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Answering the calls of duty

Ryan Carter

Fortunately for Burbank Police Sgt. William Berry, he had just

completed a statewide training class for public information officers

in San Luis Obispo.

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The following week, officers Gregory Campbell and Matthew Pavelka

were gunned down in a Ramada Inn parking lot, and Berry -- the

department’s media liaison -- suddenly became its public face.

Despite a lack of experience in dealing with the media on a large

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scale, Berry, a 30-year department veteran named public information

officer in September, was up for the challenge. In the hours after

the Nov. 15 shooting, after Pavelka died and suspect David A. Garcia

escaped, Berry stood stoically in front of reporters, urging Burbank

residents to stay indoors while police hunted for Pavelka’s alleged

killer.

“We all had our jobs to do,” Berry said. “In that first week, I

was lucky if I got two hours of sleep [a night], and that was more

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than some of the others.”

The media calls persisted, from the time Pavelka and Gregory were

shot until Garcia was captured. For every phone call Berry returned

he got six fresh calls.

“My answering machine maxed out,” he said.

During his career with the Burbank Police Department, Berry has

worked the detective and patrol bureaus and served as watch

commander. He serves on several boards as a department liaison, and

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coordinates the department’s emergency response programs. He also

happens to be the department historian.

But serving as spokesman was a whole new experience for the

52-year-old Berry, who was initially attracted to the post because he

hoped it would give him a better overview of the department.

“I’m learning on the job, basically,” he said. “We’re all learning

on the job. This [shooting] is hopefully a rare instance for us.”

While Berry was thrust into the public spotlight during the nearly

two-week period, he acknowledged that his role took a back seat to

the job investigators had to do.

But for Berry, Pavelka’s death -- the first fatal shooting death

in the department’s 82-year history -- took its toll because he and

fellow officers were grieving at the same time they were working.

Burbank Police Deputy Chief Larry Koch said Berry, like other

public information officers, was selected for the job because of his

ability to convey department information at times of great or sudden

interest, despite his lack of experience.

“That’s kind of the way police work is,” Koch said. “There are

things that happen. I wish it was different. But there are those

events in time, when no matter what level of training you have, you

have to step up to the plate and do your job.”

Berry, Koch added, successfully worked through the challenge of

conveying information without showing his grief.

“That was difficult,” he said.

To get him through the difficult periods, Berry said he relied on

his experience and even his dry humor. That served him well when he

needed to be at his best.

“In the early tapes, I can see I was stiff, but I gained more

confidence toward the end,” he said. “The tricky part is learning to

anticipate what the questions are going to be in order to give a

cogent answer.”


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