With a very heavy heart, I watched the tragic news unfold out of Orlando this past weekend.
It was painful for me to hear of the unconscionable loss of life. It made me proud to see law enforcement responding forcefully and effectively to prevent more people from being slaughtered.
But it was also an odd situation for me, being on the other side of things. It was just seven months ago that I found myself front and center after my city of San Bernardino fell victim to a terrorist attack from a husband and wife who shot and killed 14 innocent people.
The Police Foundation asked me to discuss my thoughts and recollections from my time as one of the three leaders charged with managing the chaos of the Dec. 2, 2015 terror attack in San Bernardino, California. Thankfully, I had the good fortune to work hand in hand with San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon and David Bowdich, who at the time was the FBI’s assistant director in charge of the Los Angeles Field Office. (He has since been promoted to the associate deputy director of the FBI.)
The days and weeks – and in all reality, the many months ahead – facing both law enforcement and the people of Orlando will be hard and full of sadness. But as we found in San Bernardino, there will also be moments of progress, an outpouring of love and support from the community, all collectively inspiring hope as they move forward. Time and again, we found that the community wanted to reach out and thank us for our efforts while at the same time check in on how we were doing in the aftermath.
First though, I want to offer my profound condolences to the people of Orlando. What has happened there is a violation in so many horrific ways. But I am sure the people of that city will rally together and make it clear that evil will never defeat the ideals and strengths that make Orlando the fine community that it is.
It’s important to remember that sifting through the devastation is going to take time. Yes, the shooter is dead, just as was the case in San Bernardino. But our investigation led to the indictment of another man on weapons charges. It also led to the indictments of family members of the shooters for a sham marriage that was uncovered as part of our investigation.
People will need to remain patient because there is still much work to be done in Orlando.
An active investigation will limit what authorities can say about the case, but having worked as closely with the FBI as I did in San Bernardino, I know they will release as much pertinent information as quickly as they can. There is also the fact that with 49 innocent people killed and many more wounded, the crime scene is massive and will take time to reconstruct, which will also hamper the release of information. In our case, we had three crime scenes (the original shooting scene involving workers from the San Bernardino County Department of Environmental Health, the shooters’ home, and the neighborhood where authorities took fire from the shooters and ultimately killed them), which could have spread our resources thin, but we were able to work hand in hand with the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department and the FBI to tackle all of them.
I am certain there will be continual news coverage from the local, national and even international media, just as we dealt with in San Bernardino. It was overwhelming and nonstop. Even when most of the media moved on, other media outlets arrived, wanting to do documentaries or other expanded news coverage.
All of the media attention caused some difficulties for us in ways we did not expect. Early on, we were commended for how well we responded to the attack and ensuing gunfight with the killers. But it was interesting how the general mood within an organization can be swayed by even the smallest hints of jealousy and envy. Not everyone is going to receive the same attention. Some might even perceive individuals embellished their role in the effort or tried to capitalize on the recognition.
It is a weird and unexpected dynamic that can undercut an organization. As chief, I tried to find ways to spread around credit so that as many people as possible got recognized. Some traveled to Washington D.C. Others attended a Los Angeles Kings hockey game and were honored on the ice. Still more spoke with or received recognition from community groups throughout our area.
Of course, not everyone can receive the same amounts of attention. I just tried to remind every person in our organization how proud I was of them and how honored our community was of their efforts.
As I read about the mayhem inside the nightclub, it made me think about what our officers encountered upon entering the building where the shooters had opened fire at the training session. The first responders saw things no person should see. Many had lasting memories, the sort that wake you up in the middle of the night or surprise you out of nowhere. It became clear that we needed to get help for our people, which also meant sometimes butting heads with a stigma that seems to be found in most every law enforcement office in the country: The notion that it shows weakness to speak with a mental health professional.
From my perspective, it really is the opposite. In fact, it shows tremendous strength and intelligence to acknowledge when you need the help.
But the law enforcement personnel impacted were not only those who rushed into the training session to engage the shooters or help remove victims for medical treatment. The men and women who manned the dispatch system, conducted investigative and analytical work, and even those who could not respond because they were responsible for other parts of the city, all felt a connection to the tragedy. They all had friends and colleagues who were involved in first responding to the scene and later taking on the shooters in a dramatic firefight televised live on the news.
As a chief, I found that for months I lived and breathed the case. It was all-consuming, and it quickly became clear that it was too much for any individual to shoulder alone.
I am grateful to have a great command staff that not only helped ease the burden but often took the initiative to get things done when necessary. Still, being the police chief means there were added expectations when it came to an incident as dramatic as we faced. The community wanted to hear from me and know that we were going to be okay.
There is also the simple reality that a case involving terrorism thrusts you into a small brotherhood you never wanted to be part of: The law enforcement leader of a city struck by terrorism. These days, when I visit places where I used to be just Jarrod, or just a police officer, or just a police chief, I am now the chief of the community that fell victim to a heinous terrorist attack. It is hard to explain, but it has become an experience that will forever be attached to me, my department, and the city of San Bernardino.
Chief Jarrod Burguan has been with the San Bernardino Police Department since January 1992. Burguan has earned a Masters Degree in Management from the University of Redlands, and POST Command College (Class 53). He also holds a POST Management Certificate.