Grief and heartache have become part of putting on the badge. One of the two Palm Springs police officers killed recently was set to retire in December, the other was a rookie who just gave birth to a baby girl four months earlier.
Shooting deaths of law enforcement officers spiked 78% in the first half of this year compared to last, that includes the eight that were ambushed in Dallas and Baton Rouge.
Berkeley Police Officer Veronica Rodrigues grew up in Antioch, went to Cal to be a doctor but found that chasing bad guys was really her forte. “Even to this day, my mom will text me every morning to say she loves me, and to stay in the car,” Rodrigues said. “Sometimes staying in the patrol car isn’t the safest.”
But it’s what she signed up for even in this hyper-hostile environment, when public encounters are under a microscope.
“And it’s unfortunate that a few bad apples have spoiled it for the rest of us,” said Rodrigues. “And I know now, with the implementation of body cameras, with some officers there’s a level of discouragement and frustration with those. But on the flip side of that, my perspective of things is that is going to show the public what a great job we do on a daily basis,” she said.
Rodrigues cringes when hearing of an officer-involved shooting somewhere in the U.S. “We don’t want to have to hurt anyone. We don’t want to have to shoot anyone. We don’t want to have to put our hands on someone if we don’t have to.”
Rodrigues has had to fire her weapon; the first time while going after a barricaded drug dealer. “He decided to come out, and he started shooting at us. I was one of the ones that he shot at,” she said. “Then about a year later, I got bit by a pit bull.”
Officer Patricia De La Luna is a first-generation Latina who teaches a Spanish language, anti-gang class for parents.
“I would work with a lot of these families, and stop their kids on the street when they were getting involved in gangs, and I would try to educate the parents, saying ‘this is what your kid’s wearing,'” said De La Luna. “But, there was such a resistance for those parents, or even school officials to work with me even though I was law enforcement now, because they’re afraid about labeling them a gang member, or labeling a criminal, when what I was trying to do was stop the behavior before it got serious, before they were ending up in jail, or much more.”
The resistance De La Luna faces can even come from teachers, including one who cited the police killing of an unarmed black man in Ferguson, Missouri which helped launch the national debate over police brutality.
“I had a teacher who started talking about Ferguson. I was like, ‘wait, time out, this isn’t Ferguson.’ … I want to talk about this kid, this incident, and what happened. But he wanted to take it to that place, and Berkeley’s not Ferguson,” De La Luna said.