When I first joined the ranks of the Los Angeles Police Department, back in 2007, I knew that putting on this uniform and pinning a badge to my chest meant fully accepting the challenges (and rewards) that come with this type of calling.
My class (5-07) graduated on December 7 (Pearl Harbor Day) in 2007. The day had threatened rain in the days prior and so we were told that instead of graduating on the green lawn in the center of the track field at LAPD's Elysian Park Academy, surrounded by the tall, magnificent, skyward reaching pines, that our ceremony had been set to take place in the academy gym. That morning, the skies were clear and blue and perfect, and for a moment I thought that perhaps we would, after all, graduate on the field. Much to my disappointment, the plans had been finalized and the chairs, podium and other ceremonial necessities had already been set. The ceremony would, despite the birdsongs and warm rays of sunlight, take place in the gym. We graduated and that was that. Looking back, it was a small detail in what has been a sea of experiences.
I spent my probationary (or rookie) year learning the trade patrolling the streets of Hollywood. For almost that entire year I worked morning watch (6 p.m. to 6 a.m.) and saw many things that have changed the makeup of my character; a young couple who would tragically lose their lives, struck by a drunk driver as they crossed a street, holding hands on a date night, while their babysitter watched their small children. I remember the sight of brain matter, as it sat out of place on that cold Hollywood Boulevard pavement.
I remember chasing a gangster with a gun at two in the morning, down a dark alley. After we caught him I was hit with the realization that my life was, for a few moments, in that young gangster's hands. I thanked God that instead of shooting at me, the young gangster decided to throw his gun away from him, as I followed close behind yelling "Stop! Police!"
There was the time my training officer and I responded to a night club, where a young man had been stabbed from one side of his stomach to the other. He stood there, in the back alley, adjacent to the night club, pressing his intestines so that they wouldn't spill out. I remember feeling helpless. Here I was, a police officer, and there was nothing I could immediately do to help this young man. He needed a hospital, not a police officer. Hours after he had been transported, we received the call that he was out of surgery and that he would live. I breathed a sigh of relief, finished the police report and onto the next call.
I remember picking up a wallet that lay in the gutter next to a man who had been shot to death. The smiling picture on the driver's license inside the wallet said that it belonged to the man whose eyes stared blankly at the night sky. It was strange to think of how we all carry these ID's with us. They tell the world some very basic information about who we are. They are a small window into our lives, and now, this man's window had been closed. He would no longer need his driver's license. It seems such a simple thing, but it provoked deep thought in me.
Events like these happened many times over in the years to come. Like many of my brothers and sisters in blue, I was sitting in the front row, watching the most tragic, beautiful, tense and serene show. It seemed that the fine dance between life and death was a constant. For the most part, death is on the other side of the line; but every sixty hours, death visits the thin blue line.
A couple of years ago I took part in what has been one of the most emotional experiences I have had during my ten years as a Los Angeles Police Officer. In May 2015, I participated in the annual Police Unity Tour (a bicycle tour from New Jersey to Washington D.C.), which, much like the Hollywood Memorial Ride, its sole purpose is to honor and remember officers who were killed in the line of duty, as well as to raise money for the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial and Museum.
It was during the ride that we heard from many family members and friends of those police officers who had been killed in the line of duty that previous year. They were mini eulogies. One after another. Spouses, children, parents, friends. It hit home, and I cried every single time. I realized that I have not survived as an officer because I have better tactics, or am a better and more experienced officer. In many cases, these were officers who had more experience than I had (and have), with much more time on the job. All of my experiences on patrol flashed through my mind and I thought of all the times that a situation could have easily turned bad, and perhaps it would have been my laminated academy graduation photo hanging from one of the bicycles in the tour. Perhaps it would have been my wife giving one of the many mini eulogies. Like all of us, I hope that my last breath is drawn from the comfort of a bed, surrounded by those I love, when I'm a really old man.
This is why we ride; for the ones that have come and gone before us, in the performance of their duties, fulfilling their promise to serve the community and to keep it safe. These are my thoughts as I get my mind right for the road ahead, which for Team Hollywood is a long one, fraught with exhaustion, sweat and tears. I hope that you'll follow us and support us in this effort.