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National Police Week: Sacrifices forever remembered

I have told countless people that I had a tremendous advantage growing up as a kid. I may not have realized it completely then, but I grew up with two loving parents that did everything they could for their children and that love and support led to a very comfortable childhood. There was very little worry about — the necessities, and whatever I wanted to do, was generally encouraged and endorsed.

My father was a police officer and I consider it an incredible honor to have grown up around that profession. While other kids had athletes or movie stars as their heroes, I had the privilege of looking at my dad as my hero. He and his friends were bigger than life and as far as I was concerned, they were the super heroes in my community. I have heard stories through the years of kids having to “fight it out” when others found out their dad wore a badge but that was never the case for me. My father being a police officer was generally seen as “cool” by most of my friends and it just never got old. I truly enjoyed my childhood, and in a sense, despite the profession of my father, I was generally walking around in an innocent state never knowing that there was an evil element in the world.

That all changed on September 24, 1976 when my dad’s coworker and close friend approached a vehicle at a convenient store. The vehicle matched the description of a suspect that had killed two others and when Fort Smith (Ark.) Police Officer Randy Basnett asked for identification, the coward behind the wheel pulled out a .25 caliber handgun and shot him. In just a few seconds, life changed for so many including Officer Basnett’s young wife who was expecting their daughter. I grew up in a house that always honored Randy and his sacrifice and almost every day I would see a picture of Randy holding my sister, just a few months old when he died and as I think back on it, that photo was so powerful to me but it is ironic that through his sacrifice, Randy never got the opportunity to hold his own daughter. She was born shortly after his death.

Innocence Lost
If I spent my childhood naïve to the actions of the evil doers in our society, my wife did just the opposite. At five years old she was told that her father, Oklahoma Patrol Lt. James “Pat” Grimes would never come home again. On May 26, 1978, Lt. Grimes was part of a manhunt for two escaped convicts and was ultimately shot and killed by them. Lt. Grimes was one of three troopers that were killed that day with what has become known as the “Darkest Day” in Oklahoma Highway Patrol History.

For my wife of 15 years, that day turned into weeks, months, years and decades. Birthdays came, anniversaries passed, and milestone events such as her wedding and birth of children occurred. Each of those days and events brought her the reality that her “daddy” would never be there.

On The Job
Through my father and my wife, I have seen the intimacy of the pain that is a line of duty death and I would like to say that helped prepare me for June 10, 1996 but it did not. I had been a police officer for less than two years and I was 24 years old. I knew the reality of being a police officer and I had experienced, through those that I loved, what that reality could ultimately mean but knowing reality and experiencing that reality are two vastly different things.

I was arresting a domestic violence suspect when I heard the chatter on the radio. Officers in my area were setting up a perimeter on a robbery suspect that was out on foot. As I hurried to book my prisoner, K-9 Officers were responding to the area. I pulled out of the jail parking lot when I heard the radio traffic, “Shots fired…officer down!”

It does not matter what you think you will do in these situations or what you have seen on television. Nothing can prepare you and in my case I drove fast, real fast and it took less than a minute to be in the area. Officers were running everywhere and taking cover and as I exited an officer yelled at me that the shooter was high on a building and shooting down at officers. That ended up being the “fog” that typically happens in these situations and I found myself just a few minutes later standing in an alley where a suspect laid dead and two Tulsa Police Officers were laying on the ground.

Officer Steve Downie and Officer Dick Hobson had serious injuries and I ended up helping Dick into the ambulance. Dick Hobson was a K-9 Officer, and while I didn’t know him well, he had helped track some auto theft suspects for me in the past and he was larger than life. An avid weight lifter, he was healthy, energetic and a hard worker. In fact, Dick wasn’t even at work yet when the call went out. He was headed to work and decided to come straight to the scene.

I remember helping lift Dick into the ambulance. He was pure muscle and I remember thinking that his ankles were as big as I had ever seen. He was hurt but conscious and I went home after that long night knowing that both officers would be OK.

Later that morning, I was informed that Officer Dick Hobson had died. The emotions were unbearable. I sat on my front porch, still in uniform, and I cried. I cried hard and I thought a lot. Law enforcement for me would never be the same. The evil doers affected my father mightily when I was a kid—the evil impacted my wife like I could not imagine, and now evil had visited my very own agency and I had a front row seat for what the results were. Life changed that day and I was forced to grow out of my sense of invulnerability.

The stories I just told may be different than the close to 19,000 names on the wall of the National Law Enforcement Memorial in Washington D.C., but rest assured that every name on that wall impacts others just like those names impacted me. The loss and devastation that comes with a line of duty death is beyond the comprehension of most but some understand and that is the value that the National Law Enforcement Memorial is. It is a place of solitude and honor where those that are hurting can go and heal and remember and love.

A photo of the National Law Enforcement Memorial now hangs in my parent’s home. The Memorial did not exist when Officer Randy Basnett was murdered but the photo serves as a reminder of the sacrifice more than 35 years after that fateful day. In my mother in law’s home hangs a name etching of her husband and my wife’s father. That etching is from the Wall. A Wall that millions go by each year without ever thinking what it means to so many.

National Police Week is a time that we should remember the sacrifice but it also a time we should be thankful. Thankful to live where sacrifice is remembered and that sacrifice will forever be engraved on a Wall in our Nation’s Capital.

• Fort Smith Police Officer Randy Basnett can be found on Panel 42-E: 6 of the National Law Enforcement Memorial Wall in Washington D.C.
• Oklahoma Highway Patrol Lt. James Grimes can be found on Panel 46-W: 1 of the National Law Enforcement Memorial Wall in Washington D.C.
• Tulsa Police Officer Dick Hobson can be found on Panel 19-E: 20 of the National Law Enforcement Memorial Wall in Washington D.C.

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