News Conference with Conan Nolan

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Book Reviews

by Tony Medley

With all the hullaballoo about “police brutality,” former 3-time Los Angeles District Attorney, Steve Cooley (who lived in Toluca Lake with his wife Jana for 35 years) and co-writer Robert Schirn have come along with a compelling book telling the true stories of nine police (8 humans and one dog) who were murdered in the line of duty.

Told in “Law & Order” style by first outlining the facts and then telling of the criminal legal actions taken against the killers and tried in a court of law, this bares the truth about the danger our police face day in and day out.

Each of the eight chapters deals with one murder of a police officer, starting, as did the TV show, with each of the victims starting out on what is for them a normal day before each turns deadly violent, costing each victim his life.

Told in no nonsense, but fascinating, manner this book is a real grabber. In fact, when I received it I was in the middle of reading a library book that I had to read under a deadline to return, so I put Cooley’s book aside to finish my library book.

One evening shortly thereafter I picked up Cooley’s book to see what it was like. It was so interesting and real that I didn’t put it down to go back to my other book until I finished it.

It’s a quick read and it brings home the dangers these police face every minute of every day. Some of these murders begin with a simple traffic stop.

This is a factual book written by a tough prosecutor that lays bare the violence faced by the police every day. And it’s a monument to prosecutors who are dedicated to bringing the guilty to justice, especially when the victim is a police officer killed in the line of duty. One of the cases profiled is a “cold case” that took 45 years to solve. But they never gave up and finally got the murderers

by Phyllis M Daugherty

Steve Cooley, three-term L.A. County District Attorney and co-author of just-released Blue Lives Matter In the Line of Duty, is not commonly identified as a former LAPD Reserve Officer. I asked to interview him to review the book and learned that his father was an FBI agent, which undoubtedly instilled the passion for law-enforcement that led Steve to serve as a Los Angeles Police Department Reserve Officer for over five years while he was studying law at USC. He told me he decided then that, if he didn't pass the California Bar exam the first time, he would either join LAPD as a full-time officer or apply to the FBI.

It is no surprise that the many recent disturbing events taking the lives of police officers, sheriff's deputies, and other law-enforcement personnel have touched him deeply. Cooley says this shared impetus caused him and career-L.A. District Attorney Prosecutor and Office Historian Robert Schirn to join forces to produce Blue Lives Matter, described as the first in a series exploring line-of-duty deaths in depth with up-close details and allowing readers to ride along with these heroes on their "end of watch" tours. It includes the story of Liberty, an LAPD K-9 who gave her life saving her partner.

Here's how Blue Lives Matter starts: Officer Bernie Bangasser of the El Segundo Police Department had the morning watch at the station's police radio desk. At approximately 1:30 a.m., he heard a desperate voice over the police radio: "Ambulance!" it gasped. "Rosecrans...Sepulveda!" And then silence.

"The next voice Officer Bangasser heard over the police radio was that of Officer James Gilbert, who yelled, "Send an ambulance fast, Bernie! Rosecrans, just west of Sepulveda! It's Unit 35! Both boys have been shot! It's bad!"

The two officers who lost their lives that night were Richard Phillips, 28; and Milton Curtis, 25. Both had wives and small children waiting--hoping--for them to come home.  But the murder of these officers was just the finale to a night of rape, robbery, kidnapping and auto theft by Gerald Mason.

Blue Lives Matter’s cover flap states it provides never-before-released details on cases which include an execution during a drug deal; an off-duty cop gunned down; a case solved 40 years later; a cop killer who fled to Mexico; and an officer killed in front of his own son.

This is not just historical story-telling nor is it a political statement. It is a serious and fast-paced book, filled with intensity, compassion and focus on those who chose not to back down in the face of danger. Each incident includes a discussion of tactical lessons learned and the often-overlooked impact these deaths had on survivors, which makes it as relevant today as when they occurred.. "

The purpose," the authors say, "is to make Blue Lives Matter In the Line of Duty a "guidebook and training manual for departments, as well as a memorial and tribute to those who made the ultimate sacrifice."

I have reviewed other books that have touched me deeply; but, I have to admit that I was not emotionally prepared for the impact of this one.

Steve Cooley candidly admits in his introduction:

When I joined the District Attorney's Office as a brand new prosecutor, I became emotionally involved in many of my cases.  I was unprepared to being exposed to the large number of persons committing murders, rapes, robberies, serious assaults and selling large amounts of narcotics. Gradually a certain acceptance and cynicism set in as I was prosecuting these cases on a regular basis. I became hardened to these crimes. I prosecuted all these cases thoroughly and professionally but without becoming personally or emotionally involved, with one exception.

The exception involves the murder of a police officer. To this day, I have a strong emotional reaction when I hear about the murder of a police officer.  I have known and worked with many peace officers during my career as a prosecutor. When the job is done right, there is not a more admirable nor noble profession, to protect and to serve the public.

Robert Schirn and Steve Cooley, being career prosecutors, don’t apologize for writing Blue Lives Matter in the manner and style of an attorney, "We are direct and straightforward in our approach and we have attempted to lay out the facts and the court proceedings without undue embellishment.” 

“We have avoided literary devices that would overly dramatize the deaths of the officers," they explain. "The death of an officer and its impact on family, friends and society is dramatic enough that additional emphasis is not necessary."

The K-9 chapter, devoted to Liberty and her partner, will not allow any reader to remain untouched, whether or not you are a dog enthusiast. And for those who have been K-9 handlers or just shared their life with a canine companion, every news report of an incident involving a K-9 in the future will become more personal and compelling. The very last page of the book is “Police Dog Prayer.”

If you have law-enforcement officers in your family and/or are fascinated by "Law and Order" you will probably—like me--read this paperback book straight through. I have not provided details on the cases because I don't want to spoil the experience for readers, but here’s just a glimpse of the lasting impact of fatal officer shootings:

Detective Tom Williams was buried at San Fernando Mission Cemetery on November 5, 1985. .Nearly 1,600 mourners attended the memorial and graveside services, including over 1,000 officers from police agencies throughout Southern California.

Ryan Williams turned age seven on November 7, 1985, and forty North Hollywood detectives gave him a surprise birthday party at his residence in Canoga Park. He blew out candles on a birthday cake and received numerous presents, including a brand-new bicycle. Young Ryan was able to smile for the first time in over a week . . .However, it would be a long time before Ryan could recover from the death of his father.  In a religious class that weekend, the students were asked to draw pictures of themselves. Ryan drew a picture of a little boy standing by a grave.

This book doesn't need added drama or emotional manipulation because the reality is so moving. Have a box of tissues nearby! 

by David Berger

Every hour of every day of every week of every year, thousands of peace officers are on the streets of every town, city, county, and state in our nation. The overwhelming majority of those peace officers serve the citizenry faithfully and honorably; providing that thin blue line that protects us from the worst in society. The vast majority of peace officers come home to their families at the end of their shifts, but tragically a few don’t. That few fall foul to the random evil that strikes irrationally, mercilessly, and lethally lurking behind a routine traffic stop, a call to a liquor store robbery in progress, a domestic violence call, or randomly strikes without provocation or confrontation when peace officers are deliberately targeted. Blue Lives Matter - In the Line of Duty, pays tribute to those few who don’t make it home. Brilliantly co-authored by the Hon. Steve Cooley, the historic three-term District Attorney of Los Angeles County (and a former LAPD Reserve Officer himself), and Los Angeles County veteran prosecutor Robert Schirn, Blue Lives Matter - In the Line of Duty is much more than a tribute, it provides a detailed yet straightforward analysis of each of those tragedies backed up by original source material, suggests lessons that can be learned in the hope that it will, perhaps, save a few lives in the future. I highly recommend this book for all in law enforcement and all those who care about the thin blue line.

by Emerald Book Reviews

Dedicated to those who made the ultimate sacrifice

‘What we ask of our service members, and what they are willing to do, should be held in our hearts; we who carry the memory and the witness of their sacrifice.’

Blue Lives Matter - In the Line of Duty by Steve Cooley and Robert Schirn takes a sobering and candid look at police officers who have been killed in the line of duty. It lays out the cold, hard realization of life on the blue line.

Being a police officer is a demanding and often stressful job. On a daily basis, officers are exposed to the worst that humankind has to offer.  They are called upon to make life and death decisions in a split-second, and margins for error are often slim. As civilians, we often overlook just how demanding and stressful being a police officer can be. But they’re just ordinary people like you and me, who sometimes make the ultimate sacrifice in service to their community.

Blue Lives Matter is a very well written and researched book. It graphically illustrates the horrific murders of eight fallen officers and an equally brave police dog named Liberty. Those officers were: Richard Phillips (28), Milton Curtis (25), Ian Campbell (32), Kenneth Scott Wrede (26), Detective Thomas Williams (42), Detective Tommy De La Rosa (43), Deputy David March (43), Captain Michael Sparkes (53) and police dog Liberty of the K9 Unit who was 6 years old.

For the author’s this was an up-close and personal process of dealing with the fatality of fellow officers and the impact that reverberates not only through the entire blue community, but society in general. The exhaustion and negative emotions that must be dealt with are vividly portrayed, as is the painstaking effort that goes into an investigation.

The light that shines out from this very dark tunnel are the ‘Lessons Learned’ segments given at the end of each chapter. They are designed to ‘raise awareness and to enhance officer safety while giving them the tools to help save more lives and potentially protect them from dangerous situations.’ Much can be learned from this book, so it would be a highly recommended (if not required) read for all law enforcement officials.

Finally, for the officers mentioned above, and indeed for all those who have fallen in the line of duty, may they rest in peace and thank you for your service.