30 Years in Law Enforcement and I lived to tell about it!

Stand With Honor

Kirk Fitch
Lieutenant, Phoenix (AZ) Police Department

I started out at Ohio State thinking I wanted to join a federal law enforcement agency. I was majoring in sociology and working part time at a local Sears store in Columbus, OH. While working at Sears, I met a reserve deputy sheriff who also worked at the store and he invited me for a ride along. After a few shifts of riding with him and going on various calls. I began my career as a Police Officer in West Caldwell, NJ. Shortly after joining this department, the opportunity arose for me to move to Phoenix, AZ.

In December, 1986, I became a Phoenix Police Officer, rising through the ranks to Lieutenant. I served the Phoenix PD in various capacities and assignments until my retirement in 2006. Upon retirement, I assisted a fellow Phoenix PD retiree with forming the Maricopa Police Department (AZ) from the ground up.

I served the City of Maricopa P.D. as both the Assistant Chief and Police Chief during my five-year tenure at the department. The department serves a vibrant and developing city of approximately 40 square miles and 44,000 people. My last sworn law enforcement position was as Chief of Police for the city of Havre, Montana. Located in north central Montana with a population around 10,000, is 100 miles north of great Falls, MT and 40 miles south of the Canadian border.

I am a veteran of the US Army Military Police. I’ve also worked as a Commander in the Grand Canyon University Public Safety Department and as a Deputy Sheriff (detention) for the Franklin County Sheriff’s Department in Columbus, OH.

Besides starting a police department from the ground up in the city of Maricopa (AZ), I believe I will always hold a special place in my heart for the Phoenix Police Department. Not only did I go through the academy there, but I spent all of my career there in the patrol division. There were so many challenges just in patrol, both mentally and at times physically, that it would impossible to relate in this short format. The department also allowed me to continue my education and I received thousands of hours of training internally and had I access to numerous, nationally acclaimed training seminars and classes.

This has always been my motto: Remember the badge you wear stands for a lot of things; like honor, integrity, courage, dedication and the willingness to sacrifice your life for your fellow man. You are held to a higher standard than most people. The easiest way to remember this is treat everyone as you would want to be treated. Do the right thing, for the right reason, all the time!

On February 12, 1997, I was a Sergeant in the Phoenix Police Department, serving in the South Mountain precinct and working the overnight shift. Additionally, I was training an officer who was due to be promoted to sergeant.

At approximately 0330 a call came in of an armed robbery-carjacking that had just occurred in our squad area. Since I had a good working knowledge of the area, I instructed the officer I was with to drive to a nearby apartment complex that served as known as a common dumping ground for cars which had been stolen or taken at gunpoint.

As we neared the location, I spotted the victims’ car in the rear alley and observed two subjects running from the car. I ordered the officer to drive to the next block, then turn east in an effort to cut off their escape path. As I walked up between the apartments with my flashlight in one hand and my gun in the other, I turned to view the back yard of the apartment to my right, when an outline of a person appeared in my peripheral vision.

As I completed turning and facing the suspect, a saw a flash and I could feel the impact of the bullet as it struck my chest. It felt as though I had been hit in the chest with a baseball bat. I momentarily lost my breath, but adrenaline kicked in and I realized within a millisecond what had happened. I raised my gun and fired several shots in the direction where I had seen the shadowy figure. My shots hit the corner of the building where the suspect had hidden prior to the ambush and had fled, dropping his gun as he returned to a friend’s apartment. Due to excellent police response by members of my squad and Department, the shooter and the other suspect were rounded up within an hour of the shooting. My injuries consisted of severe bruising, as the .357 magnum bullet had penetrated the steel plate in the vest and then disbursed inside the vest. If not for that vest I would have been killed instantly that early morning in south Phoenix.

I believe from this point on in my life, I didn’t worry so much about the little things in life and I also realized that my family and friends are the most important things in my life. I think many of us, especially in law enforcement, think the job is everything and at times, we can let this career or career advancement, consume us. I have witnessed many officers neglect their families for the sake of the next promotion or work so much off-duty that they rarely saw their families or were there for their kids as they grew and changed. After that incident, I made a personal commitment to stay in patrol, have my three days off each week (I worked a 4 to 10 schedule) and be actively involved in my family’s life. While this decision may have limited my career opportunities, I believe, for me, it was the best choice.

Proudest moment in my career

The Medal of Valor I received from the Phoenix Police Department in 1997, for being shot in the line of duty while actively attempting to apprehend armed robbery/carjacking suspects was the proudest moment in my career.

I remember going to a community meeting one time after this incident and hearing some members of the community complaining that the officers didn’t really care about their community. It was at this meeting that I related that I had risked my life for a perfect stranger and would do it again because that was the commitment I made when I took my oath of office and I knew plenty of other officers felt the same way. To me this career was a calling, a commitment to serve the community, like no other profession.

Favorite prank from work

One of the pranks many officers would pull, came after computers were put in the cars. Officers would go out on a call and many times, leave their car door unlocked. Another member of the squad would then type on their unattended computer, a message which appeared to come from either the sergeant or lieutenant and it would usually indicate they need the officer to return to the station or meet them at some location. Well, of course, the sergeant or lieutenant never actually sent any message, so the officer would get to the location and usually wait for awhile before clarifying via radio if the sergeant or lieutenant were going to show up and of course they weren’t. Generally, you were able to fool the newer officers at least once with that prank!

I think when you enjoy the job as much as I have over the years, there are numerous things you can find funny. As many of you have experienced, cops develop a weird sense of humor when dealing with so much high stress situations and tense encounters.

For many years I had a close friend and patrol partner and we would frequently ride a two-man car. While we responded to numerous intense calls over the years, we had plenty of laughs.

When we started riding together, he was younger than me and single. I would always laugh because before we got out of the car, on almost every call, he would pull out a hair brush, look in the rear view mirror and comb his hair. He would really pride himself on his looks and would regularly work out.

One day we were just finishing up from a lunch break and I was getting something out of our patrol car trunk. He was standing by the drivers side door and I was bending over retrieving something, when two young ladies drove by us in the parking lot. The girl on the passenger side yelled out, “nice ass”. To this day, I never let him live it down about how that girl complimented my butt and not his!

Something I wish more people, who do not work in law enforcement, could understand about working in law enforcement

Lesson number one is that this is a very honorable profession and one should feel privileged to serve in this noble endeavor. Secondly, this is not a game. One must train for any possible occurrence and while you can’t live your life in the “red” zone, you must be aware of your surroundings, understanding that there are people who will be willing to kill you to escape capture or detection. As I stated before, this profession was a calling for me and I have realized that very few people can do this profession successfully and retire. Lastly, you have to have fun, in addition to all the hard work and education it takes to be successful in this job.

I believe peace officers are held to a higher standard by society and I have tried to live by that standard. Does that mean you will miss some of the parties your friends who are not in law enforcement may attend? Maybe, but by staying away from activities the average person gets involved in avoids some of the temptation in the long run (especially younger officers). This also includes going to the same local bars which are frequented by the same people you will end up arresting at some point. I think in general, I am very hesitant to discuss things I have been involved with on the job with someone who has never been in this line of work. It is just hard for the average person to relate, especially if their only reference is TV or movies.

Hardest thing I’ve had to do as an officer

My squad at the time Ken Collings’ mother received the Phoenix Police Department Medal of Honor after he was killed in the line of duty (1988).

That would have been attending my first officer funeral, which happened to be one of the officer’s on my squad. He was killed in the line of duty while attempting to capture two armed robbery suspects. (Officer Kenneth Collings- May 27, 1988). I had been in the department less than two years and it really hit me hard.

Staying connected to the law enforcement community benefits so many people. To be able to pass on various experiences to the veteran or new officer, many times causes those in the profession to reflect on their unique experiences. It also shows many people the various paths there are to becoming an Officer, working their way up the ranks or into specialty details.

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