Bret Farrar didn’t call first thing.
He knows better than most how busy Tacoma Police Chief Don Ramsdell has been helping plan the memorial service for a fallen officer and taking care of his department’s officers and families.
But the retired Lakewood police chief sent a message to Ramsdell last week in light of the fatal shooting of officer Reginald “Jake” Gutierrez.
“I sent him a text saying: ‘Hey, thinking of you,’ ” Farrar said.
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Farrar was the head of the Lakewood force on Nov. 29, 2009, when four members of his department were shot and killed in the line of duty. Like Gutierrez’s killer, the Lakewood gunman later was killed by police.
The retired chief told The News Tribune he couldn’t speak to what Ramsdell is facing in the wake of his officer’s death. But he did share some of what helped Lakewood after Sgt. Mark Renninger and officers Tina Griswold, Greg Richards and Ronnie Owens were gunned down at a Parkland coffee shop before their shifts started.
“Everybody and every situation is different,” Farrar said. “My primary concern was the health and well-being of the families of my fallen officers, and the officers and families of the department.”
He said it was important for his officers to check in with each other after the tragedy.
“Not just for a week or two weeks or two months, but probably forever,” he said.
Lakewood has processes for that, in addition to informal check-ins among friends. Officers involved in a serious incident are part of a group meeting afterward during which they can discuss tactics and emotions.
“It’s just kind of all on the table,” Farrar said.
In addition, there’s individualized care in the form of a peer support team, which matches officers with co-workers.
“Maybe some people don’t want to talk in a big group, but they’ll sit down with coffee one-on-one and open up,” Farrar said.
Officers aren’t the only ones who need support. There also are the families who have to watch loved ones on the force walk out the door every day.
“The families see an officer fall in the line of duty,” Farrar said, “you know what they’re thinking.”
He said he had some candid conversations with officers in the years after 2009 about whether law enforcement was the best career for them and their families.
“People handle grief and tragedy differently,” he said. “We’ve had throughout the years, people in the Police Department who decided this career was no longer something they were interested in, and they moved along.”
And that’s OK, he said.
The public memorial for Gutierrez will be Friday at the Tacoma Dome, the same place the service for Farrar’s officers was held.
He said Lakewood assigned officers in 2009 to act as liaisons with the families, to be with them and help honor their wishes for the memorial.
Years later, Farrar said that support continues. The families help put on a memorial food drive each year.
“We did graduation parties for the kids as they graduated from high school,” he said. “You try to keep in touch and keep them part of the family.”
Asked what the public did that helped in 2009, Farrar said a smile and a wave hello went a long way.
“For officers in the street after a tragedy like that, the public just coming up to you and saying hi … that was probably one of the biggest helps to us,” he said.