On February 26, we pause to remember two public servants who sacrificed their lives for the people of Santa Cruz. The immeasurable impact of their murders has deep scars for their families and this department.
One cannot imagine the pain and trauma many members of our department, especially those here at the time, feel when this day rolls around. An old colleague of mine wrote a poem worth reading about two police officers killed and how to remember their sacrifice.
The poem is titled Walking Point by Lieutenant John Morrison, SDPD (ret.).
All of us have heard by now the many versions of what happened on Crandell Street on a Saturday afternoon, and how we came to lose Officers Harry Tiffany and Ron Ebeltoft. Some of us even know the truth. And a few of us, apart from the table pounders and chronic fault seekers, know that there are some things you just can’t do without suffering, very literally and profoundly, casualties—and our job is one of them!
You can’t race cars without crashes, you can’t dig mines without cave-ins, and you sure as hell can’t send cops out into the streets of a violent society without violent deaths! Tiffany and Ebeltoft knew that, and they did it anyway—as we all do. Those who knew them well say that they did it because they loved it, and any of us who can’t say that should envy them for it. At least they died doing what they loved to do, and that is something we can never explain to those outside our profession. You can’t be a cop because you didn’t get some other job. You can only be a cop because you want it!
There is an answer for why they died, something I learned half a world away, many years ago as a young soldier, preparing to face an enemy in combat for the first time. It was then that my sergeant explained that there are only three rules in war.
Rule 1: Young men die.
Rule 2: You can’t change Rule 1.
Rule 3: Somebody’s got to walk the point.
You see, when soldiers advance, knowing the enemy is near, there is always one man way out in front of everyone else. His duty is to look and listen, and sense that first contact. To spot the enemy, pinpoint an ambush, fire the first shot—and as a consequence, take those first shots. It offends the logical mind and denies the instinct for survival. It ages and saddens and wizens—and sometimes kills those who take their turn walking the point! But it must be done, or there would be no protection for the rest; there would be more bloodshed, and more grief.
The point man is there to save lives, even if he gives his own in the process. Well, society isn’t a company of soldiers, but it sure has somebody walking the point. Every time you go out the station-house door, every time you answer a radio call, every time you stop to check something suspicious— you can’t change Rule 1!
If I could say something to the people of this city, it would be this: I know some of you will remember our brother and sister—but that’s not good enough. I want you to honor them for what they did for you—they certainly didn’t have to do it. I’m not just talking about what they did on Tuesday, February 26, 2013. That was a routine call that went horribly bad. I mean, what they did for you day after day, in darkness and light, rain or shine, without ever expecting even a thank-you.
Baker and Butler volunteered to walk the point. Honor them. Remember them. And in the quiet peace of your home, get down on your knees and thank God—that they volunteered to take your turn walking the point!