Wednesday, February 2, 2011

California Peace Officer's Memorial

It's almost that time of year again.  Every year in early May, police officers from all over California meet in Sacramento to pay tribute to those who have died in the line of duty.  The families of those that have died during the past year are honored by the Governor and other dignitaries, as well as their fellow officers.  It's a very sober and awe inspiring event, attended by thousands of police officers from departments around the state.  Caravans of hundreds of police cars travel from Southern California and from Northern California to meet at the steps of the State Capital.  We honor not only those officers that have recently died, but also those that have given their lives to protect others for over the past 160 years.  On the Memorial website, it lists all the fallen officers, and in most cases, how they lost their lives.

Maybe I'm a little morbid, but I find it fascinating to read how these officers died.  One of the first entries is about Sheriff James Barton from Los Angeles County, whose "end of watch" was January 23, 1857.  Sheriff Barton had formed a posse of 7 deputies to bring to justice a notorious outlaw gang that was killing and pillaging near San Juan Capistrano, (close to where I live now).  After two days of riding, the posse ran into an ambush of over 100 outlaws in a valley near San Juan Capistrano where Barton and three others were killed and mutilated.  Three of the deputies escaped, made their way back to Los Angeles, and formed another posse of over 100 men.  Over 100 criminals were eventually apprehended, several of them hanged "on the spot", the rest brought back for trial.  When Flash and I ride on the trails and valleys near San Juan Capistrano, I can't help thinking what it would be like to be a mounted officer in those times.  I think Flash feels the same.  Maybe I was born 200 years too late.

One of the fallen officers on the Memorial is Louie Pompei who died over 17 years ago, trying to help a victim during an armed robbery of a grocery store.  Louie didn't want to get involved, (he was in plain clothes at the time, working a drug task force), but when the suspect began to "pistol whip" a handicapped box boy, Louie intervened.  He identified himself and shots were exchanged between Louie and the suspect.  Louie never saw a second suspect behind him who shot him in the heart.  Louie Pompei was one of my trainees, one of the best officers that Glendora PD ever had.

I've always wanted to attend the Peace Officer's Memorial, mostly out of respect for Louie.  It never worked out until 2 years ago when one of my close friends, who still works at Glendora PD, talked about the mounted units from around the state that attend the Memorial.  I vowed to myself that Flash and I would go, I just wasn't sure a retiree could ride mounted in the Memorial Service, and what department would I represent, (Glendora or Chino where I am a volunteer posse member)?  I talked with the posse Lieutenant at Chino, and after he talked with the Chief, they said I could go and represent their department.  Glendora doesn't have a mounted unit and I felt they may have concerns with me representing them and not being a current police officer with them.

Color guard.
Well, Flash and I trailered to Sacramento, (a 10 hour drive).  When we got there, Sacramento's mounted unit sergeant, was fantastic.  We had come a day early, and he gave me the key to their facility so I could come and go when I wanted.  Flash was worried when we arrived.  It was early evening, and all of Sacramento's horses were put away in the barn.  I parked my trailer next to the arena where I was going to sleep, and put Flash in the arena.  The door to my trailer was only 3' from the pipe rail of the arena.  That whole night Flash had his head right by the door of the trailer, trying to look in and see me.  Neither of us slept that night.  The next day over 100 mounted units arrived from around the state.  We all tacked up, mounted our horses, and rode four abreast through downtown Sacramento, over freeways, under freeways, across bridges to a large lawn in front of the State Capital.
The lawn in front of the State Capital

The only problem was that all the other units had at least 2 to 3 riders and I was the odd man out.  Flash was the last of 104 horses, so we brought up the tail.  He did well until we got to the grass area in front of the Capital.  The grass strip is about 30' wide and 100 yards long with two lanes of traffic on each side.  Well, 103 horses made it onto the grass, but there was no room for Flash and me.  Flash had two feet on the curb, waiting for the rest of the horses to make room, when a young child came up to me and said, "officer, you better move because the metro train is coming down the track".  Sure enough, here comes the train, something Flash has never seen.  I got him on the grass, turned him towards the oncoming train,(10' away), and said, "Flash meet the metro train".  He was good, barely moved.  Then we had to stand in line for 40 minutes while hundreds of motorcycle units and police cars with lights flashing drove by in front of us.  At that point Flash had enough and would back out of line, turn around, go back in line, stand for 5 minutes, poop, then repeat.
All the units passing by in front of the horses.

On the way back to the stables, Sacramento PD let us in between two of their officers and horses, and Flash was much better.  We even rode through "Old Town" on the way back; 4 abreast, taking up the whole street.  Pretty impressive except for the lone friesian pulling a buggy with passengers who at the sight of 100+ horses coming straight at him thought it was safer by backing up onto the sidewalk to the dismay of his driver.

It was quite experience for Flash and me.  We both learned alot.  I think maybe I would like to try it again, but only if I am with other riders that I know.  I would do things differently, like be near the front, dress in "formal" class A's, and pay a tribute to all of those that have given their lives.  To them, I say "THANK YOU".


  1. What an incredible tribute to some truly heroic officers. Hope you can go again and Flash can be "one of the gang," instead of the odd man out. I'm sure he'd like that too.

  2. Hello, there is an award for you at my blog. :)

  3. Most interesting blog today! How brave Flash is! That would be a pretty intimidating thing to do all on your own (no horsey friends). He must have an awesome trust in you. I think the public needs to hear more true life stories about the bravery and sacrifices of the men and women in uniform.