Dan Bessant was killed by a sniper last month, five days before Christmas. He was on patrol and assisting a comrade when the gunman, driven by an ideology altogether foreign and incomprehensible in civilized society, cut him down with a rifle shot from more than 100 yards away. He left behind a wife and an infant son, born only last October. He was 25.
Bessant was not a soldier or Marine serving in Baghdad or Ramadi or on some barren slope in Afghanistan. He was a police officer in Oceanside, California, in northern San Diego County, the kind of pleasant suburban town where such things are not supposed to happen. But even pleasant suburban towns can have pockets of trouble, neighborhoods where not everyone is so neighborly. Bessant was the second Oceanside police officer to be murdered in less than four years.
After Bessant was shot, cops from across the county and beyond swept in and combed the neighborhood. A 17-year-old was arrested and has been charged as an adult in the murder. He has pleaded not guilty. Prosecutors say he confessed to the crime, saying he shot the officer to enhance his status in a local street gang. He now faces the prospect of enjoying this enhanced status in prison for the rest of his life.
Two days after Bessant was killed, Bryan Tuvera was one of several San Francisco police officers engaged in a manhunt for an escaped convict. The escapee led officers over fences and through backyards for several minutes before taking refuge in a garage. When Tuvera entered the garage he was shot in the head and died at a hospital later that night. Other officers shot and killed the suspect. Tuvera’s widow is also a San Francisco police officer; they had been married only two months.
Earlier that same day, in Long Beach, California, Officers Abe Yap and Roy Wade tried to make a traffic stop on a man who had been seen acting suspiciously in a gun store. The suspect stopped his car without warning in the middle of the street then jumped out and raked the police car with rifle fire. Neither officer was able to return fire or even get out of the car. Both were critically injured but were saved through the efforts of emergency-room workers at Long Beach Memorial Medical Center. Wade had graduated from the police academy only three weeks earlier.
Long Beach detectives identified the shooter as Oscar Gabriel Gallegos, 33, an illegal immigrant previously arrested and deported no less than three times for various felonies. Gallegos was tracked to a strip mall in Santa Ana, Calif., and when officers moved in to arrest him he again opened fire. The result was more satisfactory this time: Gallegos was hit several times and died at the scene. Though the strip mall was dotted with bullet holes and littered with casings, no officers or bystanders were injured.
Dan Bessant and Bryan Tuvera were the last of the 142 American police officers who died in the line of duty in 2006. Some died in accidents or from duty-related illnesses, but 68 of them were victims of criminal assaults. And this year’s grim count has already begun. On January 6, Trooper Calvin Jenks of the Tennessee Highway Patrol was shot and killed during a traffic stop in Tipton County. He was 24.
U.S. News & World Report reports this week on the recent upsurge in violent crime in the United States. Based on preliminary figures from America’s largest cities, 2006 saw a 6-percent increase in murders over the previous year, when 16,692 criminal homicides were reported nationwide out of a total of 1,390,695 violent crimes.
One hears much complaining these days that Iraq has yet to be pacified even after almost four years of U.S. military engagement. To those who offer such complaints I remind them of this: The United States has been around for 230 years and it hasn’t been pacified yet, either.
– Jack Dunphy is an officer in the Los Angeles Police Department. “Jack Dunphy” is the author’s nom de cyber. The opinions expressed are his own and almost certainly do not reflect those of the LAPD management.