by California Attorney General Bill Lockyer
At Thanksgiving, we are grateful for family, friends, food and shelter, and for living in a state and nation blessed with more freedom, opportunities and natural resources than anywhere in the world. It is also a time to be grateful for those we might too often take for granted: the many of our fellow Californians who keep our families, homes and neighborhoods safe and secure.
Our safety and security does not just happen by chance. It is the result of the heroic sacrifices of law enforcement, fire and emergency personnel, and the work of untold numbers of volunteers and others in our communities to keep residents safe and prevent crime and violence.
Thousands of firefighters worked through exhaustion to battle the recent raging blazes in Southern California. One firefighter, Steve Rucker of Novato, died, leaving behind a wife and two young children. Several other firefighters were injured. Volunteers brought food and clothing to people displaced by the fires. The Red Cross set up shelters. Many neighbors assisted in evacuating families and pets.
With a disaster of this magnitude we witness the heroic acts of firefighters, emergency personnel and volunteers on television and in newspapers. Yet, often their hard work goes unrecognized during “routine” fires. Firefighters respond to an average 6,300 wild fires, and more than 286,000 other emergencies each year, according to the California Department of Forestry. That Department employs 3,800 full-time fire professionals, foresters and administrative employees and 1,400 seasonal firefighters. In addition, local government provides 5,600 volunteer firefighters and 2,600 citizen Volunteers in Prevention. More than 4,300 inmate wards participate in fire crews. All of these firefighting crews risk their lives for our safety and deserve our thanks.
Similar acts of sacrifice by law enforcement can often go unnoticed. Local and state law enforcement has worked harder than ever during these tough economic times to solve and prevent crime in California. The number of violent crimes homicides, rapes, robberies and aggravated assaults decreased by 3.7 percent during the first half of 2003 compared to the same period last year. California’s crime levels remain at 30-year lows.
These successes in bringing crime down come at a high price for many of our nearly 80,000 peace officers. Already this year, 13 members of our law enforcement community have lost their lives. Oceanside Police Department Officer Tony Zeppetella, 27, pursuing a lifelong dream of becoming a police officer, was shot to death during a routine traffic stop by a known gang member. Officer Zeppetella left behind a wife and infant son. On August 2, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Deputy Stephen Sorensen, 46, responding to a trespassing call, was fatally shot by a criminal with a lengthy record. He left behind his wife and two sons.
On the California Peace Officers’ Memorial monument in Sacramento is inscribed a poem by Sgt. George Hahn, Los Angeles Police Department (retired), which begins: “I never dreamed it would be me/My name for all eternity/Recorded here at this hallowed place/Alas, my name, no more my face./”In the line of duty” I hear them say/My family now the price will pay/My folded flag stained with their tears/We only had those few short years.”
As we celebrate Thanksgiving in the security and warmth of our homes, and among family that we love, let us also give thanks to those who risk their lives every day so that we and our loved ones can live safe and free.