Copyright © 2015 Albuquerque Journal
In the days since Albuquerque police officer Daniel Webster was fatally wounded in a shooting during a traffic stop, the department he left behind has, as expected, felt the impact.
The eight-year APD veteran’s death has left officers weighing a sense of gratitude for the support they have received against a heightened sense of danger.
Many of them say Webster’s death last week has renewed a sense of pride among officers and created optimism that there are better days ahead for Albuquerque and its police force.
“When I was growing up, I looked at cops as heroes. Nowadays, a lot of people have a different opinion,” officer Justin Rogillio said Friday at a prayer gathering. “(Webster’s shooting) makes me want to do the job even more.”
APD, like many police departments across the nation, has been under fire from the community and was found to have had a culture of excessive force by the Department of Justice.
Rogillio, who works in the Foothills but previously patrolled in the Southeast Area Command with Webster, said his death created a “sense of urgency.”
“I want people to trust us again. When I was a kid, I looked up to police,” officer Cacy Shultz, a field services officer in the Foothills Area Command, said after the Friday service. “We need to change where we’re going or we won’t have police anymore.”
Webster was shot Oct. 21 in a Walgreens parking lot near Central and Eubank after he pulled over Davon Lymon on suspicion of having a stolen motorcycle. While trying to handcuff Lymon, Webster was shot multiple times, including once in the face.
Webster died in the hospital a little more than a week later.
Lymon was arrested hours after the shooting. He’s being held on federal firearms charges, and additional charges for the shooting are pending, according to the district attorney.
Police officials have said that since then they have received an outpouring of support from the community. Comfort food is being dropped off at police substations. Money is being raised for Webster’s family. (More than $30,000 has been raised at a Gofund.com site.)
Officer Donna Richter, an APD academy instructor, said at a fundraising carwash on Sunday that officers always feel a quiet support from the community but that it’s rare to see so many events at which the community can demonstrate that support.
Lines of cars filled the Royal Car Wash parking lot, drivers waiting for a chance to donate to the cause. Cadets in their dark T-shirts and sunglasses chatted as they diligently rinsed each vehicle, many of which were hardly in need of cleaning.
“There’s such a high level of scrutiny against the profession that it takes an officer being killed in the line of duty for the public to voice just as loud their support,” Albuquerque police Maj. Jessica Tyler said at the carwash.
But the support has been strong, and officers say they feel it both from the community and among area law enforcement agencies.
“Dan Webster had the ability to bring us to smile every day in briefing and bring us together, and now he’s done it citywide,” said officer Luis Hernandez. “One individual has united us.”
They also say they feel the danger of their jobs.
“If we pull somebody that does have something, whether it be warrants, weapons, illegal drugs,” Hernandez said. “We don’t know about it, but they are making the assumption that we do.”
Three area officers, including Webster, have been shot this year during traffic stops.
In January, Albuquerque police officer Lou Golson was shot multiple times as he approached a man Golson had just stopped on suspicion of drunken driving. Golson survived and has returned to work.
In May, Rio Rancho police officer Gregg Benner was shot and killed by a passenger of a vehicle he had stopped.
A traffic stop is a dangerous situation because of the unknown factors, police said.
During a traffic stop, the officer diligently screens the people involved for signs that are suspicious.
“You’re watching them. Are they trying to hide something? Do they keep looking back?” officer Mike Schroeder said. “There’s a healthy paranoia that comes with it.”
To describe how officers will act during traffic stops after the shootings, Hernandez compared it to a civilian who was pranked. How would you respond if someone propped a cup of cold water on the door and it spilled on you?
“We’re at that stage, where the water already hit. It was a cold splash. And now we’re being cautious,” he said. “We’re not taking any traffic stop for granted.”
Police officials have pointed out that since Webster was shot, officers still show up for work, take calls for service and make traffic stops.
Officers said there’s a sense of pride among the ranks that they can mourn a loss of a colleague while patrolling the streets.
“We have to place ourselves in situations that aren’t friendly. Situations that could result in violence,” Schroeder said. “But that’s what our job is. That’s what we signed up to do. We’re here to be that shield.”