A Humbling and Emotional Experience: Being in Seattle following the Death of an Officer

By John Shanks
Director of Law Enforcement Relations

This past Sunday, I left Washington, DC, to travel to Seattle, Washington, for two days of meetings with members of the Seattle Police Department. I was scheduled to update them on the Memorial Fund and the National Law Enforcement Museum project, and to seek their support. What I didn’t know at the time was that the previous evening, the Seattle Police Department had suffered a great tragedy: the loss of Officer Timothy Brenton, a highly respected Field Training Officer.

Halfway to Seattle, on lay-over in Phoenix, I received an e-mail from the Chief’s office explaining that the meeting scheduled for Monday afternoon had been canceled and the reasons why. I recall sitting on the plane staring at my Blackberry, not believing what I just read: an officer ambushed and assassinated as he sat in his patrol car. “How can I continue this trip?,” I asked myself. How could I possibly go on to Seattle right now, and not somehow “get in the way” of a department in crisis? My travel had been planned for two months, and I was halfway there. I had to continue on, I realized, but change the focus of my work. There was a much bigger issue here: the family, friends and colleagues of Officer Timothy Brenton.

I started to gather more information about the incident. Officer Brenton, a seasoned law enforcement professional, was parked on the side of the road talking with his trainee, Officer Britt Sweeney. They were reviewing a traffic stop the pair had just conducted. Suddenly, a sedan pulls up next to the patrol car, so close that Officer Sweeney could not open her door. Then the air erupted in gunfire – an ambush. Officer Brenton was hit and died almost immediately in the passenger seat of the patrol car. Officer Sweeney managed to return fire and call for help. A seemingly “routine” night on patrol for a rookie officer and her FTO had suddenly and inexplicably turned into violence and tragedy. One of Seattle’s protectors had been taken.

When I arrived in Seattle I called back to DC and spoke with Craig Floyd, our Chairman and CEO. I updated him on the details of the incident, and Craig, as always, offered sound advice on how I – and “we,” the Memorial Fund – could best support the Seattle Police Department. We agreed this was mainly a time to just “be there” for the Department, its officers and employees, as well as members of the community. I was honored to be invited to briefings on the incident with members of the Department, and I was graciously welcomed by the leadership and rank-and-file officers alike.

I called on the Seattle Police Officers Guild and offered to cancel my presentation, which was scheduled for Tuesday afternoon. Guild President Rich O’Neill met with me personally and said, “No, now is when we really need to hear from you.” During this crisis, when the city was in a massive manhunt to find the killer (or killers) who had ruthlessly assassinated Officer Timothy Brenton, the Guild still took the time to meet with me, to get a brief update on the Museum, but most of all, to talk about Officer Brenton and how we will always honor and remember him and all of those in law enforcement who have made the ultimate sacrifice.

I never met Officer Timothy Brenton, but being in Seattle and being with Tim’s brothers and sisters on the Police Department was a humbling experience for me. I spent 22 years in law enforcement myself. In Seattle, I felt the pain and grief, and witnessed firsthand the emotions of the many officers I encountered. I am honored to have been welcomed as a member of the Seattle Police family and to have shared with them this intensely difficult and emotional time. Most of all, my visit to Seattle put into sharp perspective just why my colleagues and I at the NLEOMF work so hard at what we do: to respect, honor and remember all of the heroes of American law enforcement.

When the time is right, I will return to Seattle and finish my meetings and conduct the business I had planned for this week. In the meantime, I join the entire law enforcement community in expressing my sincere sympathy and blessings to the family of Officer Timothy Brenton and the men and women of the Seattle Police Department. May you all be safe and watched over as you continue to protect the residents of Seattle.