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What is courage, if not this?

The death of Burbank Police Officer Matthew Pavelka, coming as it did

just a few weeks before the 2003 holiday season, is a sad reminder

that danger never takes a holiday for our public safety workers.

All of Southern California knows the story by now: Pavelka,

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assisting Officer Gregory Campbell on Nov. 15, was killed when David

A. Garcia, 19, and Ramon Aranda, 25, allegedly opened fire on the

officers in the parking lot of the Ramada Inn at 2900 N. San Fernando

Blvd. in Burbank. Garcia ran away after the shootout, which also left

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Aranda dead and Campbell seriously wounded. After a 12-day search,

Garcia was captured by Mexican authorities in Tijuana, and appeared

in Burbank Superior Court Tuesday. His arraignment was delayed until

Dec. 23.

The incident points up the potential dangers police officers face

when making even routine traffic stops. Campbell became interested in

the 1999 Cadillac Escalade in which Aranda and Garcia were sitting

because it had paper license plates and no visible registration.

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Under most circumstances like these, officers assess the situation,

chat with the driver, and determine what action needs to be taken --

ticket, warning, arrest, whatever.

The instances where a driver and/or passenger react violently,

perhaps with a weapon, are rare, but they’re possible -- every single

time a police officers pulls someone over. When you think about the

number of traffic stops police officers make in a day, or week, or

year, the number of times they’re potentially putting themselves in

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harm’s way over the course of a career becomes extraordinary. And

traffic stops are just one part of their job. Many other things they

do are potentially even more dangerous.

Firefighters and other professionals who deal with hazards as a

regular part of their work -- power-company linemen come to mind --

face serious dangers as well, though theirs tend to be slightly less

unpredictable. When a building’s on fire, a line is down or someone

needs to be rescued, those folks go into the situation well aware of

the danger right in front of them. Other dangerous, often

unpredictable, things sometimes happen in those situations, so the

arbitrariness factor is in play, but the odds of someone pulling a

gun, say, are pretty long.

Regardless, our public safety and public service workers who face

hazards as part of their workaday existence are living, breathing

examples of courage. Because what is courage if not knowing that your

life is in danger as a regular part of your job, yet suiting up,

showing up and doing your job anyway?

Matthew Pavelka died doing what he loved to do, according to his

parents. Our thoughts and prayers go out to all his family members,

his friends, and everyone else remembering him today. We hope they

can take some small solace in the capture of one of the men

reportedly responsible for the young officer’s death. We hope, for

their sake and the sake of public safety workers everywhere -- as

well as would-be criminals -- that justice will be swift and strong.

And we hope that everyone remembers to be grateful for those who

suit up, show up and put their lives on the line for us every day --

those for whom danger never takes a holiday.


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