Over the last two weeks we mourned the tragic shooting deaths of three peace officers in Southern California.
On Oct. 5, L.A. County Sheriff’s Deputy Steven Owen was shot and killed while responding to a burglary call. The suspect later was taken into custody. His motivation for the killing appears to be trying to avoid going to jail.
On Oct. 8, Officers Jose “Gil” Vega and Lesley Zerebny were shot and killed while responding to a domestic disturbance. News reports said the suspect was lying in wait for the officers with an assault rifle.
His apparent intent was to kill cops.
Sgt. Owen was one of those rare officers who was working in the same community where he lived, shopped and raised his children. Seems a lot of people knew him, respected and deeply appreciated him. Hundreds of law enforcement officers and residents alike attended his memorial service.
Officer Vega was another rare officer working where he lived.
The timing of his murder compounded the tragedy: Officer Vega had 35 years in law enforcement and was scheduled to retire in just a few months. He was the father of eight children. I watched as his large extended family spoke of him at a candlelight vigil. I shed a tear as his young daughter was lifted to a microphone and told the world what a great “daddy” he was.
Officer Lesley Zerebny had just started her career in law enforcement. She was just 18 months into a career that should have lasted 30 years. She was familiar with law enforcement since her father is a retired CHP officer.
Zerebny was a new mother of an 4-month-old daughter, Cora. I was heartbroken as I watched Palm Springs Police Chief Bryan Reyes comment how he watched her husband, a Riverside County Sheriff’s Department deputy, in full uniform kiss her goodbye one last time.
At the memorial services, all three officers were eulogized, lauded and recognized by their friends, families and coworkers. Local politicians also spoke to their heroism and the ultimate sacrifice they made.
As we grieve the sacrifice of all three of these officers, we should take a moment to reflect on this: These same officers who so willingly stepped in harm’s way and are now recognized as heroes could easily have been the same officers who end up on the evening news at the center of controversy for being involved in a use-of-force incident.
Across the country I’ve met hundreds of Steve Owens, Gil Vegas and Lesley Zerebnys.
Any of the police officers I’ve known would willingly sacrifice themselves to protect you, a stranger — just a person who called for help.
For these officers who were so loved, respected and admired it is now the end of their watch.
And as the tradition goes their partners will “take it from here.”
We should all be thankful there are so many who will stand in their place.
God bless the family, friends and coworkers of these fine officers.
Joe is a retired Anaheim Police Department captain. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org