By Karen L. Bune
Victim Specialist Contributor
(This article was originally published in Officer.com)
Photo Courtesy of Beltsville Volunteer Fire Department
Prince George’s County Maryland Police Corporal Richard S. Findley was well known in professional circles for his unwavering dedication to his work, his friendly and warm personality, and his willingness to be a team player. He was full of life, but his life quickly came to an abrupt end on June 27, 2008 when he was killed in the line of duty after being run over by a 19-year-old thief driving a truck. A member of a specialized squad in the police department that pursued dangerous criminals and car thieves, Findley was killed within a two-mile radius of where his good friend, colleague, and member of the same unit, Corporal Steven Gaughan, who trained Findley, was killed in 2005. On the back of Findley’s police cruiser, Gaughan’s badge number was visible.
His public service did not begin and end with the police department. For twenty years, Findley served as a volunteer for the Prince George’s County Maryland Fire Department. He began his fire service at the Calverton station in 1988. “He was dedicated to the volunteer fire department. He was always active and always wanted to be a part of something. He always had a good attitude. He was very cooperative and helped me do my job better,” says Captain Charles E. Flinn who was the station commander at Calverton when he met Findley. Sharing the sentiment of many firefighters and police officers who are presently grieving the tragic loss of their colleague, Flinn continues, “I was very upset to hear about this. He was an exemplary public servant. It is hard for me to take right now. I feel terrible about it.”
Though police officers and firefighters recognize and understand the inherent risks that come with the territory of their jobs, the impact of the victimization that results from dangerous situations, with lethal consequences, is not an easy pill to swallow. The common denominator among police officers, firefighters and medics is the unity they share within the brotherhood of each separate group as well as the interconnectedness of both groups. However, the “family” extends beyond and to all components of the criminal justice system including prosecutors’ offices, courts, sheriffs’ departments, and others who interact in the realm of public safety.
Everyone is profoundly touched by the death of a colleague even if they were not personally acquainted. It’s all the harder if they worked directly with the victim or shared a close friendship. However, the ability to be able to reminisce and share stories about the relationships that existed throughout the tenure of service or period of friendship helps the survivors to slowly cope with the initial shock of the event, the difficult aftermath, and the enduring loss. Coming to grips with the reality of what transpired is by no means easy. “It’s a scary sign of the times. Some of these guys on the street have no qualms about killing officers,” says Glenn F. Ivey, State’s Attorney for Prince Georges County Maryland.
Any efforts to make sense out of the senseless, vicious criminal acts that lead to loss of a valuable life, such as Findley’s, are an insurmountable task. “It shows you that each day a public safety officer, either firefighter or police officer, goes on duty that your life may end protecting citizens of our communities. This is another tragic loss that each day we all pray that a day could go by without an injury or loss of life. We not only lost a public safety servant but a brother in the pursuit of protecting others,” says Jack Goldhorn, a Public Information Officer and 24-year veteran of the Norfolk Virginia Fire and Rescue Service.
Beltsville (Prince George’s County) Maryland Volunteer Fire Chief, Al Schwartz, who has been a chief for 25 years, knew Findley for 15 years through his association with the fire department. Findley was a volunteer firefighter for the past 20 years. “Twenty years later he still wanted to do it,” says Schwartz.
Noting a somber mood at the fire station, he explains that the station where Findley served was placed out of service so the firefighters and medics would not have to run calls and would have time to deal with their loss and grief. Crews were constantly filling in and covering for their colleagues throughout the county. “It shows how tight the family is,” says Schwartz.
“He loved the fire department, the police department, and he loved his family. He wanted to clean the streets up. He wanted to get the drugs and weapons off the street. Its a shame. He’s definitely going to be missed more than anyone can imagine,” says Schwartz.
The police department was also grieving the loss of their colleague but, all the while, officers throughout the department and the region were on high alert and determinedly searching to apprehend the criminals involved in this heinous act. “Corporal Findley was doing the type of ‘routine’ police work that officers do every day, and it turned tragic. The response of the law enforcement and public safety community was fast and deep. The ability of the responding officers to remain focused and pursue the leads in a professional manner enabled investigators to narrow down the vast amount of information and make an arrest within hours of the tragic event. The professionalism and dedication is evident when looking at the continued work of officers who report to work for their next shift with the knowledge that their brother officer was stricken down only hours before,” says Major Daniel Dusseau of the Criminal Investigations Division of the Prince George’s County Police Department.
For survivors to deal with the loss of a colleague, it is important for them to communicate with one another by sharing stories and recollecting fond memories. Chief Schwartz recalls that Findley could always make someone smile, and he was skilled at making noises that resembled, with high accuracy, the sounds of sirens, animals, and other things that would make people laugh. “He was the type of person who was always upbeat, cheerful, and goofy – all in one. His personality was one of a kind,” says Schwartz. “He had a whimsical sense of humor,” says Firefighter Mike Shipp, agreeing with Schwartz.
Though police officers and firefighters who are killed in the line of duty receive tremendous support from their respective departments and organization such as Concerns of Police Survivors (COPS) and the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation (NFFF), coping with the loss is still very difficult. Findley’s wife, Kelly, also served as a volunteer at the fire station, and she is now left behind with two young daughters – Lauren, age 6 and Nicole, age 9.
“I don’t know if we ever will recover. He w
as a police officer and would stop by the station but he was one of our own,” says Firefighter Shipp. “Each police officer understands and accepts there are risks involved in their chosen profession, but this does not make it any less tragic when an officer is injured or even killed while protecting others,” says Prince William County Virginia Police Chief Charlie Deane.
Everyone in the fire service, as well as the criminal justice system, is impacted by the devastating victimization of a colleague. In this particular case, the tentacles of grief spread far and wide between the fire and police departments where Findley served with unquestionable dedication and enthusiasm.
United States Senate Sergeant-at-Arms and former U. S. Capitol Police Chief, Terrance W. Gainer, widely experienced in dealing with line of duty deaths and criminal victimization in his tenure of four decades in law enforcement, keenly points to the crux of the issue, “I did not know the Corporal personally, but I have met and worked with hundreds just like him. Honest, dedicated, and committed to public service and family. He was working that stolen auto case as if it happened to someone in his family and as if it was the biggest crime of the century. There was a wrong, and he tried to bring some right. Each death of a cop, or a fireman, and every innocent victim, diminishes us all.”
Prince George’s County Maryland Police Department
Prince George’s County Maryland Fire Department
Prince George’s County Maryland Professional Firefighters and Paramedics Association
National Fallen Firefighters Association
National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund
Concerns of Police Survivors
Karen L. Bune is employed as a Victim Specialist in the domestic violence unit of the State’s Attorney’s Office for Prince George’s County, MD. She serves as an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Criminal Justice at George Mason University and Marymount University in Virginia, where she teaches victimology. Ms. Bune is a consultant for the Training and Technical Assistance Center for the Office for Victims of Crime, U. S. Department of Justice. She is a nationally recognized speaker on victim issues. Ms. Bune is Board Certified in Traumatic Stress and Domestic Violence and she is a Fellow of the Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress. She appears in the 2008 edition of Marquis “Who’s Who in the World.”