Barry Saunders

When one police officer is killed, it affects them all

Retired Raleigh police officer Dennis Lane.
Retired Raleigh police officer Dennis Lane. COURTESY OF DENNIS LANE

Every day when Dennis Lane got into his car, before he cranked up to go to work, he had one thought.

No, Lane immediately corrected himself: he had two.

“First, I wanted to get back home at the end of the day to my wife and and my three sons,” he said. “Second, I wanted to do the best that I could do to keep people like yourself safe.”

’Preciate that, homes.

Lane was a cop in Raleigh for 30 years, retiring in December 2005 as a major. I called him Tuesday, the day after New York police officer Brian Moore died from being shot by an oft-arrested criminal. Moore’s death, while not unnoticed, received nowhere near the attention or response that recent police-involved fatal incidents received.

“It’s a shame,” Lane said. “I can only speak for myself, but it makes me angry to see the outrage when an officer makes a mistake – and every profession makes mistakes: police officers, lawyers, plumbers, reporters, CPAs, electricians. ... But a police officer has to make a life-or-death decision. ... It makes me angry when you see the outrage when an officer kills somebody, but yet very little is said about this poor young New York officer who was shot and killed out on the street.”

Eight Raleigh police officers have been killed in the line of duty. Lane said he knew four of them. “I taught three of them in the police academy,” he said.

Even when he didn’t know the slain officers, even when they may have been in some far-away department, Lane feels it, he said. So does every other officer on every other department.

“The mood is somber, the mood is sadness” when a cop is slain, he said. “Then it turns to respect and honor. ... We all understand what each of us goes through and faces each day. ... You don’t know whether you’re going to make it to your daughter’s dance recital, whether you’re going to come back home so you can go to your son’s basketball game.”

To help that daughter or son whose law-enforcement parent doesn’t make it back home, Lane and hundreds of other officers are biking, even as you read this, to Washington to raise money.

Helping the children

Lane was among the founders of the Raleigh Police Memorial Foundation in 2009, and he and 24 other cops and former cops – Team Raleigh – climbed onto their bicycles Wednesday for a six-day ride to the national memorial honoring fallen officers. They are going through Chesapeake, Va., where they’ll hook up with hundreds of other biking cops for the trek to D.C. Their goal, he said, “is to provide money to COPS – Concerns of Police Survivors.”

COPS sends children of fallen cops to a summer camp where they can meet with professional counselors “who help them cope with life and grief, with the sudden loss of a parent,” to cope with the unalterable reality that mom or dad will never again make it to their dance recitals and basketball games.

“And of course, there are fun and games” at the camp, Lane said. He said many of the children who attend the camp return as counselors to help other children who suffered the same loss as they.

Wonderful it would be if that organization could be mothballed, rendered obsolete because no more officers were killed in the line of duty.

That’s not likely any time soon, though, so if you want to contribute to the Raleigh Police Memorial Foundation, visit its website – www.info@rpdmemorial.org – to find out how.

“For most of the guys who stay in (law enforcement) – and the ladies – it’s a calling, to serve and protect. And they’re doing it for very little pay,” Lane said.

‘A low percentage’

Was being a cop, I asked, a “calling” for him?

“Absolutely. It’ll sound corny,” Lane said, not sounding corny at all, “but I knew from the time I was about 10 that that’s what I wanted to do. I met a police officer through the school safety patrol and we stayed in contact as I grew older. He encouraged me to apply when I turned 21 and that’s how it all got started.

“It’s a shame and tragedy when anybody loses his life, but if you look at all of the police encounters with citizens across this country every day – there are literally tens of thousands. When you compare that to the number of incidents that turn tragic, it’s really a low percentage.”

Preach, brother. I’m a witness, because between the ages of 13 and 17, I suspect that I rode in police cars more often than anyone who didn’t carry a badge. There’ve been scores of encounters with police since then, Some were deserved, some were bogus – at least in my impartial, unbiased opinion. Ninety-five percent of the time the officer treated me with respect – as I did him. The officer did what he had to do and bade me adieu.

The other five percent of the time?

I still treated them with respect – ’tain’t no upside to sassing a cop. I’ve never backtalked a cop, but I’m mighty glad those officers couldn’t read my mind.

Near the end of our conversation, Lane said of Officer Moore, “It makes you wonder if because of all of the negative publicity he hesitated” when confronting the armed felon charged with ending his life. “If he did, it cost him his life.”

Regardless of how it happened, a New York columnist expressed well the aftermath of Officer Moore’s death. When a cop dies, he wrote, people don’t burn a city: they light a candle.

Saunders: 919-836-2811 or bsaunders@newsobserver.com

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