May 5, 2013

Jim Howes: Don't turn page on police tragedy

As a new police officer with the Santa Cruz Police Department, Butch Baker was assigned to work with me in the Field Training Officer Program.

When a new officer is assigned with a Field Training Officer, the two begin a process of applying in the field what was learned in the police academy. This can be stressful where the two become distant, or close. Butch and I became close friends and eventually much more than that. Butch and I struggled with similar issues in our personal lives and were drawn even closer.

Butch was promoted to sergeant and was tasked with reactivating the Community Services Section. He asked if I wanted to work for him, which began a three- or four-year period where we worked very closely, and I learned more about Butch and his family.

His family accepted me for who I was and I was fortunate to get to know his wife, daughter and son. We worked long hours in the community developing a Citizen Police Academy, working with problems throughout the community and meeting thousands of people. I had worked with Neighborhood Watch groups when assigned to the West Beat for quite some time, but this was much better, allowing me to work with groups throughout the city. I would not have met the many I did, or participate in the various activities throughout the city, had Butch not asked me to work for him.

I enjoyed working with Butch and found that between the two of us, we had the energy to complete the task no matter what was involved. Butch was supportive and so were Chief Steve Belcher and Lt. Patty Sapone. Butch's wife Kelly was there with us in most cases, operating all night print sessions in their home, preparing for major events and never complaining. His daughter Jill and son Adam were there, too. They have become fine young adults and professionals.

After retirement, Butch and I continued to talk frequently. There were times where one of us would call the other, finding that the other was just about to call. When meeting at Fin's, Kelly would call Butch, asking when he would be home and he would respond that he "was around the corner, or down the street and would be home soon." Kelly always wondered how many times Butch could turn the same corner, or just how long the street was that Butch was referring to. The community was a big part of Butch and his family and his family was a big part of the community. I appreciate Kelly sharing Butch.

I lost someone who was more than a friend, colleague, coworker or even brother when Butch was taken from this earth. So many have been impacted by his tragic death, and our community lost fibers of fabric which hold a community together. We sometimes ask why and try and assign responsibility for tragic events.

I have read the City Council is responsible for this and it is because something they may have done, or not done. Butch and I worked with many of the current and former council members and I know this is not true. We all have an opportunity to participate in our government, or should think we do. This is a good time to get involved and find the courage to problem solve why it seems the safety net of our community is unraveling. In order to do this, we should leave opinions and bias out of the discussion and search for answers and develop responses to what we learn.

I appreciate all that those in public safety did during the tragic events of Feb. 26 and have done since. All of the efforts of those agencies who assisted and patrolled the city are appreciated. Even though under tremendous stress, in addition to their regular assignment, they planned for and held one of the largest events ever, the memorial. I appreciate the community and outpouring of encouragement and concern. I pray for both families, their children and the community for healing and health.

Please don't turn the page on this tragic story, don't complete the chapter too soon and certainly don't complete the book. Ever.

Jim Howes retired from the Santa Cruz Police Department in 2007 after a 26-year career as a Santa Cruz Police Officer.  This letter from Jim appeared in the Santa Cruz Sentinel on Saturday May 4, 2013.