By Laren Leichliter
This is the season reserved for memories of our colleagues who have been killed in the line of duty. May is the month for Peace Officer Memorial ceremonies at both the state and national level.
It is a solemn time of remembrance and reflection of the lives that have been lost across the country, in our great state and even closer to home. Thankfully the Sheriff’s Employees’ Benefit Association (SEBA) has not lost another member since the tragic death of Det. Jeremiah MacKay in 2013. Although more than four years have passed since his death, the memories are vivid and his absence is painful. The same is true for all of our San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department fallen deputies; time may have healed the initial hurt but nothing can fill the void from a fallen partner, father, husband or son.
According to Officer Down Memorial, we lost 144 colleagues in 2016: 63 due to gunfire; 21 automobile accidents; 8 motorcycle accidents; 12 vehicular manslaughter; 9 struck by vehicle; and 4 vehicle pursuits. The other deaths were attributed to duty-related illnesses or accidents.
Each announcement of the death of a law enforcement peer strikes us with anguish, anger and empathy. We know the same thing could happen to any of us, on any given night, at any given call. We see their grieving families and can’t help but imagine our spouses or children in the same position. It makes us quickly recap all of our close calls and give a quick prayer of thanks that we made it home.
Most recently, San Bernardino County Dep. Patrick Higgins survived being shot in the chest by a robbery suspect in the high Desert. Body armor and grace were the only things that prevented yet another planning of a law enforcement funeral. Thank God for the safety of Higgins and all involved in the ultimate apprehension of the suspect.
Other members of fellow Southern California agencies have not been so lucky in recent months. The deaths of Officers Keith Boyer, Lesley Zerebny, Jose “Gil” Vega, and Sgt. Steve Owen are still fresh in our minds. Our thoughts and prayers continue to go out to their families and friends. As I said above, time can help the healing but it will never erase the loss.
We spend a month in retrospection not to dredge up painful memories but to honor the fallen, raise awareness and renew our commitment to our profession. We are living in times in which peace officers are not only in literal crosshairs but political ones as well. Our profession is not only targeted by violent suspects but the politicians and activists who support and protect felons. Dangerous legislation such as AB 109 and Propositions 47 and 57 continue to put more and more dangerous offenders back into our neighborhoods.
It is our job to stay vigilant, remain active and remind our community that we are here to serve them, regardless of false narratives being pushed by political agendas. We celebrate the lives of the fallen by following their great examples of service and sacrifice. I encourage all of you to reflect during this solemn yet powerful month of remembrance. Stay safe.