In coming days, Chicagoans will witness something they dread but occasionally endure: the funeral of a police officer killed in the line of duty. His name was Cmdr. Paul Bauer. He was 53. The married father of a 13-year-old daughter. His colleagues said he was the best of the best.
A police officer’s funeral is a stirring pageant of solidarity. A tribute to a fallen comrade. A time for crisp salutes and unrestrained tears. Bauer is the first officer slain in the line of duty since the 2011 fatal shooting of Officer Clifton Lewis in an Austin neighborhood convenience store. Since the 1850s, these killings of police have occurred in spasms separated by long stretches in which everyone goes home safe.
On Tuesday (Feb. 13), not everyone went home safe. On Tuesday, the regular rhythms of the Chicago Loop stopped cold.
Gunfire. Officer down. Suspect in custody.
Ashen-faced Chicago police clustered on sidewalks — cold tears on blue coats — around the Thompson Center and at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. Streets were blocked by yellow tape; traffic clotted; pedestrians gathered in knots to talk and gawk. The entire Loop seemed like a crime scene. Because it was.
You’ve heard what happened. Bauer, a 31-year Chicago Police Department veteran, had joined the foot chase of a suspect, a four-time felon. Bauer confronted the man, who opened fire. The suspect was wearing a protective vest and had an arrest record dating to at least 1994. Much more to come on that.
This shooting hits hard because of where it happened — the generally safe Loop — and because it happened to a high-ranking officer who just as easily could have been behind a desk.
Bauer was on his way to a meeting with two Chicago aldermen to discuss cooperation between the Near North District and Northwestern University police. He’d just attended “active shooter” training that prepares officers for mass shootings.
He could have kept walking to his meeting. He’d have made it home to his wife and daughter. Instead, he joined the chase. Because he was a cop.
Now there will be a funeral.
You’ll read more in coming days about Bauer and how he tried to make the city safer. About why a repeat felon was again menacing Chicago’s streets. About Bauer’s haunting remarks just months ago, expressing his frustration that repeat offenders aren’t locked behind bars for longer stretches. About what can and should be done about that by lawmakers and the courts.
But that’s for another day. Today, we remember not just Bauer but all the dedicated officers who help protect this city.
Soon Bauer’s star will join hundreds of others in a somber display at police headquarters, 3510 S. Michigan Ave. This is a shrine to courage that all Chicagoans should visit. If you’ve been in the Chicago area for a while, you may remember some of the names. Michael Ceriale. John Knight. James Camp. Brian Strouse. Eric Lee. Donald Marquez Sr. Richard Francis. All of them CPD officers killed in the line of duty.
Now, Paul Bauer.
Every police officer wakes each morning wondering if this will be the day that he or she doesn’t return home. After a fatal shooting, the usual admonitions to “stay safe” and “be careful out there” carry greater urgency. Some of these officers, who joined the department in recent years, have never experienced a funeral for a fallen colleague from the inside.
We hope they never do again.
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