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Their best foot forward

Ryan Carter

The day before Burbank Police Officer Matthew Pavelka’s funeral, a

man known around that department as Tennessee showed up at

headquarters. He was there to help with the funeral -- in particular,

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getting the officers ready for it by shining their shoes.

Tennessee, 29, whose real name is Iran Fleming, has honed his

shoe-shining skills over eight years, three of them while working for

the Glendale-based Warehouse Uniforms. Along with providing

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Tennessee’s shoe-shining service, it supplies local departments with

uniforms and accessories.

Traditionally, police officers and firefighters go to Fleming at

the Glendale shop, where the owners give him a space to work in

exchange for the business he brings in.

For Pavelka’s funeral, he made a house call for Burbank’s 160

officers. Pavelka, 26, was killed Nov. 15 in a gun battle during a

traffic stop at the Ramada Inn, 2900 N. San Fernando Blvd.

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Starting early on Nov. 20, Fleming worked in a quiet basement

hallway across from a wall of shoeboxes. By the next morning,

Fleming, with the support of Warehouse Uniforms owner Julie Banz and

another shoe shiner from Banz’s Los Angeles shop, had prepared 120

pairs of shoes and 20 belts.

“He is outstanding,” Police Chief Thomas Hoefel said of Fleming,

as he took 10 minutes out for a shine, just after a press conference

in front of a hoard of reporters in the department’s lobby. “Officers

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take special pride in their appearance, especially when they are

honoring a fallen officer.”

Fleming said he felt obligated to drop by the department and

volunteer his services. As he shined, he remembered Pavelka, an

officer who had only 10 months on the job at the time of his death,

because the rookie wanted to make a great impression on department

brass. Part of that was by having shoes shined by Fleming at Banz’s

Glendale store.

“He wanted to make sure everything with his uniform was right so

he’d be at the top of the class,” Fleming said. “He was a good kid.

He’d waited so long to get on the force.”

By the Nov. 21 funeral, the Glendale store’s staff had been

through one of its most intense weeks of business since Banz and her

husband bought it in 1998.

“There haven’t been tragedies like this one,” Banz said. “This one

really hit very close to home because of the significance of the act

and because we work a lot with Burbank.”


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