Less than two weeks ago, Sleep Train Pavilion in Northern California was the scene of a memorial service for a fallen police officer. The second such memorial service in a month, it has become an all too familiar scene.
My last column regarding statistics on officers killed in the line of duty reinforced what most of us already know and understand: law enforcement is a dangerous, often deadly, profession. However, statistics tell only part of the story. Behind every statistic is a person with a name, face, family, friends, and dreams. They're no different from us, because they are us. Some of them have SWAT connections.
The Northern California memorial was held for Richmond (Calif.) PD Officer Bradley Moody, who sustained fatal injuries when his cruiser struck a pole on a rain-slick road while responding to assist a fellow officer. The 29-year-old Moody, a seven-year veteran with Richmond PD, is survived by his wife and two young children. Moody's K-9 partner, Rico, was injured in the crash, but survived and was donated to the Moody family.
Officer Moody's memorial service was attended by 2,000 people, mostly police including about 100 K-9s. Among the testimonials at his service was that of his SWAT sergeant, who said that Moody had won the "battle of the boots," a reference to his desire to change to tan boots for SWAT, over his sergeant's preference of traditional black boots. RPD SWAT will soon adopt tan boots as a tribute to Officer Brad Moody.
Eerily similar to Brad Moody's memorial was one held for Martinez (Calif.) PD Sgt. Paul Starzyk only a month earlier. Starzyk, a 12-year veteran with Martinez PD, was killed in a shootout with a murder suspect who held six hostages captive. Killing the suspect before he died, Starzyk undoubtedly saved the lives of the hostages. A former SWAT team leader, Starzyk was Martinez PD's lead tactical trainer. He is survived by his wife and three children.
Columbus (Ohio) PD SWAT Officer Timothy Haley died during a SWAT physical training exercise when he suffered a fatal brain hemorrhage. Officer Haley, age 42, is survived by his wife, three children, mother, brother, and sisters. Haley, a 21-year veteran with Columbus PD, was by all accounts the epitome of a dedicated SWAT officer. And it is both ironic and tragically fitting that he died while in the performance of his SWAT training duties.
The most notable SWAT officer death of 2008 was LAPD SWAT Officer Randal "Randy" Simmons, shot and killed during a hostage rescue attempt on February 7. Fellow SWAT Officer Jimmy Veenstra was also critically wounded in the incident where the suspect was eventually shot and killed by SWAT. The bodies of three hostages killed by the suspect were later found inside the location.
Simmons, age 51, is survived by his wife, two children, parents, and two sisters. With 27 years of experience with the LAPD, most of those years with SWAT, Simmons was the first LAPD SWAT officer killed in the line of duty since the unit's inception in the late 1960s.
An astounding 10,000 people attended Randy Simmons' police memorial service—the largest turnout for a police service in California state history. His death has had a profound, widespread impact upon the entire SWAT community.
I cite these four SWAT officers' deaths because they represent the reality and spectrum of the dangers that face SWAT today. Dangers that range from the obvious—hostage rescue attempts and active shooters—to the hidden—vehicle crashes and physical training. Dangers that can happen to any of us at any time.
The deaths of these and all officers are cause for us to pause and reflect upon the reality and dangers of our noble profession. To be sure, there are valuable lessons to be learned from each and every law enforcement death. But perhaps the most important lesson of all is to learn to live so we can carry on their fight for another day.