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Lessons from Lakewood for Tacoma police officers

In this Dec. 8, 2009, file photo, police officers approach the caskets of four slain Lakewood police officers as they prepare to fold the flags draped on them during a memorial service at the Tacoma Dome in Tacoma, Wash. Four police officers were shot and killed in an ambush in a coffee shop in Lakewood, Washington, by ex-convict Maurice Clemmons. Killed were officers Mark Renninger, Ronald Owens, Tina Griswold and Greg Richards. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
LISTEN: Lakewood Chief Bret Farrar on Tacoma Officer Shooting

When retired Police Chief Bret Farrar heard about last week’s fatal police shooting, he immediately thought of Officer Reginald “Jake” Gutierrez, his family and the rest of the Tacoma Police Department.

More than most, Farrar knew what they were going through.

Farrar knows what the Tacoma Police Department will likely experience in the days, months and years to follow. In 2009, Farrar was running the neighboring Lakewood Police Department. He remembers taking a call from dispatchers that four officers were shot at the nearby Forza coffee shop.

Related: Family releases statement about fallen Tacoma police officer

Farrar said the aftermath of the fatal shooting of an officer can play out inside a police station in ways the general public might not realize. In the weeks after the officers’ deaths in Lakewood, he said there were a few things that stood out.

In the wake of the Tacoma police shooting

For example, how does a department respond to the enormous amount of public memorials? The public sent thousands of items that were hand-carved, hand knitted. The families took some of it, he said. The rest needed to find other places.

“What do you do with 20,000 teddy bears?” he asked. “People brought all kinds of gifts. We ended up putting them in a storage locker.”

In coming weeks, Farrar said, Tacoma police officers are going to have checked in with each other to gauge how each other is coping.

“If a person looks like they are struggling, a fellow department member will come up and say, ‘Hey, are you alright? Do you need some time off?’”

And they are going to have to learn that everyone in their community isn’t sympathetic about the death of a cop. Some of the people officers interact with will use it to get under an officer’s skin. It’s something that caught Ferrar off-guard.

“Another thing that we were not prepared for – but that we learned really quickly – is that there are some really nasty people out there,” he said. “And they had no problem laughing about your officers that got killed, saying they deserved it.”

And even when things seem to normalize over time, he said, the incident keeps coming back up. The anniversary becomes an annual news event and a department has to be ready for the wave of sadness each year.

But in Lakewood, he said, the department made an effort to change the conversation about the fatal shooting, to memorialize and to look forward.

“We were coming up on the one-year anniversary – and Tacoma will find this, too, a year from now – it will start to gin up again,” Ferrar said. “The media will start talking about it and they will drag up all of those bad feelings.”

So that’s why Lakewood pinned an annual food drive to the anniversary.

“We decided to have the Fallen Officer Food Drive as a way to have something positive to focus on,” Ferrar said.

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