Editor’s note: The St. Helena Star is a sibling paper to The Weekly Calistogan.
This is a tough time to be a cop.
The shootings of young black men by a few officers have led some protesters to tar all police as racist street executioners. Officers have been ambushed and killed in Dallas and Baton Rouge, by shooters blinded by anti-police hate.
Most of us face occupational hazards at our job: we can develop carpal tunnel from sitting at the computer too long, or throw out our back by trying to lift too many cases of wine. Agricultural equipment can pose some pretty serious hazards for vineyard workers.
But imagine the courage and mental toughness it would take to clock in to work every day knowing that you might encounter the most vicious members of our society, who would kill you without a second thought out of desperation or hate, simply because of the uniform you wear and the profession you’ve chosen.
That risk is very real, even here in the Upvalley, as we were reminded after last week’s apprehension of two armed robbery suspects here in Calistoga.
When Calistoga Police Officer Luis Paniagua saw an SUV matching the description of the one driven by the two suspects, one of them started shooting at him. Paniagua responded by ramming one of the suspects with his patrol car, injuring him and eliminating a major threat to the public.
Neighboring law enforcement agencies, including the St. Helena Police Department, responded in force, putting their training to work during an intense manhunt that ended with the second suspect being arrested without further violence.
Two extremely dangerous men are now off the streets, and will probably remain so for many years, thanks to the heroism of Paniagua and all the other officers who participated.
What better time than this, when virulent anti-police sentiment is rampant, to acknowledge the dedication of our local cops?
It’s easy to take their courage for granted, especially in a safe places like St. Helena or Calistoga. We count on them to track down our neighbor’s yapping dogs, check the decibel level on that annoying leaf blower a few houses down, and investigate the occasional property crime.
None of that seems particularly brave or heroic, and we can feel downright annoyed at the police when we get pulled over for doing 35 mph on Spring Street or rolling through that stop sign at Washington and Berry.
But on those rare days when violent criminals are on the loose, the police are our first and only line of defense. And every time they show up to work, it’s with the understanding that today could be that day.
So the next time you hear the word “police,” don’t think of racially charged shootings or that sinking feeling you get when you see red and blue lights flashing behind you on Silverado Trail.
Think of Luis Paniagua, and the split-second decision he made to risk his own life and protect ours.