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What's in a Rename? A Dispute Over Proposal to Honor Slain Officer

Residents along Buena Park's Court Street say a less-intrusive tribute should be planned.

December 01, 2003|Stanley Allison | Times Staff Writer

It seemed a fitting tribute for the Buena Park police officer who was killed in the line of duty: rename a city street for him. And what better street than the one that serves the police station and the new City Hall?

It doesn't make sense, though, to some who live on the street. Residents have complained that the name change will lead to confusion and the inconvenience of changing everything with an address, from mailing labels to driver's licenses.

At issue is choosing how best to honor the memory of fallen officers -- renaming streets, planting trees, erecting statues or engraving plaques -- without irritating others affected by the decision.

In Buena Park, the plan is to rename Court Street as Pinchot Court for Tyler Pinchot, a 23-year veteran who was killed in June after being hit from behind on his motorcycle during a traffic stop. Pinchot was an extraordinary officer who more than deserves the honor, said Police Chief Gary Hicken. In addition to his police work, Pinchot volunteered countless hours to groups and causes in the city.

"It's not just about Tyler," Hicken said, "it's not just about Buena Park. It's about a person's life and the sacrifice that was given."

Councilman Don McKay, a retired Buena Park police officer who proposed the name change, noted that another street is named for the only other Buena Park police officer killed on the job, Darrell "Bud" Cate, who was shot in 1971 when he and another investigator tried to question a suspect about a sexual assault.

The one-block street is on the fringe of the city in a neighborhood of warehouses. "No one in town really knows it's there," McKay said. "It's certainly no fitting tribute to a guy killed ... looking for a rape suspect."

A third officer killed in Buena Park was a Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy, who was off-duty with his fiancee, also a deputy, in a hair salon in 1997. Two armed men robbed the patrons, saw Shayne York's badge in his wallet, ordered him face-down on the floor and then shot him in the back of the head.

Pinchot, the chief said, was the first officer on the scene and held the dying deputy in his arms. York's name was included on the Sheriff's Department's imposing memorial wall at its training academy in Whittier.

The two suspects were arrested several hours later.

McKay said the inconvenience of changing Court Street to Pinchot Court, if the council approves the change, pales in comparison with the kind of sacrifice police officers routinely make.

Imogene Rodabaugh, who has lived on the street for 52 years, said she is not opposed to honoring the officer, but at a recent council meeting, she asked if there were less-intrusive ways to do so. "You have to change all of your addresses on your medical records, all of your bills and, if you're lucky enough to have any stocks and bonds, you have to change all of those," she said.

Residents shouldn't be concerned that their new address will cause confusion with mail deliveries, said Terri Bouffiou, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Postal Service in Orange County.

When a street name is changed, the Postal Service keeps both the old and new names in its database for several years, until the old name is no longer needed, Bouffiou said. But more important to the timely delivery of their mail, she said, are the carriers.

"They are working with 30, 40 or 50 streets on their route, and they do it every day, and they have no problem remembering that Center Street was changed to Martin Luther King Street or whatever," Bouffiou said. "They know the area, and a street name change doesn't throw them."

"I'm sure there are [other] options," Hicken said of the street renaming, "but the City Council brought it forward and I support it fully."

While Buena Park council members have indicated their support for the street renaming, a vote has not been scheduled.

Other cities in Orange County have found other ways to honor slain officers -- Costa Mesa renamed a park, Tustin erected a statue in front of the police station and La Palma installed a memorial plaque at City Hall -- but it is not uncommon to pay tribute by naming streets after them.

Cypress named a street near the police station in honor of Donald Sowma, who was gunned down in 1976 when responding to a silent burglar alarm. A monument was also built at the civic center in his honor.

Garden Grove names new streets for police officers killed in the line of duty -- Myron Trapp Drive, Andy Reese Court and Donald Reed Lane -- but does not rename streets.

Buena Park's McKay said he would support a standing policy of naming or renaming streets for slain officers. "It seems a fitting tribute and I'd probably be supportive for any other officers," the councilman said.

Rodabaugh and Aurora Gomez said they had the sense the council has already made up its mind about renaming the street before hearing from residents.

"Everything that comes to us is going to have to change -- driver's licenses, our bills, everything," Gomez said.

About 20 single-family homes line Court Street, which means fewer people will be inconvenienced there than on a more populous street, McKay said. He said the city sent notices about the council discussion and only a few residents appeared.

Rodabaugh, though resigned to what she called the inevitable change, said: "It's like getting rid of something that you've had for years and years. You feel a loss."

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