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
shrine of flowers and mementos that had sprung up around the
Throughout the evening, visitors approached the statue and laid
down their small tokens -- bouquets, or stuffed animals, or cards.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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