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Aftermath: Lakewood LODD

Author: Cathleen Robertson

Copyright: Copyright 9-1-1 Magazine, Feature Content

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Memorial Service Coordination and Protection in Washington State

Article & Photos by Cathleen Robertson

December 8, 2009, 0600 hours. McChord Air Force Base, Tacoma, Washington. All flights in and out were suspended at this busy Washington State Air Force base to allow almost 3,000 law enforcement vehicles onto the flight line. Row upon row of patrol cars, marked and unmarked, fire rigs, ambulances and motorcycles waited silently in the icy darkness . At 1003 hours, the first vehicles in the procession began ten miles of mourning to honor four Lakewood Police officers slain in one awful incident on Sunday, November 29, 2009.

It was the worst loss of law-enforcement officers at one time in Washington State’s history and one of the worst in the nation outside of 9-11.

Tom Minor, a program coordinator for the Pierce County Division of Emergency Management and a FEMA Urban Search and Rescue Task Force regional manager, got the news along with a request from the chief of the Lakewood Police Department for an Incident Command response to support the work at the crime scene.

“I have been through line of duty deaths with when I was with the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department and so I knew we were going to be involved somehow.”

The brutality of the crime was shocking: one sergeant and three officers at an informal squad meeting at a coffee shop on Thanksgiving weekend were ambushed when the suspect, Maurice Clemmons suddenly turned away from the counter and shot two officers point-blank and then a third when the officer stood up to confront him. The fourth officer who witnessed the murders of his colleagues managed to fight with the suspect all the way to the front door where he was fatally injured after first shooting Clemmons in the upper abdomen. The shooter survived to flee the scene and his wound was tended to by a sister. He was able to change clothes, sleep, eat and stay one step ahead of the largest manhunt in the State of Washington until the early morning hours of December 2nd when Seattle PD Officer Benjamin Kelly came upon a running vehicle on a quiet residential street. A wanted check showed the vehicle as stolen and Kelly got out to investigate. Sensing movement in the darkness, the officer turned to find a shadowy figure advancing on him. He recognized the subject as Maurice Clemmons and immediately ordered him to show his hands, which Clemmons refused to do. He also began to run around the patrol vehicle, reaching for his waist as the officer again commanded him to stop and show his hands. Clemmons made further furtive movements and Officer Kelly subsequently fired his weapon, killing Clemmons.

A search of the suspect’s body revealed that he was carrying the duty weapon of one of the fallen Lakewood officers.

Law enforcement agencies around the country were shocked and outraged, following the case as it evolved through Twitter, Facebook and the national media. After the apprehension of the suspect, all thoughts turned to the memorial service.

On Sunday, approximately 10 hours after the officers’ deaths, Tom Minor approached Lakewood Chief of Police Bret Farrar with the suggestion that he allow Minor’s Incident Command team to plan the memorial ceremony as well. It was a suggestion gratefully accepted.

“We set five objectives for the team: Ensure the safety and security of the families and Lakewood officers, accomplish a single unified memorial for all four officers, establish a planning timeline, provide public information and track expenses,” Minor recalled, referring to a large notebook where every aspect of the mission was laid out.

The first objective, safety, was the most complex as it involved several venues. The community closed ranks immediately after the news broke and supported their grieving police department with window signs, T-shirts and a massive memorial at the police station which was guarded 24 hours a day by outside agencies. Two fire department ladder companies hung a commercial-sized US flag between their extended ladders at the entrance to the PD, with a steady stream of officers and citizens alike paying their respects. There were donation collection boxes, photos, hundreds of flower arrangements and personal mementos and the priority was to honor each symbol of respect and to serve and protect those who watched over the site.

The security at the home of each officer’s family was paramount, especially during the time that the suspect was still at large. Officers were stationed inside and outside the residences around the clock with care taken to ensure that they had food, warmth and regular breaks.

Protection for the ceremony at the Tacoma Dome was heightened after threats to disrupt it were discovered. SWAT teams deployed in the early morning of December 8th atop the 530-foot wide rooftop, remaining in place until after the last police vehicle left the parking lot 17 hours later. “Our defense was high-level and very visible. We wanted everyone to know we weren’t going to be a target that day,” said Minor.

To begin planning the massive ceremony, the team broke into a standard incident command system of operations by filling the top organizational roles: operations, logistics, planning and finance. Minor was established as the Incident Commander but noted that many of the individuals that he would normally rely on to fill the section chief slots were working the crime scene or involved in searching for the suspect.

“The greatest positive that came out of this was the level of assistance and commitment demonstrated by all of the agencies who offered o help. If they were a manager in their agency, I was able to place them into a management role in the command post and they did a tremendous job. For example, I had a fire department battalion chief organizing all the food for the police officers, an assistant police chief scheduling the security details and a fire captain handling the procession order. No one questioned anyone’s authority to get the job done.”

Several principles guided the initial planning. The first was that the incident command team worked for the Chief of Lakewood Police and were respectful of the family’s wishes first and then the department’s. Each day’s planning began at 0700 with a moment of silence, then a restatement of their goals. After a meeting to catch up with overnight developments, the section chiefs split off to tackle their objectives. At the end of the day there was a brief review of accomplishments and a “look ahead” to the next day.

They also designated themselves a ’command post’ as opposed to an ‘EOC’ or emergency operations center.

“Early on,” Minor recalls, “some people wanted to set up in our center here (at the Pierce County Emergency Management Center) where we have everything we are comfortable with: televisions, phones, room to work. But it was important that the Lakewood Chief and the employees there could see us working for them and with them and that we had the instant ability to communicate when someone needed something. We had a smaller room and not as much equipment as we are used to, but we had everything we required and every job got done and done well.”

One unusual fact was that the team itself was not authorized to spend any money. The finance director for the City of Lakewood was the contact for the Logistics section chief and a protocol for requesting and disbursing funds was quickly established. Business and citizens stepped up to donate equipment and cash and the organization “Behind The Badge/Washington” covered the rest, which came to an amazingly modest amount of roughly $20,000.

Minor says, “We didn’t pay full price for anything. The Tacoma Dome donated the venue, the production company donated their equipment and time, the amount of food that was brought in by people wanting to help was extraordinary. I remember we were on the phone ordering something from a restaurant and a customer there overheard the conversation. She asked the employee if it was for the memorial and when she was told yes, she said ‘I’m paying for it, here’s $1,000’. That kind of generosity is priceless.”

The spirit of generosity was never more evident than at the home of Sgt. Mark Renninger. He had met his wife Kim when he was a patrol officer for the city of Tukwila, Washington and she was a dispatcher at Valley Communications Center, the regional 9-1-1 center that handles communications for Tukwila and several other south King County, WA agencies. Immediately after hearing the news about Mark’s death, her former coworkers rallied in true dispatch teamwork style to help organize the constant stream of friends, family and offers of condolences. When the Papa John’s pizza chain announced that they would donate 100% of their profits to the Lakewood Police Guild, on-duty dispatchers and call takers at Valley Communications, many of whom did not know Kim personally, collected money to reserve over 25 pizzas. Another group organized a benefit auction and brought in over $43,000 for the families. Someone else ordered 100 black wristbands with a thin blue line for the telecommunicators to buy and wear since they did not have a badge to place a black band across and another call taker bought and personalized a journal so Kim would have a more permanent record of the love and support of her 9-1-1 community.

At the Lakewood command post, keeping track of all the information as the memorial planning moved ahead required considerable attention to detail. Every request for supplies, every offer of help and every item to be followed up with was noted in a computer database. Out of town agencies with personnel responding for the ceremony or procession needed information on lodging and transportation to and from the airport. Departments who offered to cover the city while City of Lakewood employees attended the service had to be provided radio frequencies and a map. Railroads and interstate highways would need to be blocked off for hours.

Area dispatch centers sent teams of replacements so the telecommunicators could attend, too.

“We already have a Pierce County Crisis web page in place for other major disasters and the media knows to go there for information. We established an email account, a phone line and a separate web page just for the memorial services to get the information out about what hotel had lodging available, who could carpool, what departments could offer transportation or other assistance. “

McChord Air Force Base adjoins the city of Lakewood and was a star player from the very beginning according to Minor. The Public Affairs Office handled the staging of the procession vehicles on the tarmac with military precision. The lead and tail vehicles had GPS tracking units so the Operations section would know exactly when the line moved and how long it would take to arrive.

There was about an hour delay in the entire motorcade. The first was because one of the fallen officer’s patrol cars had run out of gas. Minor’s Urban Search and Rescue rigs were right there with five gallons of gas. The longest delay was at the Tacoma Dome where the families disembarked to walk into the venue. The intention to stop the caravan was not fully explained at the operational briefing, so when the entrance to the parking lot was blocked, the convoy came to a halt for about 45 minutes.

“That was a lesson learned,” Minor said. “When you are at a briefing and are asked for a detailed plan, you can’t let someone say ‘We have this, don’t worry.’ It impacts the whole operation if there is a resource or location conflict that everyone doesn’t know about.”

Western Washington was in the middle of a cold snap the day that Sgt. Mark Renninger, Officer Tina Griswold, Officer Ronald Owens and Officer Greg Richards were laid to rest. Although sunny and clear, the daytime temperature was in the 20’s and the wind chill dropped it even lower. Nevertheless, nearly a thousand Royal Canadian Mounted Police members in full dress crimson uniforms marched across the Washington-Canadian border in a striking show of support. Thousands of citizens lined the ten-mile route from the Police Department and watched, hands over their hearts or saluting smartly as for over three hours vehicle after vehicle drove solemnly by. With the exception of the cold wind skittering fallen leaves and flapping flags at half-mast, there was silence all along the route.

Representatives from almost 400 agencies attended the memorial and between those in law enforcement and members of the public, the Tacoma Dome seated over 20,000 people.

From Tom Minor’s perspective, the memorial service culminated a multifaceted undertaking that looked like chaos behind the scenes but operated within the parameters of the Incident Command System and was transparent to the families and the public.

“The lesson out of this,” Minor concludes, “is that Incident Command is very adaptable, no matter what the situation is. I teach IC nationally and you would get a lot of material in that week that you might not need for a year or more. By that time, unless you have used it regularly, you are going to forget a lot of the principles. But that is why the Management Teams exist, to provide a resource. As soon as you recognize that you might need an Incident Command Team, ask for it.”

For the City of Lakewood and its citizens and for all the agencies that attended, they couldn’t have asked for a better tribute than to be able to be completely focused on honoring their officers.

Sgt. Mark Renninger served with the 75th Army Ranger Battalion at Ft. Benning, GA and then with the 2nd Ranger Battalion at Ft. Lewis, WA. He began his law enforcement career at the Tukwila, WA Police Department, lateraling to Lakewood PD in 2004. He was a distinguished SWAT officer and trainer. He is survived by a wife and 3 children.

Officer Tina Griswold began her career as a dispatcher in Shelton, WA and was hired by that department as a Police Officer. She served briefly with the Lacey, WA Police Department and then came to Lakewood PD as a founding member in 2004. She is survived by her husband and 2 children.

Officer Ron Owens graduated from the Washington State Patrol’s Basic Academy in 1997 and worked the I5 corridor before accepting an offer from Lakewood PD in 2004. He is survived by his wife and daughter.

Officer Greg Richards was stationed at Ft. Lewis, WA with the 2nd Battalion Infantry, “C” Company, then joined the Kent, WA Police Department. He too became a founding member of the Lakewood Police Department in 2004 and was the officer who fought with and wounded the suspect who ultimately took his life and the lives of the rest of his squad.

The Bank of America will accept funds at any of their branches and the Lakewood Police Independent Guild can be contacted at: PO Box 99579, Lakewood, WA 98499.

Behind The Badge Foundation can be contacted at BTBF@behindthebadgefoundation.org

Cathleen Robertson has been a dispatcher and dispatch supervisor at Valley Communications Center in Kent, WA for 20 years. She is also a freelance writer, photographer and owns a video production company.

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