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War on Wise Street: Never Give Up

After two of their buddies were killed, members of the Alexandria SRT found the secret to coping was to stay together.

September 01, 2003  |  by - Also by this author

It seems unlikely, but it's true. Not one of the surviving members of the Alexandria PD's Special Response Team (SRT) has quit the force or even the team in the wake of the devastating gun battle that killed two officers and wounded three others.

Not that some of them didn't think about hanging it up. "Oh, I thought about getting off of the department completely," says Officer Chris Cooper. "I was just devastated. I lost two good friends."

Other SRT members faced pressure from family and friends who wanted them to pursue safer duty. "My mother tried to talk me out of continuing with SRT," says Officer Joey Simms. "But my mother doesn't like me being a policeman anyway." Simms quickly adds that his wife has been very supportive and that's one of the reasons that he is still on the team and the force.

Cooper and Simms were not alone in thinking about turning in their SRT gear. That thought must have passed through the minds of all of the team's members. And it was something that they acknowledged among themselves. "We all sat down and had a long talk and everybody was told, 'Hey, if you want to quit, then no hard feelings,'" says SRT commander Sgt. Bruce Fairbanks.

But nobody did. Instead, all of the SRT officers turned to each other and, as a group, they healed. "We had a bunch of get-togethers," Fairbanks says. "You know, eating and just sitting down as a team and getting out our frustrations and feelings. We had a lot of those talk sessions, and we're still doing them as a team."

Officer Jerrod King says the team get-togethers helped him to cope with the aftermath of the shootout. "If it hadn't been for the guys on the team and my wife, I don't know what I would have done," he says. "[Coping with] this was the hardest thing I've ever done in my life. You can't fathom the amount of pressure that's on you and the [survivor] guilt that you feel after something like this. But we really came together as a team. We did a lot of things together in the month or so that we were all off."

The first few months after the incident, the team members didn't want to associate with anyone who hadn't been in the fight. And that was tough on both the people of Alexandria who wanted to honor the SRT and their fellow Alexandria officers who felt like outsiders.

It was also in a way tough on the SRT members. "You know, for what it's worth, the community came together, and really supported the police department," says Officer Jerrod King. "But we missed that as a team because we were off, and we really didn't want to deal with anybody that wasn't on the team or who wasn't involved in the incident."

Those SRT officers who did experience the outpouring of support from the Alexandria community say it was welcomed but it was also painful. "A lot of the problem that I had in the aftermath was all the attention that we received," says Fairbanks. "We're not heroes; we were just doing our jobs. And don't get me wrong, the outpouring of the community was great, but the attention was overwhelming." According to Fairbanks, the attention from the community and from fellow cops made coming back to the force even more difficult. But he and the other SRT officers had to summon the strength to do it.

"You've got to come back," Fairbanks says. "You've got to mentally sort all this mess out, put it all in perspective, get back down to reality and start getting your mind right. And the whole time you're trying to do that, you have this overwhelming support, and it's just a lot to deal with. My advice to anyone who has to go through this is to take it one day at a time. Deal with it. Talk about it. Share your feelings with your family and your teammates."

In addition to support from fellow line officers and most of the citizens of Alexandria, the team also received the gratitude and assistance of the department's brass. Officer Jerrod King says the department was generous in providing access to counseling and other support. "They really took care of us," he says. "I mean they were more concerned about our well-being than anything. They gave us time off, support, counseling. If any of us had called up and asked for something, they probably would have given it to us."

Now that they are back on active duty, some of the members of the SRT team have dedicated themselves to sharing their experience with fellow officers.

"We do some training for the police academy here," says Officer Jerrod King. "And what we emphasize with them is you can't ever give up. You can't ever say this is too bad of a situation. You can't ever just lay down and say, 'I can't deal with this.' If any one of us had done that that day, it would have been a whole lot worse than it was."

That "never say die" attitude is evident in the words and deeds of every officer on the Alexandria SRT. It's also what brought them back to work the streets and to train and prepare for the next tactical incident.


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