Farewell to a Public Servant
I grew up in Mammoth. I attended Mammoth Elementary School starting in kindergarten, and I graduated from Mammoth High School. I joined the United States Marine Corps after high school in hopes of achieving one lifelong goal. I wanted to be a police officer. From my earliest memories I knew law enforcement was my calling. On October 17, 1992 at 21 years old I was sworn in as a Mammoth Lakes Reserve Police Officer.
It was then I met, and had the opportunity to get to know, Lieutenant Jim Short. Of course Jim was just a police officer back then, but I would soon learn he was anything but an ordinary police officer. Jim was assigned as my Field Training officer. It was his job to teach me how to be a police officer. One of the first things Jim taught me was just what that meant. You see Jim believed that being a police officer was one of the most honorable professions anyone could aspire to. Honor was a big deal to Jim. Jim’s mother was a traditional Japanese woman who instilled in him a belief that above all one should live an honorable life. In Jim’s words, “Rob, do the right thing.”
Jim explained to me, as police officers we are entrusted with certain duties and obligations. I will never forget the gravity with which Jim explained to me, as a police officer the public entrusted me with the power to take away their freedom, and in the most extreme cases their very lives in the performance of my duties. Jim then looked at me, and as serious as I ever saw him told me, those powers entrusted to me came with an unyielding obligation to be above reproach in my professional and personal life. Again Jim told me, “Rob, do the right thing.”
I rode with Jim day in and day out while in the FTO program and then as a partner officer for three and half years. Jim shared his philosophies about law enforcement and life with me. Just a few of the philosophies Jim taught me was, it was better to be the tiger then the lion, no matter what, when the handcuffs went on the fight was over, and the most important thing we do in a shift is go home to our families. You see Jim knew first hand how awful it was when you didn’t.
Jim started his career with the West Covina Police Department when he was only 20 years old. He worked there with his best friend Kenny. Jim and Kenny went to the academy together. They worked the streets together and learned to endure the struggles and hardships of police work together. Jim was at home asleep after working a shift when he got the call. Kenny had been shot in the face by distraught drug crazed man who had ripped the shotgun out of his patrol car. Kenny died on the concrete of the 10 freeway in West Covina, and Jim would never forget the lessons his friend’s death taught him. Jim shared this story with me in greater detail, and I am sure with some measure of pain in reliving it, for one reason. Jim never wanted to receive a call like that again. I have never forgotten Kenny’s story or the lessons I learned from his sacrifice, thanks to Jim.
On one occasion I was with Jim at the police department when a female in her 40’s knocked on the door. The woman was crying and had been battered. She was an unemployed teacher who was living in Mammoth with her boyfriend. She explained she had been in the abusive relationship for some time and on that morning he hit her again. This woman was broken and traumatized. Jim took her into one of the offices and spoke to her for over an hour. At the time I didn’t realize how extraordinary that was. You see police officers handle literally thousands of domestic batteries in their careers. They have heard every story, more times then they can remember, and yet there was Jim in that room, listening and caring, to what that woman had to say. When Jim finally came out he explained to me we were going to go arrest the suspect for the felony assault. I asked Jim what took so long and he just said, “She needed to talk.”
I didn’t think too much about it at the time. About a year later the department received a thank you letter from that woman. Lieutenant Donnelly read it to us in briefing, and I will never forget it. She wrote that she had moved away from the area, away from her abusive boyfriend, and was teaching again. Her life had been given back to her and she was happier then she had been in years. She said she never would have found the courage to make that move if not for the inspiration she received from Jim, in that office, on that morning. You see Jim cared. He cared about this woman he didn’t know, and about the future she might have. She just needed the courage to do the right thing. Jim had a way of inspiring you to be courageous.
I had been on the department for about a year when a boy had been run over by a drunk driver and lay bloody and unconscious in my hands with a traumatic brain injury. Something about the boy hit home with me and the incident bothered me. I asked Jim if anything ever bothered him and how he dealt with it. Jim explained to me, the best investigators are those that have a personal stake in the case, because they care. He explained the cost is high, taking to heart the loss and pain of those we serve, but it’s that personal pain felt, that drives those of us who are wiling to bear it on, when others would quit. Jim taught me, no matter the cost, “Rob, do the right thing.”
In the three and half years I worked with Jim I saw him do the impossible. Jim could walk into a room full of drunk, screaming, fighting people, say a few words and everyone would calm. He had this ability to talk to people that was almost miraculous. In the time we worked together I never saw Jim escalate a situation. He never had to use physical force to get someone to do what he wanted them to. If the other officers stayed out of the way Jim could talk anyone down. I have never seen his equal.
There wasn’t a technical law enforcement question I had that Jim couldn’t answer off the top of his head. His time on the West Covina Police Department’s SWAT team honed his tactical expertise. Jim took that experience and shared it with us as the department’s range master. The advanced tactics he taught surpassed those available at much larger agencies, and I have no doubt that I am alive today because of the lessons I learned from him.
At the time Mammoth wasn’t hiring full time officers and I needed to get on with my career. I fully intended to return to Mammoth when a position opened up, after all Mammoth was my home. As everyone knows life sometimes has other plans. I ended up becoming a police officer in 200 man department in the greater Los Angeles area. Over the last 17 years I’ve worked as a patrol officer, canine handler, field training officer, robbery/homicide detective, internal affairs detective, and hostage negotiator. I am currently a patrol sergeant supervising a patrol shift, and am in charge of our agency’s hostage negotiations team. I am only one of the many officers Jim trained and mentored over the last 30 years.
I still hear Jim’s voice all the time. I’ve had murderers threaten the lives of my children, been spit at, cussed out, punched, kicked, and shot at. In spite of my emotions and contrary to what I’ve wanted to do on some occasions, I have done the right thing. I have done the right thing when it was not the easy thing. I have done the right thing in no small part because Jim taught me, that doing the right thing is what matters most.
I have had the opportunity to work with thousands of officers from many different agencies at the local, state, and federal level. I say this without any hesitation and with absolute unwavering conviction, Lieutenant Jim Short is the finest, most honorable, ethical, caring, and dedicated police officer I have ever had the honor of working with.
Well done Jim. Congratulations on your retirement. May the rest of your life be filled with the peace and happiness you deserve for the sacrifices you have made in service to others. Know this, your legacy lives on in every one of my trainees and every one of their trainees. They do look at me funny when I tell them to be the tiger and not the lion though.
Sgt. Robert Moritz