Thursday, August 16, 2007

Death and consequences

It was a sad week in South Florida law enforcement. In the span of five days, two Broward Sheriff’s deputies were shot. On Monday, August 6, Deputy Maury Hernandez was shot in the head. Then, in the early hours of Friday, August 10, Sgt. Chris Reyka was shot and killed.

A quick arrest of the shooter in the Hernandez case may ease public fears, but as he remains in a coma, in critical condition, it does little for his young wife or his parents.

Sergeant Reyka’s killers have not, as of this writing, been found. The media is full of phrases like “manhunt” and “brutal slaying.” We’ve all read the headlines. But behind the catch-phrases, aside from the investigations, there is the human, emotional impact.

Chris Reyka was married with four children. One in college, one in the Marines and two still at home. Their lives are literally devastated. Those kids, who had a role model and loving father, now face not only an horrendous void in their lives but the sad, bitter memory of a father that was taken too soon.

Often in the books I read I will see a passage that includes a cop being killed and sometimes the writer makes it sound like it’s just part of the job for a law enforcement officer. There is a risk but it is certainly not part of the job. The death of a police officer eats away at the fabric that holds society together. That’s one of the reasons for such a massive response to a murder like this. But the death is still hardest on the family. Writers sometime overlook the human consequence of any murder, not just a police officer’s. When they make it a puzzle or clever gimmick that an elderly lady with a cat can figure out the writer is missing the consequence. People are murdered in my books but I try, when possible, to show some aspect of their exisitence other than being a victim. Violence is necessary to many plots. Callousness is not.

A uniformed police officer is the single most important part of law enforcement in this country. They also have the toughest job. Every time they pull over a speeder there is the potential that the speeder may be wanted for something more serious and react accordingly. Every day uniformed patrol officers have the potential to be the first on the scene of a dangerous accident.

I know a lot of bestsellers are about FBI agents or detectives that risk their lives. Believe me when I say that uniformed police officers do more to protect the public than every federal agent and detective combined. As a plain-clothes cop, I have to acknowledge the danger and sacrifice made by uniformed patrol officers everywhere.

But this week I’m thinking about two in particular. And their families.

Donations may be made to the Sheriff's Foundation of Broward County, c/o Sgt. Christopher Reyka Memorial, 2601 W. Broward Blvd., Fort Lauderdale, FL 33312


  1. Well said, Jim.

    I'm often reminded that we always go on to say things like, "Damn lawyers, all they want is to make a buck," or "cops, don't they have anything better to do than give me a speeding ticket."

    But, in fact, cops and lawyers, for all their quirks, are the first line in what makes civilization civilized.

  2. It's a beautiful eulogy for those two police officers, Jim. Very well said.

    I don't like callousness. I've always been able to 'feel' the ripples from events - whether they be small or all encompassing. The media has finally started showing returned soldiers - injured or not - and their plight in trying to adjust to 'life at home' again. The people who see them as single dimensional 'heroes' go their merry way, and don't see the toll it takes on the families of those who willingly step into 'harms way'.

    When I see the raw grief of such as the families left behind, I always feel like I've been socked in the chest.

    Condolences, Jim.

  3. Jim, my heart goes out to their families and friends. Horrible and so so sad! I hope that Detective Hernandez makes a full recovery.

    Although I'm no great fan of getting speeding tickets, I have been tremendously grateful for the fine work done by uniformed officers at many times in my life. Most especially when our daughter Lila went missing, age four. The Cambridge, Mass, police responded in minutes, sending a canine unit. I have seldom cried so hard as when I had to bring her favorite knit blankie downstairs for the dog to get her scent, but this quickly established that she was still inside the house.

    We found her in a tiny crawl space under the eaves of the third floor--she'd curled up in the insulation and fallen asleep, sucking her thumb. It was all I could do not to hug all of the officers on the scene after we got her safely back out.

    Thank you so much for this post.

  4. Very well written, Jim.

    I always tell people regarding traffic stops, "That officer doesn't know when he walks up to the car if you're going to take a shot at him or not. It tends to make some of them a little edgy. Cut 'em some slack, and act like you got some sense while you're at it."

  5. In the rare times I am stopped, I make sure the officer can see my hands on the wheel and only when he's at the window and can see me, do I start reaching for my license.

    I have family in law enforcement (shocking, I know) and the work they do for the pay they get is little short of heroic.

    And murder is never inconsequential. As Arthur Miller wrote in an entirely different context, "Attention must be paid."