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2011 in Review: A reminder for 2012 from a fallen officer

Darren Kunz of the Otter Tail County (Minn.) Sheriff’s Department was a former student of mine — dead at age 40, Darren leaves behind his wife Beth and four children

Editor’s Note: Officers employed outside a metropolitan statistical area, as defined by the office of Management and Budget may attend at no cost. Class schedules and locations can be found on the FLETC website. Furthermore, the Rural Policing Institute can be contacted via email at FLETC-RuralPolicingInstituite@dhs.gov, via phone at 1-800-74-FLETC, or via the Internet at www.fletc.gov/rpi.

I recently attended a two-day officer safety course hosted by John Bostain and Brian Willis. As a full-time instructor I teach officer safety, but am always looking to learn something new and remind myself of the things that we all forget from time to time. Brian and John are two of the great minds in our profession and I couldn’t miss the opportunity to spend a couple of days learning from them. Mike Sumeraki from LEOKA rounded the group out with a presentation of Officers Killed in the Line of Duty. They were even kind enough to let me go to dinner with them. This is a reminder to hang out with people who are smarter or more experienced than you and to learn from them-even in areas you think you know well.

The training was put on by the Rural Policing Institute. The training is funded by the federal government and is, get this, free. I booked a hotel room on an Internet site that saved me about half the cost of the room. For $90 for a hotel room, gas and meals I got two days some of the best training in the country. I paid for it out of my own pocket, saving the receipts for tax deductions. Brian reminded us to seek out good training and invest in yourself by spending the money to get you there if your current department budget won’t cover it. Remember to train like your life depends on it-because it does.

At the class I reconnected with a number of former students of mine from over the years. Several of them are now supervisors or trainers themselves. While we were attending the first day, officers received text messages advising them that Lake City (Minn.) Police Officer Shawn Schneider had been shot in the head while responding to a domestic. At the time of this writing, he remains in critical condition. Please keep the officer and his family in your thoughts and prayers. We held a moment of silence during class and reminded ourselves of the dangers of our profession.

Look Sharp, Be Sharp
The next day as my wife went out the door to go to work I held her a little tighter and a little longer than usual. I told her that I loved her, like I always do before one of us heads off to work because I had been reminded this week that you just never know when it might be the last time.

I got in a quick workout before starting to get ready for the day. A little bit each day is better than a lot one day. I spent a little more time than usual pressing my uniform, making sure that the creases were sharp. I few more buffs than normal applied to my boots to get more of a shine. I knew and had been reminded at the seminar that a sharp, professional-looking officer reduces his chance of being assaulted.

I put on my vest — like I have for every shift for the last 23 years — something I never have to be reminded to do.

As I put on my duty gear I checked each piece to make sure it was functioning properly. I drew my gun 10 times to make sure it was coming out clean before loading it. A few practice presentations with the baton and cuffs to remind my brain how to do it to keep those motions sharp.

I got in the car, put on my seatbelt (something that I and the instructors would like all of you to remember) and drove to the department where I met other officers. We then drove to the county seat to meet hundreds of other officers to say goodbye to one of our own.

One of 'Mine'
Darren Kunz of the Otter Tail County (Minn.) Sheriff’s Department was a student of mine. He graduated from our program with top honors and served as one of the troop commanders. He had gone on to work for OTC as a deputy and had worked as a SWAT team member and as the department’s first narcotics only canine officer. His drive for excellence continued with the Sheriff’s Department and he received numerous awards. One was a Meritorious Service Award from the Minnesota Chiefs of Police for his part in dealing with a chainsaw-wielding suspect.

On Christmas Day 2010, Darren was putting on his uniform, getting ready for work when he went down and was rushed to the hospital with a collapsed lung. Further testing would show that he had a rare type of cancer in his lungs and brain. With proper therapy and time some of the tumors would shrink and disappear and the prognosis looked good, but it was not to be. On December 17 of this year, Darren lost that last battle. On December 22nd, Darren was laid to rest with his family, friends, fellow officers, and beloved canine, Nijka at his side. Dead at age 40, Darren leaves behind his wife Beth and four children. The youngest, Bristol, is age two.

Darren’s battle was a long and costly one. His wife Beth wasn’t able to keep working full time during it. Benefits have been held and the response has been great, but the family is still in need of financial support. Anyone wishing to contribute can send donations to:

Beth Kunz
514 West Laurel
Fergus Falls, MN 56537

As we enter 2012, please let Darren’s life remind each of us to strive for excellence in our chosen profession. Keep a sense of humor; make time for music and laughter and family. Let Darren’s death remind each of us that you have no idea what the New Year will bring. Hold your loved ones to you a little closer, a little longer, and remember.

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