Monday, December 14, 2009


For 12 years, I was a civilian member of the Seattle Police Department, first, as a Crime Prevention Coordinator organizing Business Watches in the City, then as a Community Service Officer for 10 years. Those years gave me the rare opportunity to be on the inside of the closed world of blue in the City of Seattle. The human beings who volunteer to put themselves in the sometimes reviled profession are varied in their backgrounds and goals, yet they are mostly unified in their quest for justice, their desire to protect the public.

While we were in Savannah, the terrible murder of SPD's Officer Timothy Brenton rocked the City and the region. As we landed back in Seattle, the memorial was just ending and the shooter was identified and hospitalized after his failed attempt to murder yet another officer as he was being taken into custody. There is no doubt in my mind that the detective who heard the gun click at his head will hear that click for the rest of his life, and will feel thankful with each memory. I saw that detective recently, and just felt grateful he is alive.

On Sunday, November 29th, Naomi and Melinda and I met for breakfast, and when I arrived, they gave me the news about the Lakewood police officers killed at the coffee shop. During the next days, George and I spent tense time awaiting the capture of the shooter. I hoped the shooter's wound from the dying officer would be fatal, and that the shooter would not have another opportunity to kill. Thankfully, the next officer the shooter encountered was vigilant and able to protect himself, and the terror of not knowing where the shooter was came to an end.

The preparations and finally the memorial for the officers on Tuesday was so moving that many I've spoken with chose to not watch because it was so painful. The overwhelming response from law enforcement throughout the continent was inspiring and humbling. Every single member of law enforcement has a new reminder - a new awareness - of the randomness of the criminal mind, and of mental illness. While it was clear that the shooter had mental health issues, the family and friends of the shooter who assisted him with the plan, his wound, and his escape have no such excuse, and I'm looking forward to their prosecutions to the full extent of the law.

My George is a 20 year veteran Seattle police officer. During this time, I've been thinking about him and his safety, and have been comforting myself with the fact that he is a good patrol officer with excellent skills. I've watched his shock and emotional turmoil over all five of these senseless deaths, and his incomprehension that anyone could plan and carry out such acts. He goes to work each day intending to uphold the law and believing that it is the right thing to do, so random murder because of the uniform he wears puts him beyond understanding. I asked him if it helps to see the outpouring of support from the public - the expression of appreciation for police officers and the work they do, and he gave an emphatic yes.

We are both touched by the blue lights on homes this season, and he's had and heard of heartwarming Starbucks experiences involving gift cards left at the counter for any police officer's beverage. He (and I too) truly appreciated his captain's choice to have no officer patroling alone while the Lakewood shooter was at large; he said that some departments, such as Los Angeles, have that rule at all times. I was horrified to learn that the shooter was ultimately confronted by a lone officer in the middle of the night.

George has worked other units at SPD and considered leaving patrol. He likes being a patrol officer, and is doing this work by choice. I am now hopeful that Seattle Police commanders will take this opportunity to learn from these tragedies to adjust some of their procedures permanently. The ones that give me chills are the afore mentioned one-officer patrol cars, and the policy of assigning laptop computers to each officer so they can be "on the streets" and "available to the community" while writing their long reports required by the latest reporting system. I know budgets are tight, especially this year. But our officers need to get as good as what they give every day.