and arrested. Later, I would stare at him when I testified at Grand Jury and again at trial. He is serving a life sentence. It is no consolation to me.
The officer’s funeral was attended by thousands. Though proper in ceremony and tradition, it was still a funeral. I felt helpless as I gazed at him in the open casket and lowered a slow salute. The suspect was the last person to have seen him alive and I was the first person to have seen him in death.
I reminisce about these events because they changed my life, personally and professionally. I had worked night shift for over six years when this occurred, getting into my share of fights, foot chases, vehicle pursuits, K9 calls, and SWAT operations, yet I never thought something like that would really happen.
Years later, one of my recruits was in her own critical incident. She told me afterward, “I could have died…I could have died!” Yes, that is very true. Every single shift. She quit police work entirely. It’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye.
Twenty years later, I am proud of the men and women who risk their lives to preserve the peace and maintain order. Police officers make the ultimate sacrifice and that is very sad, but it is a part of the profession. The rest of us must continue on. I drive past the spot where my friend was killed every day on my way to work.