Leading Through Difficulty and Loss

By Kevin Crawford 
Flags are placed on the graves of fallen soldiers in remembrance of their lives of service.

Without question, those of us fortunate enough to serve as members of the law enforcement community share an unmatched closeness and bond with our colleagues. The nature of our mission and the inherent danger omnipresent as we perform our duties remain a cause and effect toward the forming of this extremely close relationship. This type of closeness comes with a price—when the life of one of our ranks is lost, we all feel the pain and suffering that follows.

Surviving Tragedy

On November 29, 2009, the pain and suffering was magnified when the Lakewood, Washington, Police Department (LPD) lost four members in an unprovoked, meaningless assault that, in truth, was an assassination. Sergeant Mark Renniger and Officers Tina Griswold, Ronald Owens, and Greg Richards were sitting in a coffee shop owned by a retired police officer—ironically, they considered it a safe place. While working on their laptops prior to their shift, an individual unknown to them walked into the shop and appeared calm and nonthreatening. The stranger walked toward the counter as though to order and then, without warning, pulled a semiautomatic pistol from beneath his coat and opened fire on the officers. All four officers were shot and killed. Details remain unclear, but one of the officers wounded the subject during the encounter. The perpetrator did not attempt to commit a robbery or threaten anyone else present. Clearly, he intended to attack the officers, targets simply due to the uniforms and badges they wore.

A few days after these senseless killings, a Seattle, Washington, police officer shot and killed him. Local, state, and federal agencies put forth an extensive effort and worked around the clock for several days. The Pierce County, Washington, Sheriff’s Department (PCSD), led by Sheriff Paul Pastor, had jurisdiction over the investigation. Subsequent investigation revealed that the individual had an accomplice who was a former cellmate in Arkansas; he assisted by driving the perpetrator from the scene of the shooting. Authorities discovered that additional accomplices helped the subject after the shooting by providing medical attention, food, and financial assistance.

Attending a law enforcement funeral is a powerful and sad experience never forgotten. I vividly recall the funerals of FBI Special Agents Martha Dixon Martinez and Mike Miller and Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) Sergeant Hank Daley, all shot and killed in a similar attack as they sat in the perceived safety of MPD headquarters on November 22, 1994. After the playing of “Amazing Grace” on the bagpipes and taps as a final salute, there always remains in the minds and hearts of grieving colleagues a deep sense of sorrow and regret. If we freely admit it, we must address feelings of despair and trepidation in regard to moving forward.

Moving Forward

This difficult task of leading that movement forward falls to our leaders; they hold responsibility for starting the healing and recovery process. Both Sheriff Pastor of the PCSD and LPD Chief Bret Farrar confronted a leadership challenge among their ranks usually reserved for public service organizations, such as police, fire, and military leaders. The time that follows the investigation of the shooting incident—apprehension or removal of the subject as a source of further threat and the funerals for fallen heroes—is a critical time for beneficial leadership.

Special Agent Crawford recently retired from the Faculty Affairs and Development Unit at the FBI Academy.
Special Agent Crawford recently retired from the Faculty Affairs and Development Unit at the FBI Academy. 

During this time, surviving officers lose the benefit of focusing on specific tasks or responsibilities and have the opportunity to reflect on the tragic events that took place. Successful law enforcement leaders know when to be physically present and when their presence becomes a burden to an operation or a detriment to productivity and morale. However, in the occurrence of a fallen officer, the proper place for a leader is front and center. For example, in May 1995, highly respected FBI Special Agent William Christian of the Washington, D.C., field office was gunned down by an adversary while on surveillance. Due to large turnout, his wake was held at the church prior to the funeral mass. Former FBI Director Louis Freeh sat in the front row of the church, keeping vigil for the entire 4-hour wake and following funeral, a true testament and example of care and leadership to the grieving family and colleagues of Special Agent Christian not forgotten or lost on the FBI agents present.

After serving as the lead investigative agency for the shooting of the LPD officers, less than 1 month later, the PCSD suffered the loss of Deputy Kent Mundell in a shooting that also left Sergeant Nick Hausner wounded. Sheriff Pastor and his department, already recovering from the loss of life at their sister agency, now had lost one of their own.  As he went about the duties and sadness associated with the line-of-duty death of Deputy Mundell, Sheriff Pastor could not help but think of his colleague Chief Farrer of LPD and imagine the strain of facing the death of four officers: “I have a tremendous amount of respect for him and the way he handled the adversity cast upon the LPD.”

Law enforcement officers face many adversities and bear witness to much sadness. Although we are a different breed from other professions and function through adversity, we never get accustomed to seeing the death of a child or one of our own. It is the responsibility of our agencies and leaders to recognize that some officers may require more assistance than others when dealing with their thoughts and sorrow. Sheriff Pastor provided the assistance of a psychologist for those members most closely involved with the investigation of the LPD tragedy and the loss at his own department. He also instructed his personnel to observe their colleagues to see if they were hurting and to “lean into the issue” if needed. In essence, he sent forth the message “We owe one another and should look out for each other.” A support network for surviving family members also was implemented, a never-ending responsibility of the department. Sheriff Pastor quickly pointed out, “We have to remember the community is also suffering and feeling the loss.” This is best exemplified by the manner in which the members of the public turn out in such large numbers for funeral services of slain law enforcement officers.1

Responding to Adversity

On May 8, 2006, the Fairfax County, Virginia, Police Department (FCPD) was the victim of an unexpected attack at the Sully District Station in Chantilly. The subject had carjacked a van moments earlier and drove into the police station’s back parking lot.  Without provocation, he exited the stolen vehicle and opened fire with a hunting rifle. Master Police Officer Michael E. Garbarino, sitting in his patrol car, was struck five times and died from his wounds 9 days later. Detective Vicky O. Armel, in the parking lot, immediately engaged the subject. A firefight ensued. She was fatally wounded during the exchange. Several officers responded to the parking lot and shot and killed the suspect shortly thereafter.

Major Ed Roessler, then the commanding officer of the department’s Administrative Support Bureau responsible for the nonstanding Incident Support Services (ISS) program, was notified. In accordance with casualty assistance plans, he headed directly to Fairfax INOVA Hospital.  “It is a somewhat unnatural feeling for a police officer to not respond to the incident location, but this is the way we had prepared for such an event,” Major Roessler recalled. His role at the hospital would include many duties. Initially, he and his ISS staff contacted key hospital personnel while en route to advise them of the urgent situation. As hospital officials had done many times in previous training with the FCPD, they set aside a private section of the hospital trauma unit to provide emergency treatment for the officers involved in the shooting.  Next, Roessler ensured peer support team (PST) members coordinated notifications of the next of kin who the officers had designated as emergency contacts and informed them of the unfolding events and updated medical conditions. Additionally, PST members provided transportation of the next of kin to the hospital. With the assistance of its public information office, the department quickly took control of all information released to the media to avoid having family members and loved ones learn of the event and the condition of the officers through public broadcasting.

The department’s ISS standard operating procedures set forth specific parameters for helping surviving family members. These relatives are not required to fill out forms and complete paper work after suffering through the loss of their loved one. In addition, the FCPD realizes that surviving family members always will be a part of their department. The ISS also provides a police psychologist to help law enforcement officers, current and retired employees, and family members during and following critical incidents. PSTs, chaplains, and an employee assistance program (EAP) are in place and ready for activation immediately in crisis situations.

The PST concept existed for many years in the FCPD prior to these tragic events in May 2006. Past leaders of the department realized the need and importance of such an entity. The PST was formed to provide support resources to employees and their families during times of crisis. The first level of response in times of need for the “police family” is the PST. The team consists of highly dedicated employees (sworn and civilian) who have received standardized training on crisis intervention techniques and who serve in an on-call capacity ready to respond to crisis incidents, such as police-involved shootings and serious injuries to employees. Through the dedication of its membership and the support of department leaders, the PST of the FCPD continues to provide employees with an effective array of professional support services.

“If we freely admit it, we must address feelings of despair and trepidation in regard to moving forward.”

The shooting at the Sully Station provided the FCPD with an extreme test of leadership, courage, and commitment. The department’s casualty assistance plan (CAP) was put into place as members of the PST were activated, and personnel assigned to command roles under the plan ensured the coordination of all action items. Through prior leadership preparation, the PST resources were activated and in place before the arrival of the fallen officers at the trauma hospital. Significant tasks were begun.

  • PST members contacted affected family members and arranged immediate transportation to the hospital to stay ahead of the saturation of media coverage.
  • Key emergency plan elements were activated with hospital staff involvement.
  • A public information office area was established on the other side of the complex away from officers and their families.
  • A large break room was secured with food and communications for family members and officers.
  • Private rooms were obtained for relatives to have privacy and rest.
  • Private parking was provided for family members and officers in one of the parking garages, which afforded private entry and exit shielded from media coverage.
  • Commanders were allowed to establish confidential risk management billing (e.g., registering officers under assumed names for protection from the media and ensuring all bills are sent to the risk management division, rather than a spouse or family member).
  • A room was established for a command post.
  • A full lockdown of the hospital was ensured until events settled (for officer safety in case of multiple attacks).
  • The department’s honor guard was deployed to the hospital.
  • Uniformed officers provided security presence at the homes of the involved officers and served as the immediate-family resource adjuncts.
  • Peer support supervisors established a debriefing protocol at the Sully Station with the assistance of mutual aid from other law enforcement agency peer support teams.
  • The Patrol Bureau leadership activated emergency staffing plans to deal with the Sully Station going off-line after becoming a crime scene.

The FCPD’s existence of a CAP and prior training regarding implementation of the plan was a tremendous asset to the department during this traumatic time. Agency leadership had prepared for the worst case scenario, and because of their diligence and support, operations during this extremely difficult time went as smoothly as possible. Leaders of law enforcement agencies must ensure they are prepared to respond to events that result in serious injuries and death to their employees.2

Finding Support

“The department's ISS standard operating procedures set forth specific parameters for helping surviving family members.”

The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) and Concerns of Police Survivors (COPS) support and assist surviving families and colleagues of law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty. The IACP recognizes the difficulties departments and police executives face during this time of sorrow. This realization led to the creation of the IACP Tribute to Slain Officers’ program in 1995, which provides a tribute for surviving family members and presentation guidelines to executives of departments that have lost an officer in the line of duty. COPS started in 1984 and “provides resources to assist in the rebuilding of the lives of surviving families and affected coworkers of law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty as determined by federal criteria. Furthermore, COPS provides training to law enforcement agencies on survivor victimization issues and educates the public of the need to support the law enforcement profession and its survivors.” COPS provides several programs including the well-known COPS Kids and COPS Teens and conferences for survivors.3


If past behavior and statistics indicate future events, the law enforcement community will continue to suffer and endure losses despite our best efforts to increase and improve our technology and training. The Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program, conceived in 1929 by the IACP, led to several other annual publications, including Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted (LEOKA). The number of law enforcement officers killed in line-of-duty encounters since the inception of LEOKA has remained fairly constant—we lose slightly more than 50 per year. Officers assaulted in the line of duty during this same time period average consistently above 10,000 annually. Taking these statistics into consideration, executives and leaders of our nearly 17,000 police agencies should be prepared and ready to deal with the loss of personnel and the pain and suffering among the ranks that surely will follow.

Those who commit crimes and are violent in nature toward police officers and the general public should be aware and forewarned that law enforcement professionals will not be deterred or cease in our efforts to serve and protect the public. The long blue lines present at the funerals of our fallen heroes, along with their legacies, do not end when the ceremonies do; rather, they continue forever.


1 Sheriff Paul A. Pastor, Pierce County, Washington, Sheriff’s Department, interview by author.

2 Major Edwin C. Roessler, Jr., Fairfax County Police Department, interview by author.

3 For additional information on COPS, visit

“The long blue lines present at the funerals of our fallen heroes, along with their legacies, do not end when the ceremonies do; rather, they continue forever.”