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A day to honor four officers – and all officers

Post by Patrick O'Callahan on Dec. 7, 2009 at 8:05 pm |
December 7, 2009 6:10 pm

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

May 15 might be the most important national commemoration almost no one has ever heard of. Peace Officers Memorial Day, as it’s called, is dedicated to police fallen in the line of duty.

It doesn’t begin to get the attention it deserves. Nor, ordinarily, do they.

Today will be an exception as many thousands of people honor the four Lakewood officers who were gunned down in Parkland a week ago Sunday. Sgt. Mark Renninger, Tina Griswold, Ronald Owens and Greg Richards will be given due honor and tribute in the community they served and at the Tacoma Dome.

Too many people look at a police officer and see only the uniform, the badge and the gun. Let’s talk about the humanity of these four.

Greg Richards, 42, left a wife and three children. He played drums in a rock band, Locked Down. Music was a large part of his life; he’d played in the marching band of his California high school. His cheerfulness earned him a nickname: “Perma-grin.”

By shooting his killer before he died, Richards may well have incapacitated Maurice Clemmons enough to prevent him from taking more innocent lives.

Tina Griswold, 40, had a husband, daughter and son. She’d been christened “Tinkerbell” for her diminutive size: 4 feet, 11 inches, 110 pounds. She was physically adventurous; she enjoyed dirt bikes, diving – and police work. She was one of the handful of female officers in this state to receive SWAT training.

Ronald Owens, 37, left a 7-year-old daughter. His friends describe him as easygoing and good-natured, a man who would treat even belligerent suspects with professional respect. Owens enjoyed the company of firefighters; Lakewood Fire District Capt. Mike Harn described him as “about the nicest guy on the planet.”

Sgt. Mark Renninger, 39, was married with three children. He was a consummate police officer, and before that a consummate soldier – a staff sergeant and an Army Ranger. He was a tough, highly skilled tactician, widely recognized as a SWAT team leader and SWAT instructor. He was known for his judgment in dangerous situations; by a cruel stroke of bad luck, the utter surprise of Clemmons’ attack prevented Renninger from responding with his formidable tactical skills.

Each one of these officers reportedly loved police work and was devoted to public safety. More important, each was a human being with loves, enthusiasms, friends and family.

It’s worth noting that since their deaths on Nov. 29, three more officers – in Pennsylvania, Alabama and Oklahoma – have been killed while serving. Police officers perform a dangerous and usually thankless job. They deserve more recognition and gratitude – and not just when one of them falls in the line of duty.

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