Policing any community engenders unbreakable partnerships. The only ones who would know how uniquely bonded together street cops are (and why) would be police academy classmates, cop shop cohorts, and their families. But no two folks knew the depth of that professional solidarity like the two Dallas police officers who showed up in the same police car for the same call and were shot by the same shoplift suspect via the same firearm. One died and the other is still recuperating after surgical excision of the bullet which bore a hole in her face.
On April 24, 2018 a northeast Dallas Home Depot was plastered across screens after an off-duty Dallas cop working security with a Home Depot loss-prevention officer stopped 29-year-old Armando Luis Juarez for shoplifting. In moments pursuant to the in-store detention, the off-duty Dallas cop determined Juarez had an outstanding felony warrant: An automatic arrest, despite whatever he may have stolen from the home furnishings giant.
An on-duty patrol cruiser was summoned to assist in the arrest and to transport, but it went awry when that unit showed up.
Once on-scene, a widely-known quasi-brother/sister duo of crime-fighting partners, Dallas police Officers Crystal Almeida,26, and Rogelio Santander, 27, approached the suspect who brandished a firearm. Nine shots were fired. Both were felled by gunfire from a firearm missed during a pat-down search by the off-duty officer.
A subsequent dragnet ensued which led to a sighting of the shooter’s stolen vehicle. That pursuit was as shortlived as Officer Santander’s hospital stint: After doctors prognosed zero chance of surviving, he succumbed to bullet wounds to the head roughly 16 hours after being transported to Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital.
Officer Almeida remained in critical condition. When she awoke from surgery, her first query was how her partner was doing. She was told the worst possible news.
From tragedy we see potent seeds and strong roots. Rather uniquely, both Santander and Almeida were sworn-in on the same day: December 3, 2014. Both attended the police academy together. Both leaned on each other throughout the rigors of training. Once certified, both hit the streets together. Both completed field training successfully. Whether by fate or pure probability, both wound up assigned to the Dallas police Northeast Patrol Division. Moreover, they were also partnered together.
On swearing-in day, Santander and Almeida, in typical fashion, stood side-by-side with right hands jutted while citing their Police Officers Oath.
And their string of what-are-the-odds factored one more time when both were shot and fell to the ground, together. That partnership is no longer tangible other than the telling from those who witnessed their legacy, with bona fide testimonies from Officer Almeida.
Chemistry of Coppers
Even platonically, some males/females blend best-friend chemistry well. Fellow police officer Senior Corporal John Arnold shared with the media, “It was a car full of laughs every day.” He is referring to Santander’s and Almeida’s uncanny ability to find the humor in otherwise dreadful scenarios. It is often called “dark humor” or “cop humor” used by public safety professionals as an outlet for the PTSD-inducing material experienced daily. Civilians may not get it, but cops surely do. Coping mechanisms may not be readily adaptable for everyone, but that is secondary to what one does to process (survive) grotesque life circumstances on the daily.
Sergeant Tim Lewis boasted of Santander and Almeida, “Those two were like this” as he gestured two fingers crossed. “You would be lucky, lucky if you can make it through a career with one good partner. The relationship that they had, you would be lucky,” Sgt. Lewis highlighted.
The Home Depot encounter is only the latest example. A typically upbeat policeman is no more. His best friend and on-the-job partner will mourn infinitely while carrying a cross and a service weapon. So will the off-duty police officer whose pat-down will be analyzed, the answers from which will remain infinitely elusive.
The silver lining while pushing back crime and overthrowing the dregs of society is quilted by the badge Santander and Almeida sought together.
Some of Officer Almeida’s family members were Dallas cops. Perhaps that was a decent head-start she shared with Santander. Likely so.
The dynamic duo in Dallas were known for driving to the Dallas HQ building where police communications was housed. Honoring their police dispatchers, munchies and drinks were the token gesture to say Thank you for what you do for us. In that silver lining, however, is another looming cloud: A police dispatcher will forever read the imprint on her brain, I sent them there! With this type of incident, I ceased wondering why the cop is the root of the word coping.
The dimensions and layers in the law enforcement profession are often tacit. The silent covenant among police personnel is getting each other home safe. In this case that unspoken agreement reminds us that utopia is not even remotely within reach. Certain elements of humanity force wedges between the boys and girls in blue, those sisters and brothers of the badge, whose valiant efforts have scars galore. Nevertheless, the vigilance will not abate.
Other partnerships will step up. In fact, hard lessons will be gleaned and manifested in police training sessions.
As of this writing, Officer Almeida and The Home Depot loss-prevention officer, Scott Painter, 26, were still listed in critical condition as recovery ensues. Sgt. Smith visited Officer Almeida recently and, as he tells it, she waved and smiled as she saw him enter her hospital room, saying, “I love you, Sarge.” A 47-year old police sergeant who has seen and heard it all sat there and wept with a wounded warrior’s hand in his. There is that passion for policing again, glinting from badges whose wearers diligently go forward despite fallen comrades.
According to the Dallas Police Department, Officer Rogelio Santander’s public visitation church service is today at the Cathedral Shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe from 6p.m.-9 p.m. His police funeral will be held at Lake Pointe Church on Tuesday, May 1st at 11 a.m., followed by a 21-gun salute at Officer Santander’s burial site at the Garden of Honor at Restland Cemetery in Dallas.