Keith Boyer spent 27 years patrolling the streets of Whittier and had become something of a legend at the Whittier Police Department.
Whittier Police Chief Jeff Piper broke down in tears recounting Boyer, whom he described as a close friend and beloved member of the department. Boyer was fatally shot Monday.
Piper said Boyer, 53, was a mentor to others in the department and had recently talked about retiring.
At the police station, he was known for his sunny, friendly disposition and willingness to lend help and offer advice, the chief said.
"He was the best of the best," Piper said. "This is an unbelievably senseless tragedy."
Piper said he and others members of the department were devastated by Boyer's death Monday morning.
"I didn't think I had any tears left," the chief said at an afternoon news conference. "He is personal friend of mine for over 25 years."
Boyer joined the department in 1989 as a jailer and dispatcher before becoming an officer in 1990.
Boyer also had another life as a drummer. A few times a month for the last two years, he'd drive nearly two hours south to Temecula to play with Mrs. Jones' Revenge, a classic-rock tribute band that performs at wineries and weddings. He'd split from his fiancée, who lived in Temecula, but he still came down to make music, band leader Jeff McNeal said.
“It was probably a nice release for him, with the kind of high-stress work he does,” said McNeal, 57, adding that Boyer’s technical skill as a drummer “elevated” the band.
"One of the reasons I didn't initially ask if he wanted to join was I assumed as a cop, he's probably a Type A personality, he's gonna want to be in control. But I was totally wrong about that," McNeal said. "I was afraid we'd have arguments, but he was extremely enthusiastic and very supportive. Probably the easiest guy in the whole band. Always willing to play. He loved the music. It was his passion."
"Radar Love" by Golden Earring was one of Boyer's favorite songs to play, McNeal said.
Boyer leaves behind two adult sons, according to the department.
Piper said the suspect in the shooting, whose name has not been made public, was released from custody early. The chief blamed the early release on a series of new laws designed to reduce incarcerations in California.
Neither Piper nor the Sheriff's Department offered specific information about the suspect's record or how he was released early. But the chief said Boyer's killing showed how these laws have made the streets less safe.
Boyer and two other Whittier Police Department officers were responding to the scene of a traffic collision about 8 a.m. when a 26-year-old recently paroled man driving a stolen car opened fire with a semiautomatic pistol, said Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department Lt. John Corina.
Detectives said the alleged gunman, who is expected to survive, is also a suspect in a homicide that occurred in East Los Angeles. They said they believe he stole a vehicle Sunday morning after killing a man, then drove to Whittier, where he encountered the police.
The shooter, according to police, had been involved in a traffic accident with another vehicle near Colima Road and Mar Vista Street, and approached the driver he had rear-ended to help push his silver car to the side of a road around the corner.
Police officers arrived in three cars and approached the man, who was seated in the silver car, Corina said. He got out and as officers moved to pat him down, he pulled a gun from his waistband and began shooting at close range.
"He started firing at the officers and they returned fire," Corina said. "We are still looking into that, why he just opened fire."
Officers believed they were responding to a routine traffic call and did not know the vehicle was stolen when they approached.
"It seems like a simple traffic accident and next thing they know they're in a gunfight," Corina said, adding that "you never know when you respond to a call, what you are going to run into."
9:45 p.m.: This article was updated with details about Boyer's survivors.