Just before Christmas in Oceanside, Calif., police officer Dan Bessant was working patrol when he heard a beat partner, Karina Pina, make a traffic stop in an area known to be unfriendly to police officers. Bessant headed to the stop to provide cover and parked his patrol car just around the corner, the two patrol cars forming an L behind the violator's vehicle. The sun had just set, and the weather was pleasantly cool.
Oceanside was his hometown and, at age 25, Bessant had been an officer for three years. He had just returned to work after taking paternity leave; his wife had recently delivered a new baby boy, and Bessant could not be more proud.
When Pina initiated the traffic stop, her actions were noticed by two residents of the neighborhood, 17-year-old Meki Gaono and 16-year-old Penifoti Taeotui. For reasons still unknown, they decided to kill the officer. After retrieving a scoped .22-caliber rifle from a nearby house, they returned to an observation point a little more than 300 feet from the traffic stop. By this time, Bessant was on scene and Pina was not easily visible. Gaono steadied the rifle and used the scope to target Bessant. When he pulled the trigger, the small bullet struck Bessant under his left arm, just above his body armor. It cut a deadly path across the torso, penetrating Bessant s heart.
Pina saw her partner fall and was momentarily overwhelmed, not knowing whether the occupants of the stopped vehicle were involved or where the shot had originated. Other shots rang out, and she instinctively returned fire. She put out a request for assistance and went to Bessant s side. Arriving fire units ignored the standard protocol of staging away from an unstable scene and pulled in behind Bessant's patrol vehicle, moving him several yards down the street to a point beside the fire truck to provide some protection. Despite their valiant efforts and a helicopter transport, Danny Bessant died on arrival at the hospital.
Surrounding agencies, including my own, responded en masse. It was still early evening and the commotion brought many people outside. The scene was chaotic. Some residents were curious, but some were openly hostile, even taunting the officers this in spite of visible tactical weaponry. Eventually, good police work paid off and the suspects were arrested. The rifle was found hidden in a backyard storage shed. Gaono subsequently confessed to killing Bessant.
I went to the area early the next morning to offer my condolences. Investigators were still actively working the scene, but the location of Bessant's shooting seemed frozen in time: the stopped car, the patrol cars with their lights still flashing and behind them, the fire truck that shielded the fallen officer. Littering the sidewalk next to the rear of the pumper were the medical remnants of the desperate attempt to save Bessant's life. It saddened me greatly.
Three days after Christmas, I attended Bessant's funeral. I learned he was active in his church and committed to his family. He was also committed to making a difference in his hometown and remaining professional yet friendly with everyone. It seemed to shock everyone that he was gone he just seemed too nice a person to have died the way he did.
He Did It Right
When something like this happens, officers want to find out what went wrong. They need to know what differentiated the fallen officer s actions from actions they would take. It s normal to seek assurance that we re not going to suffer the same fate.
In this case, Bessant wore his vest, was aware of his surroundings and was engaging in contact-and-cover actions with his partner officer. The point: He didn t do anything wrong. He didn t make a mistake.
However, we can learn a distinct lesson from this incident. For most of you, your New Year's resolutions are probably a distant memory. But I challenge you to find that inner resolve to recommit yourself to this profession and to serving your community, just as Danny Bessant did.
And finally, the most important lesson: Treasure every precious moment with your family because we never know what the next call will bring.
Readers will notice a distinct difference in this issue an absence of PoliceOne.com material. We have mutually decided to end our business relationship and carry on as separate entities. The change reflects the fact that Law Officer has matured as a publication and is carving out its own identity. We value greatly our friends at PoliceOne, yet recognize we need to make this move to provide the very best service to our readers. Think of us as beat partners, handling different areas of responsibility but committed to the same overall mission.
Will you see some changes? You bet! For one, you'll see a new Tactics columnist, Dave Grossi. Grossi is one of the premier experts in the tactics field, and we think you'll be impressed. Check out his bio at the end of his column.
DALE Stockton, editor