Newport Beach Police Officer Bob Henry's death this month was another tragic reminder of the dangers of police work. In some ways it was all the more jarring, for Henry was shot in a church parking lot on the west side of bucolic Upper Newport Bay hours before Sunday morning services.
An investigation indicated that an intoxicated man bent on suicide used his own gun to shoot Henry and then used the officer's gun to take his own life. The policeman was hospitalized for a month, at one point rallying from his wounds. But he was stricken by a blood clot and died.
After a welcome stretch of six years with no police deaths in the line of duty, the past eight year years have seen 11 officers killed in helicopter crashes, collisions with allegedly drunk drivers, motorcycle accidents and shootings. Two years ago Garden Grove Officer Howard E. Dallies Jr. was shot to death, and on Christmas Day, 1993, Deputy Darryn Robins was shot in an impromptu training exercise.
The increasing presence of guns in society and the willingness of criminals to use them has stepped up the threat that police face. More than half the police who died on duty in Orange County in the past 20 years were shot. Guns have also decreased the margin of safety for average citizens, who count on police to protect and serve them.
Henry was a five-year veteran of the police force and a father of three children, one of them a weeks-old infant. High-ranking officials said the officer was well-trained and knew how to protect himself while on patrol. The church parking lot was said to be a favorite spot for police to catch up on paperwork between calls.
A colleague said a "tragedy like this draws everyone together," but Henry's fellow officers wore looks of pain as they patrolled with black mourning tapes on their badges. About 2,000 people turned out for the funeral Mass last week, including many police. Because of the large number of mourners, The Pond of Anaheim was used for the Mass, rather than a Roman Catholic church. The memorial ceremony included a flyover by police helicopters and the haunting notes of a bugle. Henry's family asked those attending the service to wear bright colors and regard the gathering as a celebration of Henry's life. It was a fitting tribute to a slain officer.