Crime

Tri-City police grieve for slain Tacoma officer

Richland police Capt. Mike Cobb holds a picture of Franny Lowry, daughter of Tacoma police officer Bill Lowry, below a memorial rubbing of her father’s name. Cobb was friends with Bill Lowry when he was killed in the line of duty in 1997.
Richland police Capt. Mike Cobb holds a picture of Franny Lowry, daughter of Tacoma police officer Bill Lowry, below a memorial rubbing of her father’s name. Cobb was friends with Bill Lowry when he was killed in the line of duty in 1997. Tri-City Herald

A Tacoma police officer dies, and the impact strikes Tri-City police officers and their families.

The news of Reginald “Jake” Gutierrez’s death on Wednesday sent a wave of reflection, grief, and renewals of vigilance through local law enforcement agencies.

An unnamed 38-year-old man shot and killed Gutierrez as he climbed stairs to an apartment to respond to a domestic disturbance. His female partner took cover, moved a woman to safety and returned fire.

After an 11-hour standoff, Tacoma police shot and killed the suspect while rescuing a 6-year-old boy and an 8-year-old girl he was using as human shields, according to the Associated Press.

Gutierrez was 45 and worked as a police officer for 17 years.

“It hits home,” said Pasco police Sgt. Scott Warren. “I made sure to hug my son today. It is a reminder of the danger of what we do.”

When a police officer dies, it impacts their family, their agency, and officers around the country, local officers said Thursday. When it is within the same state, the grief, sense of loss and urgency to improve vigilance increases.

“We’re always alert ... but after this, officers are going to be hyper-vigilant for a while,” said Benton County Sheriff’s Sgt. Bob Brockman. “Sadly, it’s a situation like this that is a wake-up call that domestic disturbances are some of the most dangerous calls we respond to.”

Five officers died nationwide in 2015 while responding to domestic violence calls, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.

Officers responding to domestic calls are attacked more often than in any other situation, said Kennewick police Sgt. Ken Lattin.

“There’s a lot of emotions involved. ... We are going there to help the victim. Sometimes, the victim is still in love with the suspect, even though they just hurt them ... they can turn on us and jump on us, trying to grab a gun. It is totally unexpected and why we have a second officer respond,” he said.

Officers from all Tri-City agencies agree.

There is not one person I work with that wouldn’t sacrifice their life for someone else. We are always aware of the risk, and this brings it home.

Pasco police Sgt. Scott Warren

“It’s an unknown situation … you get into the small confines of a house, and you may not have room to maneuver to avoid someone who is bent on attacking you,” Brockman said.

They know the danger. They are trained for it.

“We realize this is a dangerous job when we signed up,” Lattin said.

It doesn’t daunt them.

“There is not one person I work with who wouldn’t sacrifice their life for someone else. We are always aware of the risk, and this brings it home,” Warren said. “It’s not going to stop us from doing our job to protect and serve our community.”

Richland Capt. Mike Cobb lost a close friend in 1997, when Tacoma officer Bill Lowry was shot by a distraught man who accused his wife of infidelity and barricaded himself at home.

Lowry was one of four officers Cobb knew personally who were killed in the line of duty.

“It was exceptionally hard,” Cobb said. “It was very close and very personal. It was a friend I trained.”

“His life had meaning. He volunteered to make someone else’s life better. It is one of the reasons why we are police officers,” he added. “Being around for a while and knowing people who have died in the line of duty … it’s personal.”

Cobb has experience and training to help with officers enduring stress from traumatic events, such as a shooting or a death.

The worst call I made was when I was injured and called (my wife) from the back of the ambulance telling her, ‘I’m am OK.’

Kennewick police Sgt. Ken Lattin

“I think everyone feels a sense of loss. You talk about a close-knit family. You often spend more time with the people you work with than you do your family … it makes it resonate more personally,” Cobb said. “It means we are all in this together.”

Lattin said husbands, wives and children also cope with the stress of an officer’s employment. Working in law enforcement means every day they leave for work, there is a possibility of not seeing their spouse or parent again.

“The worst call I made was when I was injured and called (my wife) from the back of the ambulance telling her, ‘I’m am OK,’ ” Lattin said.

He was injured while serving as a motorcycle patrol officer.

A workshop is offered for family members when officers graduate from the police academy, Lattin said. It helps them learn skills to cope with the stress and worry that comes with the profession.

The daily stress is heightened when an officer dies in the line of duty.

“It has a different level of meaning. You feel that loss anytime this happens to a police officer … we are the same people doing the same job in a different locale. I know I can go anywhere and get help because that is what we do. We care for other people,” Cobb said.

Bill Stevenson: 509-582-1481, @TriCityHerald

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