His name was Daniel Fraembs. He was fatally shot last Saturday night, a single bullet right through the eye, Gang-related the police theorize. An 18-year-old suspect has already been taken into custody. Another senseless, numbing act of urban violence.
Police officer Daniel Fraembs was killed down in Pomona, the first member of law enforcement to be shot to death in the line of duty during that city’s 108-year history. Being in the line of fire appears to be taking an increasing toll on law enforcement. During 1995, 19 police officers were killed in California, a recent high. Most of the deaths were handgun-related. The nationwide statistic is equally sobering–More than 100 died on duty last year.
I’ve been thinking a lot about police and safety, about Officer Fraembs and the tragedy last weekend in Pomona. By coincidence, this happens to be National Police Week, a time to remember and honor all those who died while wearing the uniform. But one man in uniform especially comes to mind this week.
His name is Steven. He’s 24, a recent college graduate. About to be married in October. Steven is bright, enthusiastic, ready to set the world on fire. His parents are extremely proud to call this young man their son.
I know. Steven’s my nephew. Last Friday, our entire family shared the pride when he graduated from a police training academy in Los Angeles, realizing a long-time dream. Now that pride has shifted to growing family concern, all because of a single bullet, allegedly fired by an 18-year-old kid.
On Monday, Steven put on the uniform. And the gun. He started a new job, and a new career. As a police officer.
“They offered me a job in Laverne,” Steven explains. “But I wasn’t interested. I didn’t want to spend all day just writing tickets.”
So he took the more challenging, the more dangerous Pomona job, searching for the three A’s: Action. Adventure. Adrenaline. He wants to fight the Bad Guys. He doesn’t mind living on the edge.
Steven knew the slain officer he is replacing. The death of Dennis Fraembs does nothing to dampen his enthusiasm or determination. Sure, he admits, this is a somber wake-up call, a numbing reminder that class is over. Still, he can’t wait to get out on the street.
San Luis Obispo police chief Jim Gardiner understands. Gardiner, himself a survivor of a shooting incident early in his career, claims that many in law enforcement are drawn to the flashing lights and the piercing sirens.
“Some officers want those Code Three calls–crime in progress. It’s part of the reason they get into this business. We enjoy the uncertainty of the job.”
My brother and his wife are trying to understand. They find themselves attempting a rather delicate balancing act with Steven–equal doses of encouragement and anxiety. News of last weekend’s shooting, the proximity to my nephew’s first day on the job, seems to have tipped the scale.
I called to check in on them. My sister-in-law didn’t want to talk because her worst fears had been concerned. My brother, however, tried to put it in perspective.
“Steven’s never wanted anything as much as this,” my brother told me. “We’ve both tried to talk him out of it, but his heart is set. We worry. We pray. We have total confidence in him, but we still worry.”
“You know, he turned down an offer in Laverne.”
A police officer is dead in Pomona. Another steps forward to take his place, a sort of law enforcement circle of life. This time, it just happens to be a family member, the first one ever to don a police uniform.
I never worried about Steven before. He’s always been capable of handling just about anything. Now a single bullet makes me wonder, makes me concerned that there might be able teenage punks out there, armed and reckless, lying in ambush, waiting to see who comes along.
Chief Gardiner, preparing once again to pay tribute to his fallen comrades last Wednesday, refused to downplay the anxiety my family feels. He recognizes the risk of police work.
“The threat to a police officer is everywhere. No area, not even up here, is safe from these incidents. You simply can’t take the danger out of police work. But, at the same time, people should do what makes them happy. We’re all called to certain positions–lawyer, doctor, teacher, whatever. There’s often some type of risk involved.”
Daniel Fraembs understood that. So, now does Steven. As he steps out into the world, an old classic movie comes to mind. I hope my nephew recalls “The Wizard of Oz” as he puts on the uniform every morning. And straps on the gun.
Remember, Steven. Courage. A heart. And a brain. That’s what it takes.
And don’t ever forget.
There’s no place like home.
San Luis Obispo County Telegram-Tribune (May 1996)