by James Garcia Jr.
On February 25, 2010, Deputy Joel Wahlenmaier of The Fresno County Sheriff’s Department and Police Officer Javier Bejar of The Reedley Police Department were shot and killed in Minkler, California, while simply attempting to serve a search warrant. They were met by a barrage of gunfire, and the suspect eventually took his own life. Officer Bejar did not officially die until March 1 when doctors removed him from life support, but he had been gone long before then, making a young wife a widow.When a family loses a loved one, there is typically some support: friends and family visit or often stay for extended periods of time; a local priest, pastor or other church official might pay a visit; or the church family might bring meals to the home for that terrible first week. If the individual who died was in law enforcement and was killed in the line of duty however, then there is an organization that steps in to help: C.O.P.S.
Concerns For Police Survivors is a national organization that meets the needs of those suddenly and tragically left behind. To better do this, they have local chapters. The state of California has three of these chapters. When Deputy Wahlenmaier and Officer Bejar were killed, President Leon Isaac of Central California C.O.P.S. was the one to meet that need. He understands because he, too, lost someone in the line of duty: a son.
On their web site, President Isaac described what his life was like a mere few days before tragedy struck:“September 5, 1997 life was good. I was enjoying my work and I also knew that my two sons loved what they were involved in. My oldest son was working as a deputy for Fresno County Sheriff’s Department. My youngest son was on his way to becoming a deputy, finishing up his degree and preparing for the police academy. My daughter was a stay-at-home mom and working towards getting her teaching credentials.”
Unfortunately, life would take a horrible turn and their family would be irrevocably changed.
“September 8, we received a knock on our door at 1:00 a.m. by a Reedley Police Officer and a Deputy from the Fresno County Sheriff’s Department. They informed me that (his son) Jeff Isaac was involved in an auto accident and was being air lifted to UMC. After all that was done by the doctors, my son died at 5 a.m. My life and my family’s lives changed forever. Because of how it impacted me, I became very involved in C.O.P.S.”
On the official website, there is a page that shows the faces of eleven law enforcement members. These were all killed this past year in the line of duty. Each photo lists their name and department, along with a date preceded by E.O.W. It stands for End of Watch. Beneath those photos is a scripture verse from the Bible: “Blessed are the Peacemakers; for they shall be called children of God.” Matthew 5:9.
The mission of Concerns of Police Survivors is to provide resources to assist in the rebuilding of lives of surviving families. Their goals are to minister to the family’s needs by extending a helping hand whether it is financially, emotionally or otherwise, however long that may be.
When a member of law enforcement is killed in the line of duty, ceremonies are held, recognizing their service. There is the national honor in Washington D.C. on the lawn of the Capitol, and a local ceremony in Sacramento.
“We were caught by surprise and no one from the family or from (my son’s) department was on hand to receive the honor,” said Isaac. Because they didn’t get that chance, it has been a priority to make sure that others do get that opportunity. Attending the national day of honor costs approximately $1500. C.O.P.S. raises money to provide financial assistance for the immediate family to attend these ceremonies.
“C.O.P.S. has been a terrific organization and source of help and support to those who need them in the most difficult of times,” said Marnie Jones, the Administrative Assistant to the Kingsburg Police Department. “Our department has gotten involved with C.O.P.S. events here in the Valley and we hope to get even more involved over time. Losing an officer is something no one wants to think about, but when tragedies do happen, the C.O.P.S. organization is there to help in countless ways. Many thanks go out to them for all of their hard work and dedication.”
The unexpected financial hardship is the organization’s first passion. The effects on coworkers is the second. “We make assistance available to honor and remember coworkers and partners,” Isaac said. When this tragedy occurs, the organization establishes initial contact with the agency by providing a liaison. They set up a meeting with family members and attend the funeral. “We interact with the family for as long as they need.”
“After our son died, we put together a scholarship fund. Sixteen individuals were able to attend the Police Academy,” continued Isaac. In a cruel twist of fate, “Officer Javier Bejar was one of those recipients of the Isaac Scholarships.”
There are several events held throughout the year at the local level. In September, they hosted the C.O.P.S. Family Picnic for survivors and co-workers at The Kingsburg Gun Club. They had police K-9 demonstrations, horses from the Fresno Police Department and the Eagle One Helicopter from the Fresno County Sheriff’s Department.
The main local fundraiser of the year is a motorcycle run. The Seventh Annual C.O.P.S. Memorial Motorcycle Run, held this past March, drew 850 participants. The run begins at Visalia Harley Davidson and ends at Millerton Lake. Central Cal C.O.P.S. arranged to have various departments available. The riders stopped in Kingsburg and then headed through Reedley, taking them past the grave of Jeff Isaac. When the riders drove through Minkler, the scene of the tragic event, Reedley Police, Fresno County Sheriff and California Highway Patrol representatives were on hand to greet them, as was Cal-Fire. The Eighth Annual Run is already scheduled for April 2, 2011.
“As for C.O.P.S., it is our pleasure to work with an entity that does such important work,” said Kingsburg Police Chief Jeff Dunn. “Most of (its) members are either law enforcement or were family/friends of an officer killed in the line of duty. C.O.P.S. is an entity that everyone hopes and prays they will never need the services of. Unfortunately, history has shown us that those services will be needed by several agencies within California and across the country every year.”
One of the things that the organization does at the national level is to hold four-day weekend retreats across the country. There are separate retreats for spouses, siblings, parents and co-workers. They are designed not only to provide counseling, but for the families and coworkers to be able to make connection with others who have suffered through similar circumstances. There are also fun activities such as canoeing and rock climbing. “It sounds like camp but it isn’t,” stated Isaac. “Professional counselors who are law enforcement personnel are available to help deal with the loss. We cover airfare to help people attend.
Officer Bejar’s spouse attended a spouse’s retreat. We sent 21 individuals this past summer, including three coworkers (of Officer Bejar’s) from Reedley.”
The organization is voluntary. President Isaac has been with the organization since 2002. The official website has been running for about a year. A newsletter is issued three times per year and goes out to about 350 Law Enforcement Agency families.
To help C.O.P.S., one can donate an item or service that your business sells or manufactures. This in return supports the Annual Central California C.O.P.S. Memorial Run Raffle Program and also helps make the entire C.O.P.S. program a success; or tax-deductible monetary donations can be made by clicking on the Donate button on the Official Website. This assists them in providing support to those who have lost a family member in law enforcement.
“I know how devastating it is for survivors who have had to deal with a loss of a loved one killed in the line of duty,” said Isaac. “It is important for the survivors to attend the local, state and national memorials so they can experience the honor and tribute being paid to their loved ones.”