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Thousands pay tribute to slain officers

Posted: Monday, Mar 11th, 2013

Police stand watch over the caskets of Santa Cruz Police Sgt. Loran Baker and Detective Elizabeth Butler Thursday during a service at the HP Pavilion in San Jose. The two were killed in the line of duty Feb. 26. (Photos by Tarmo Hannula/Register-Pajaronian)

  SAN JOSE — The call over the county’s emergency airwaves came approximately 2:30 p.m., just after emergency dispatcher Melanie Sherwood called for radio silence from all law enforcement, paramedics and firefighters who use the system.

  Using the same parlance dispatchers use hundreds of times every day, Sherwood twice made a radio call for Det. Sgt. “Butch” Baker, using his radio identifier.

  “Sam 105, Santa Cruz,” she said.

  After a brief silence that came after each call, Sherwood said, “no response,” then added, “Sam, 105, Sergeant Loren 'Butch' Baker, ended his watch on Tuesday, February 26, 2013.”

  Sherwood made the same calls for Det. Elizabeth Baker, using her radio ID of “172.”

  “172, Santa Cruz,” she said, also ending each transmission with, “no response.”

  Sherwood then added, “172, Detective Elizabeth Butler, ended her watch on Tuesday, February 26, 2013”

  The “end of watch” call is a traditional way to bid farewell to a law enforcement official.

  “Though you are gone, your service to your community and the sacrifices you made will never be forgotten,” Sherwood said.  “May your courage and valor live on in the hearts of those who came to honor you today.”

  She ended the transmission with, “Santa Cruz, clear.”

  The call was a symbolic gesture, a way for NetCom personnel to say goodbye to Baker and Butler, who were gunned down Feb. 26 when they went to visit a suspect in a sexual assault.

  The call came just as a memorial service for the officers was wrapping up, capping off an emotional day that drew thousands of police officers from all over the country to the HP Pavilion in San Jose.

  The memorial service began with hundreds of law enforcement officials gathered at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk for a procession that ended at the HP Pavilion, but not before passing hundreds of well-wishers who gathered on roadsides and overcrossings to pay their respects.

  Eric Armatis of Santa Cruz was waiting at the Cloud 9 restaurant at the summit on Highway 17, along with dozens of others.

  “I’ve been a resident of Santa Cruz my whole life, and I have family in the (Santa Cruz) Sheriff’s Office,” he said. “Growing up in Santa Cruz, it was always a peaceful community and a good place to raise a family. This reminds us that, no matter where you live, bad things can happen.”

  The service was originally slated for the Kaiser Permanente Arena in Santa Cruz, but officials concerned about overflow crowds moved to the larger San Jose venue.

  The decision was evidently a good one, as the floor and bottom tier of the HP Pavilion was densely packed with officers in their formal uniforms, a sea of color from scores of departments ranging from Santa Cruz to San Rafael to Los Angeles to San Diego.

  Corp. Justin Graham of the San Rafael Police Department said he came simply to show his support for the law enforcement community. He said the service was not his first.

  “I’ve been a police officer for four years,” Graham said. “Unfortunately I’ve been to a few of these.”

  With nearly 40 years as a cop, Capt. Mike Shanahan of the Tustin Police Department said he has been to more than 100 such services.

  “Attending funerals for fallen officers is a fundamental and a sacred duty,” he said. “It’s a way to show respect for the officers, and a way to show the families that their loved ones are not forgotten.”

  Boy Scout Max Mecheny, 11, of Aptos, said he was there to support his uncle, a Santa Cruz Police officer.

  “It’s really good to see them all here,” Mecheny said of the large numbers of police officers. “It shows how much they loved the officers who died. And they’re from all over the world.”

  Similarly, California State University Police Sgt. Michael Santos said the turnout demonstrated the strong sense of family that comes in the law enforcement community.

  “What happens to one of us happens to all of us,” he said.

  Santa Cruz District Attorney Bob Lee said the ceremony and the massive attendance shows the importance of the law enforcement job.

  “This is a societal recognition that public safety is one of the must important aspects of being human,” he said.

Pastor Rene Schlaepfer of Twin Lakes Community Church, who officiated the ceremony, made mention of the people who gathered to watch the procession.

“Literally thousands of people were lining the streets, ranging from children to senior citizens, ranging from police officers to Hell’s Angels,” Schlaepfer said.

Santa Cruz Police Chief Kevin Vogel reiterated a message repeated again and again since the shootings took place — that the police deaths were the first in the department’s 150-year history.

“This is not something we’ve ever dealt with in our community, and for many of us the pain is still fresh,” he said. 

After briefly referring to the shooter as “a madman” who would have been fairly treated by the officers had he given them a chance, Vogel spent his time at the podium describing Butler and Baker.

Butler, he said, was a “mother, a partner and an inspiration to all officers.”

“Elizabeth just wanted to make sure that Santa Cruz was safe for families like hers,” he said.

Baker, he said, was a “husband, a mentor and a friend,” in addition to a “tenacious investigator and an even more tenacious friend.”

“Butch did everything with every ounce of who he was,” Vogel said. “He is who I turned to when things got hard.”

“I loved them both dearly, and I will miss them forever,” Vogel added.

Former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta also spoke at the event, touching on former and current military personnel who commit crimes and don’t face penalties because the justice system “looks the other way.”

Panetta was referring to the shooter Jeremy Goulet, who never faced serious consequences for a series of sex-related crimes that got him booted from the U.S. Marine Corps and landed him in legal trouble in several states.

“At some point someone pays the price,” Panetta said. “…Let us pledge that in their memory we will never look the other way.”

SCPD Deputy Chief Steve Clark, who tasked himself with bringing humor to the somber occasion, said he did do as a tribute to Baker, whose laughter was described as a mainstay in the department’s halls.

“It is good to laugh, Butch would have wanted that,” Clark said. “Anyone who knew Butch knew you couldn’t stay serious for too long around him. Butch could always find a way to turn a perfectly serious situation into an opportunity to make you laugh.”

Clark also said that Baker’s background as a car salesman helped him interview suspects.

“He combined that with his intuition and ability to read people and became an amazing interviewer,” Clark said. “Butch could get people to talk to him about anything.”

Santa Cruz Supervisor Zach Friend, who formerly handled public relations for the Santa Cruz Police Department and has again been filling that role since the shootings, said the event has been “an extraordinarily trying time” for the community.

“Some of the darkest days we’ve ever seen,” he said. “But through it all, one thing has become clear: that this community takes care of its own. We take care of our own like our police take care of us.”

Friend described Baker and Butler as two cops who were doing their jobs.

“To those lucky enough to know them, they weren’t just cops on the street,” Friend said. “To know them was to see how much they loved this community, and to see how much they loved their work and their families. To know them was a real gift and one that I will always cherish.”

He also described the piles of flowers, candles and other tributes brought by residents to the doorstep of SCPD.

“I’ve never been more proud to be a member of the Santa Cruz community nor have I ever been more proud to be part of the Santa Cruz police family," he said.

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