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Lots changed in Ceres with Jan. 9, 2005 shooting
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Jan. 9 marks the five-year anniversary of the tragic shooting of two Ceres police officers. During the evening of Jan. 9, 2005, Sergeant Howard K. Stevenson was ruthlessly shot to death by an armed assailant - a local person with known gang ties, who called the police saying that he needed help. As the officers arrived to George's Liquors (on Caswell near Central Avenue) to provide their assistance, the killer shot the two officers down in cold blood. Then officer and later sergeant Sam Ryno survived the shooting, but suffered serious injuries which led to a lengthy period of physical healing and rehabilitation, along with his early retirement from the police force.

This shooting will never be forgotten. It has left an indelible mark on the surviving officers, the officers' families, all of the city of Ceres employees, and the rest of the community. To say Sgt. Stevenson's death and Sgt. Ryno's injuries were followed by much heartache and pain would be a gross understatement. At the same time, the good people of this community pulled together and expressed tremendous support for their police department. The outpouring of support from people throughout the county, state, and even the country, for this agency and the families of the involved officers was beyond anyone's imagination. It became apparent that the majority of the population tends to remain silent, but when the peoples' senses are outraged, they rise up with purpose and clarity to make their positions known.

For the law enforcement officers of this region, the Jan. 9, 2005 shooting came to symbolize the changing times. We awakened to the knowledge that our society had produced vicious elements that are more than willing to kill its protectors for gang-related purposes or simply for outright hatred of law enforcement personnel. It marked a new low for this society, and in the years that have followed, there have been an unprecedented number of unprovoked killings of police officers. It was previously a societal norm, of sorts, that assaults on police officers were limited to situations where the criminal was avoiding apprehension or engaged in some form of resisting arrest. Now, killing a police officer has become a badge of honor for the some of the lowest elements of our population.

Indeed, this new era of attacking innocent police officers has generated updated officer safety tactics, along with the deployment of more technologically-advanced equipment, firearms and protective gear. And sadly, these changes come with a price - not just a monetary cost, but in terms of making it more difficult for the police and the community to interact with each other. Officers are more cautious during traffic stops, more police units are dispatched to calls that formerly required fewer officers and police uniforms and equipment carried have more of a military appearance than of years past. SWAT teams, while not new to the police industry, have become indispensible units for even the smaller police agencies. Clearly, things have changed from the time when our society did not have such brutal elements in it.

With all candor, the change I have seen in the 36 years of my policing career has been for the worse, and the last decade, in particular, has seen an accelerated rate of societal degradation, increased criminal viciousness and more people who lack the moral "conscience" that makes for a better society.

So, while the loss of Sgt. Howard Stevenson, in its simplest terms, has been a painful journey for his family, friends, co-workers, and community, it was a highly symbolic event in defining a "new" era of civil disrespect, vicious crimes and the deterioration of our society. At the same time, this tragedy resulted in an outpouring of love and support for the officers, their families, and this department that we continue to see now, even five years later.