As we near the end of 2006 and begin the holiday season, I’d like us to reflect on the past year. While we have enjoyed many operational successes that reflect your hard work to make the city safer, we have also experienced losses...those who are not with us because they are serving overseas, those we have lost due to illness and accidents and the loss of one who paid the ultimate sacrifice while in the line of duty.
As of the first of December, a total of 25 Los Angeles Police Department employees, 19 sworn and six civilians are serving in the U.S. armed forces deployed on overseas assignments. Of those 25; nearly half will be spending their second, third, even fourth Christmas away from family and friends.
While the Department offers financial and career support to our activated military personnel, the LAPD family should also offer emotional support to these employees who are our partners and coworkers. Please take the time to remember them and their families during the holidays.
This has also been a difficult year because for the first time in two and a half years, we have lost an officer in the line of duty. On Sunday, October 22, Northeast Area Officer Landon Dorris and his partner were investigating a minor traffic collision when a car hit Officer Dorris. The 31-year-old officer had been with us for just over three years. He served six years with the California Highway Patrol prior to joining the LAPD. Officer Dorris is survived by his mother and two sisters, a fiancé and two young sons, ages three and one-and-a-half.
We were also challenged this year by the deaths of several Department employees due to illness and accidents. Although this is not an all-inclusive list, due to the wishes of the families involved, I ask that you remember the 12 sworn officers, including 2 reservists, and one civilian employee no longer with us.
This past year presented a different set of challenges for several LAPD officers who suffered serious, life-altering injuries. In August, Hollenbeck Area Officer James Tuck was seriously hurt when he and his partner made a traffic stop in the Montecito Heights area. They had just pulled over a car when the passenger got out and charged the officers. He sprayed their patrol car with high-velocity rounds from an AK-47. Officer Tuck was shot three times, with one bullet nearly severing his left hand at the wrist. The news for this young officer is promising, his physicians believe he will regain about 85 percent of the use of his hand after a year of rehabilitation.
In late April, Newton Area Officer Jennifer Howlett and her partner Officer Daniel Calderon were involved in a traffic collision with an intoxicated motorist. Officer Howlett suffered multiple fractures to her left femur, right ankle and right foot. Officer Calderon sustained a compound fracture to his right femur. The officers were transported to a local hospital where they underwent surgery. Both officers are receiving on-going treatment for their injuries and remain off-duty.
Newton Area Officer Enrique Chavez was seriously wounded when his three-year-old son accidentally shot him in the back as they drove near their Anaheim home. Officer Chavez underwent surgery to have a metal rod placed in his spine and he remains paralyzed from the waist down. Officer Chavez is in rehabilitation and is progressing ahead of schedule.
In mid-June, West Traffic Division Officer Michael Toth was riding his Department motorcycle on his way home when he stopped to help officers from the California Highway Patrol conducting an accident investigation. As he was leaving the scene, a sports utility vehicle hit Officer Toth. He was rushed to a hospital and had extensive surgery on injuries to his face, chest and legs. Officer Toth is going through physical therapy and recently had more surgery to repair damage to his right foot. His goal is to be back at work mid-year 2007.
And finally, this summer Southwest Area Officer Kristina Ripatti was shot and paralyzed from the chest down while trying to arrest an armed man who had robbed a gas station. Now she spends several days a week in rehab and she works out in a gym to increase her upper body strength. As she learns to adjust to life in a wheelchair, Officer Ripatti also fights to stay mentally fit to challenge conventional medical wisdom that she will never walk again. Kristina, her husband, Southeast Area Officer Tim Pearce, and their young daughter Jordan were recently featured on ABC television’s Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. Their home was “made over” free of charge by hundreds of volunteers to accommodate her disabilities.
This will certainly be an emotional holiday season for her and the others I have mentioned. As you celebrate with your own loved ones, take the time to remember the men and women of the LAPD who are facing extraordinary physical and emotional challenges. Remember those who will not be home with their loved ones, and remember those that have gone before us. In this city noted for its angels, these are the LAPD’s angels. May they always be in our thoughts, our memories and by our side, and even as you remember them, let me offer you and your families my best wishes for a safe, healthy and happy holiday season.