When Senior Corporal Victor Lozada-Tirado of the Dallas Police Department left for work on February 22, 2008 to engage in his detail of dignitary protection for Senator Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) who was in town campaigning, neither he nor his family likely never imagined his tour of duty would be a final one that day. Though officers are aware of the inherent dangers of their jobs, they do not focus on aspects of impending danger but, instead, concentrate on staying focused and performing their duties competently and professionally. When Lozada-Tirado's motorcycle hit a concrete barrier, as he was driving with the motorcade, he was ejected from his motorcycle approximately 20 feet into the air and landed on the pavement. He was critically injured and died a short time later following the accident.
Senator Clinton was visibly affected by his death. "We are just heartsick over this loss of life in the line of duty," she said. Clinton curtailed her campaigning to visit the family at the hospital and offer her condolences. Two days earlier, Senator Barack Obama met Lozada-Tirado when the officer was on the protection detail for him. Following the officer's death, and to show his respect, Obama asked for a moment of silence at a function he was attending.
"The motorcycle escorts we do are very dangerous," said Dallas Police Chief David Kunkle. They speed up, ride ahead, set up, and then repeat the process. He acknowledges, however, that the desire to be a motor cop is a highly sought after position within his department. Calling themselves "motor jockeys," and despite the challenges they faced under dangerous circumstances, these cops grip 500 pounds of steel and perform their duties with pride. The number of officers on the motor squad was reduced from 41 to 40 following Lozada-Tirado's death.
"Lozado-Tirado loved being a motorcycle officer," said Chief Kunkle. "It was something he wanted to do. His family supported him," said Deputy Chief Tom Lawrence. The officer was well respected and was known to have touched many lives. He was recognized as loyal, dedicated, and the first to volunteer to help. He had a highly successful career. One did not have to be personally acquainted with him to know that he cherished his work and devoted his efforts wholeheartedly to public safety. This was evidenced by earning 139 awards and commendations for his work - one of which he received in the week prior to his death.
Lozada-Tirado was 49 years-old, married, and a father of four children. Two of his children attend college, and he was particularly close to his 10-year-old son, David, whose soccer team, The Dragons, he coached. The kids knew David's dad as, "Coach Victor."
It is a difficult time for his family, the Dallas Police Department, the community, and all law enforcement and criminal justice personnel throughout the nation. Everyone is grieving the loss of his life and the terrible tragedy that occurred. Colleagues contemplate the possibility that they, too, could become victims though they don't like to call themselves that. Cops look at themselves as the protectors and rescuers; they view themselves as the first responders to victims.
The sudden and shocking loss of a colleague, while on duty, brings home the fact that life is short and precious. It distinguishes the trivial from the important, the priorities from the nonessentials, and the importance of selflessness versus selfishness. Through death, life is quickly put into instantaneous perspective.
Surviving family members feel as though their world has just ended. Despite the awareness that a police officer's job is inherently one of high risk, they are numb with disbelief. It is hard to process the fact that their loved one will not be coming home again and that their family unit is forever changed.
Following any death, the outreach of support to grieving family members is essential. When police officers are killed in the line of duty, immediately an outpouring of extensive support is offered by fellow officers and their families to the surviving family members. "His wife is obviously devastated by his death. It's gut-wrenching to be there with her. She has a strong support system," said Chief Kunkle. The cohesiveness of the police family is a strong bond, and it is one that unifies everyone amidst their emotional pain and grief. Some have been through it with their own families, and they intrinsically understand what the survivors are going through.
In addition, the organization, Concerns for Police Survivors (COPS), is instrumental in assisting the families of officers following the death of their loved one. The organization holds the belief that a law enforcement death affects the surviving family and police agency as well as the community. COPS contacts the surviving family six times per year and sends cards of remembrance to each survivor during the anniversary month of the officer's death. COPS offers national peer support, national counseling programs, spouse retreats, and teens/kids programs. During National Police Memorial Week held annually in the month of May, in Washington, D. C., the COPS organization offers various sessions that the family survivors can attend. Some examples include: "Grief in children and adults" and "Resolving grief alone - for widowed or single parents of deceased officers."
Children under age 18 can attend the COPS kids/teen program. Through their participation, it is usually the first time that kids meet other kids in similar situations who have lost a parent or family member in the line of duty. At this time, the children's emotional well being is assessed and guidance is provided to the young people; they are also able to participate in fun activities. A summer camp is also provided by COPS for surviving spouses with children. They work with counselors and trained mentors to jointly resolve grief issues and improve communication.
Memorializing the loss of a loved one is also important in a line-of-duty death. Lozada-Tirado’s name will be inscribed and added to the National Law Enforcement Memorial in Washington, D. C. In addition, the Dallas Police Department has its own memorial to honor fallen officers: "Dedicated with gratitude to the men and women of the Dallas Police Department who have sacrificed their lives in the line of duty. With this memorial, we preserve and honor their memory and sacrifices of the families who have given our city such heroes. We also honor other officers of the Department on duty yesterday, today, and tomorrow for their service in protecting the city of Dallas."
For The Dragons, memorializing "Coach Victor" was important. Within days of his death, the team chose to play a soccer game to honor their fallen coach.
Senior Corporal Lozada-Tirado was the 78th Dallas police officer to die in the line of duty. The Dallas Police Department is in mourning, the community grieves, and his family is devastated by their deep loss. "They truly loved each other," said Chief Kunkle about the officer and his wife, Teresa.
As everyone attempts to find solace in the wake of Senior Corporal Lozada-Tirado's tragic death, they should be comforted by knowing his memory lives on. The words of William Penn, from Some Fruits of Solitude, serve as a poignant reminder: "Death is but crossing the world, as friends do the sea; they live in one another still."