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Did You Know Him?

By Vail Bello, retired Sonoma County Sheriff’s Deputy


It’s inevitable. For that last 35 years, whenever a cop in the Bay Area dies, someone asks me “Did you know him?” It’s not out of ignorance; it’s almost always out of care. It’s usually from a friend or family member, and as of late, as my virtual community grows, it can come from a Facebook acquaintance. Usually my answer is no. But that’s not a real answer. The truth is, yes, I did. I may not have ever met the man, but I know him.
I know what he did. I know what it took for him to even be in that patrol car, the selection process, the testing, the academy, the hiring process. I know that part. And I know the sacrifices he made to do that job. I know how people said to him, and say now “Well, you CHOSE that job, you KNOW the risks”.
I know that. I know the countless birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays with family’s he missed, and he will now never have again. I know the drifting apart from friends who will always be friends, but can’t, …don’t understand the job, the shift work, the mandatory overtime. It’s inevitable. I know how the circle becomes smaller, because frankly, good, caring people don’t know how it is, don’t understand.
They can’t.
I know how he did his job for more than a paycheck. I know he did it to protect those who can’t protect themselves, who aren’t big enough or strong enough to help themselves. I know how he would go to countless, unsolvable situations, and solve them. Or at least de-escalate them for a night, just to keep the peace.
I know the times he had to look a grieving mother in the eyes and tell her there was no hope for her daughter, that her child was never coming home. I know how he had to stay strong when everyone else around him was panicking, or fighting, or grieving.
I know how he stood tall. I know what it means to run to the gunfire when everyone else is running away. I know what kind of fortitude that took.
I know the sheepdog. I know what it was like for him to put on armor, a gun, a Taser, and 20 other pounds of defensive tools to prepare for the possibility of a life and death battle EVERY DAY….and I know how his brothers and sisters feel today when they know he lost that last battle.
I know he won’t be forgotten. I know his deeds will live on through his brothers and sisters in Blue, Green, and Tan. I know that his sacrifice wasn’t necessary, that it should never happen, but happen it does.
So did I know him? I believe I did.