On this January 9 National Law Enforcement Appreciation Day (L.E.A.D.), “we show our support for our nation’s approximately 780,000 police officers.” What it means to lead was poignantly demonstrated by first-City-of-Lakewood-Police-Chief Larry Saunders whose life of leadership was cut short too soon with his untimely and unexpected death just this past January 6th.
As president of a neighborhood association, when I first met Saunders it was under far less than pleasant circumstances.Melissa Renahan, Ranger/Airlifter Newspaper, 2010.
In actual fact I never even met him. Not then anyway. Not face-to-face. But what would happen that fateful night would set in motion a decade of wouldn’t-hardly-trade-it-now-for-the-world memories.
I hesitate a bit initially to share what follows but only just briefly because of what ultimately the incident reveals about Saunders in particular and, conversely, humanity in general.
As Chief of Police for Lakewood early on in the city’s infancy, Saunders had been involved in an indiscretion the circumstances these many years later being neither here nor there.
But at the time it mattered.
It mattered because given his position, power, prestige and all that accompanies being police chief, I felt that the youth I worked with in our poor community – who very likely would never attain such status as Saunders’ – had very possibly been disappointed to the extent that their hero in blue, if that’s how they perceived him, was decidedly less so.
It mattered enough for me to stand up there in the second row at city hall and, in no uncertain terms, declare – if not demand – that Saunders should speak to those youth, to do whatever it should take to win back – if it were even possible – their respect.
I had no sooner sat down than there was a tap on my shoulder and a piece of paper handed to me on which were written two words:
And it was signed, Larry Saunders.
Later by phone we agreed on a time and place and in the interim I invited every youth possible such that when Saunders strode into the room, all chairs were taken, kids sitting on the floor just below the microphone, standing against the wall.
In full uniform Saunders shared who he was, why he was there, what had happened, entertained questions.
And then he said this.
“I was wrong. I am so sorry. Please forgive me.”
You could have heard a pin drop. You could have that is except for the sound of his footsteps as Saunders left the room.
What does it take for someone, anyone, but especially such a one as a police chief to utter those 10 words to just a bunch of kids?
Honesty. Humility. Integrity.
Because they weren’t just a bunch of kids. Not to Saunders. They were, are, the future. And such qualities of character should be, Saunders believed, demanded of him, expected of them.
That was Saunders’ MO.
Admit when you’re wrong. Set it right. Start again.
And so it began, and continued.
On one occasion when I walked out on Saunders, in a huff over a misunderstanding, I hollered back over my shoulder right there in the restaurant “And you can pick up the tab for the coffee!”
At that point I didn’t care. But Saunders did.
With or without me, Saunders had always in mind the community.
That’s why in the spring of 2007, Chief of Police Larry Saunders wrote out a personal check for the kids in our community to play baseball. Saunders then encouraged Wal-Mart to join the team and $2,000 later a dozen seven-and-eight-year-olds took the field.
To Saunders our community was then Ground Zero, the number one priority, the chief concern of the police chief to illustrate what it practically meant to him that prevention – through positive structured activities for kids – was far more valuable an emphasis of his department than after-the-fact detention of kids for whatever misdeeds they might otherwise have committed.
A corollary to Saunders’ closely held philosophy of community was that once kids were positively occupied, their community being restored, they – and the place they called home – would never, ever, be allowed to regress to what it – and they – had been before.
That’s Larry Saunders’ legacy: Community. It matters.
Greg Rediske says
Well said, David.
Susan Rothwell says
Lovely rememberance of Larry. He was a friend of Galloping Gerties, too, and I remember his absolute devotion to all things Tillicum. We have not, nor will we, see the likes of him again. It always made us
feel good to know he was in the world. Thank you, David, for your memories of Larry.
Joseph Boyle says
Your letter is an insult wrapped in a compliment.
When you “hesitated a bit”, that was a twinge of social intelligence. You could have written your otherwise beautiful letter focussing on the the positive without dragging in an ancient negative.
We agree, Larry Saunders was a good man who did great things for our community.
Mr. Anderson, it is now time for you to use those 10 words you speak of above, “I was wrong. I am so sorry. Please forgive me.”
David Anderson says
My observations, experiences, working relationship with Saunders were those of what you might expect when fallibility is part of our make up as human beings. That there would then be occasions when we didn’t see eye to eye, weren’t on the same page, disagreed as to objective let alone the means to get there is normal. That failings of a public nature were so admirably reconciled on Saunders part was clearly the point of what I wrote.
I find your response to the article not only offensive to the memory of the man but perhaps more evidence that you are guilty as charged.
Of all people who would have known Saunders best and thus have reason to write warmly of your own observations of the man and the officer, you write most recently in this publication about garbage cans. Your solution to youth found to have splashed paint on a building was to drown them in a river. For that article you were roundly criticized but – speaking of apologies – never was there one from you. You trash- talked Tillicum in yet another piece.
Suggest you look in the mirror Boyle.
Dave Coleman says
I knew Larry as a fellow Rotarian and had heard David Anderson’s story long before I ever met our chief. But it stuck with me because it revealed so much about Larry’s character. And it demonstrated the power of doing what is right, asking for forgiveness, and moving on. It was about being an example for the kids in our community. Upon hearing the sad news of Larry’s passing, that story came to my mind amid the fog of asking, how can this be? We are all better because of Larry. We will miss him. And we will never forget him. Perhaps each of us in some small way can carry on his legacy.
Kristy J. Kernen says
It doesn’t surprise me that Joe Boyle “missed the point” of what David Anderson had to say about David’s friend, Larry Saunders. I think the editorial was “spot on” as far as summing up what Larry did for this community. Larry got everyone involved and was ALWAYS there to help or guide. He created so many volunteer programs and enhanced what we already had. If he said “give me a call”, he meant it, and he ALWAYS followed up! Larry was so right, when at the beginning of his term he “fixed” a problem that could have spiraled downward and been his undoing. David’s tribute to a man who showed he could be fallible and still be accountable was, as I said, “spot on”. This tribute reflected love and admiration for someone who did everything he could, to the best of his ability, for his community.
I feel free in stating my opinion as I know all 3 men on different levels. I do know that if you asked 25 people for their opinion of Larry Saunders, David Anderson & Joe Boyle, only two people would stand out in a positive light.
“If one projects negativity, the same comes back.”
Thank you David for your inspirational words. Larry was a friend to so many on different levels, but he treated everyone the same; with caring & respect.
Steve S. says
Since you’re leaving it up to me and 24 other people to name the two people (out of the three you identified) who would “stand out in a positive light” then I guess it would be
Larry Saunders and Joe Boyle. I say this even though I didn’t know Chief Saunders at all. I arrived at this conclusion through deductive reasoning. It’s the only conclusion to which a person could arrive. A simple review of material submitted by Anderson to the Suburban Times will give you a good look at the level of negativity he is always showing. I am hardly the only one who holds this opinion. Even today, Anderson’s recollection of contacts he had with Saunders were instances of negatiivity. Not so with Joe Boyle.
Mr. Boyle is exactly right. Anderson has taken the opportunity to fan the flames of an old indiscretion under the guise of a compliment.
It wasn’t necessary to bring that up and march it around while trying to legitimize doing so merely because the details were not supplied.
John Simpson says
I appreciate the time and effort David Anderson took in writing his tribute about Chief Saunders.
While at times I have found David difficult to take, I have also found him to be direct and honest. In the writing of his thoughts on Chief Saunders, he has penned a sincere, moving and honest remembrance of a good and honorable man.
We can all agree on the goodness and honor of Chief Saunders. Let’s leave it at that.
Kristy J. Kernen says
While I am sorry that Steve S. was not fortunate enough to know Larry Saunders, the other people who have commented on his life did so with love and affection and admiration for all his good and kind works for our community.
Because Steve S. doesn’t know the details of David’s first tribute, many of us do, I think the point of the story was lost to him and he didn’t think outside the box.
These comments should be a “Tribute” about Larry and correcting incorrect information. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but unless one knows both sides of the story, wrong conclusions can be reached.
David Wilson says
Miss You Chief Saunders, A True Community Policing Supporter and Innovator.