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That blessed privilege of feeling safe

DAVID SILVA

The “Guardians” statue in front of the Burbank Police and Fire

Headquarters was brightly illuminated Monday night. Television news

crews had set up a tower of camera lights to better capture the

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shrine of flowers and mementos that had sprung up around the

monument.

Throughout the evening, visitors approached the statue and laid

down their small tokens -- bouquets, or stuffed animals, or cards.

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Some stood and held each other as they looked upon the scene. Some

spoke quietly among themselves. A little boy asked his father in

Spanish what the fuss was about, and the father whispered back to him

that a brave man had died.

“Oh,” the boy said, and looked up at the silent faces on the

statue.

I didn’t quite get the statue when it was first put in place. It

seemed almost too simple to me -- two large figures standing back to

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back, one a firefighter, the other a police officer holding a book of

the law. But after passing it so many times over the years, I came to

appreciate it more. Day and night, the two guardians are always

there, ever watchful, looking over us as we go unmindfully about our

lives.

Now I feel that I get it.

Two cameramen, taping for the 11 p.m. news, stood a respectful

distance back from the shrine. A woman asked one of the cameramen if

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she was in his way. “Oh, no,” he answered politely. “I’m in your

way.” This tableau demanded respect.

Only the bare details of what had happened were available to the

public Monday. The police, intent on catching a cop killer as fast as

humanly possible, were loath to reveal anything that might jeopardize

that goal. But according to news reports, on Saturday night, Burbank

Police Officer Gregory Campbell approached two suspicious looking men

in a Cadillac Escalade in a hotel parking lot. The car was without

license plates, and the parking lot was known for being frequented by

crooks.

When the driver couldn’t show Campbell his license and

registration, the 15-year veteran called for backup. Answering the

call was Burbank Police Officer Matthew Pavelka, a 26-year-old rookie

on the force.

Shortly after Campbell ordered the driver out of the car, the news

stories tell, the driver and his passenger opened fire on the two

lawmen. The officers fired back, fought for their lives, and one of

the gunmen, Ramon Aranda, was killed. But Campbell was wounded in the

stomach and neck. Pavelka, an Air Force veteran and the son of an

LAPD detective, later died of his wounds during surgery.

The other alleged gunman, David A. Garcia, 19, got away.

According to the news reports, Campbell and Pavelka did everything

right. They were doing their jobs as they had sworn they would do,

and they met up with bad guys up to no good -- bad guys too cowardly

to take their punishment like men.

Monday night at the shrine, a young woman carefully separated the

lighted candles from the many flowers stacked precariously around

them. She did this for a long time, her patience seemingly endless.

She didn’t want the candles to start a fire that might spoil the

memory of the shrine. It was too important to her.

I asked her if she was from Burbank, and she nodded. She mentioned

how she felt safe in Burbank, and described a time when the Burbank

Police had protected her in time of need. She came from a family of

cops, and her brother was once wounded in the line of duty.

“You feel safe in Burbank,” she repeated.

It’s true, you do feel safe in Burbank. A lot of cities claim to

be among the safest in America. But of all the communities I’ve lived

in, Burbank is the only one where I can walk the streets at night and

not feel the slightest worry. The police here are no-nonsense;

everyone knows that. You cross the line -- run a light, break a

window, commit a felony -- and they’re on you. But it’s also true

that of all the cops I’ve met in my lifetime, the ones in Burbank

have been the most approachable.

When I was a reporter working in Burbank a few years back, I was

amazed at how friendly the cops were to the press. I sensed that it

wasn’t just that they had nothing to hide. It was because they cared

about the community under their protection. And if some green

reporter needed some extra assistance to get the story right, they

were there to help.

According to a story in The Times, the parking lot in which

Pavelka was mortally wounded was a known hot spot for drug activity,

auto burglary and auto theft. It struck me that one of my biggest

fears living in L.A. is of getting my car stolen. My car is my

lifeline. Perhaps the extent of this fear is a bit too much -- a car

can always be replaced. But it’s a huge fear of mine.

So it struck me that when Matt Pavelka lost his life, he lost it

trying to protect not some faceless stranger. He died trying to

protect me, to keep what was valuable to me safe from the bad guys.

I didn’t know Pavelka. I might have crossed paths with him once or

twice around the city, but I didn’t know him. I wish I had been given

that chance. I wish I could have thanked him for what he was doing

for me.

The woman who came from a family of cops told me that it was

important not to lose that sense of safety in Burbank. “We can’t let

them take that away from us,” she said. Driving home Monday night, I

vowed to myself that as long as I lived in Burbank, I would hold on

to that blessed privilege of feeling safe.

Thank you, Officer Pavelka.

* DAVID SILVA is a Burbank resident and Times Community News

editor. Reach him at (909) 484-7019, or by e-mail at

david.silva@latimes.com.


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