Sgt. Rick Tanner. What can I really say about the man that hasn’t already been said? I didn’t think I could say anymore about Rick than those that knew him better than I did, until I reflected on my recent ride with him.
I wrote about the ride from an observer’s position, concentrating on a night in the life of the police department. I loved doing it. It offered the public a real and fair look into what they do while we sleep. It was an amazing experience and very eye-opening. Happy, sad, disappointing, and reassuring, all at the same time
However, in between those calls on that ride and my previous ride with him, I actually got to know Rick pretty well. It was in that last ride, that Rick opened up to me about some things. To be completely honest, I really did not think they were overly important other than from an informational stand point and causal banter between friends at that time. But two weeks after the ride, it became incredibly obvious that the statements were an insight to Rick Tanner as a human and how he felt about his job, his town, and various people in his life. This is the story of a night in the life of Sgt. Rick Tanner.
One of the first things I remembered after hearing of Rick passing was something he shared about one of his bosses, Lt. Eric Holtzclaw. On that evening, Holtzclaw came out from behind his desk and shirt and tie, put on his uniform and was out trolling for drunk drivers.
“He has this crazy ability to sniff them out,” Tanner said. “He is like a DUI Whisperer or something.” He went on, “But what’s cool about him is that he is not afraid to ditch the suit and desk and actually get back out and do police work. I have learned a whole lot from him.” He added, “I admire him a lot for getting out. It means a lot to the guys too.”
The day Tanner died, I emailed the Lieutenant and shared with him those views that Tanner had about him. I knew it would be tough for anyone to hear that soon, but at the same time, I knew I had to share it before any of it escaped my memory.
For the Lieutenant’s part, he thanked me for imparting Rick’s thoughts. He commented about how much Rick and him talked and shared things. Lt. Holtzclaw encouraged this article, and I really want to thank him for that encouragement.
Rick told me his journey on how he became a policeman. He initially didn’t really want to do it, but he worked security and soon found that he did like that kind of work. He said he was proud of how the Department had changed and developed over the time he had been with Enid. “We have some good guys and gals here. Team effort,” he said. He praised Chief O’Rourke and his efforts from when he was in Narcotics on up to Chief. “He’s always tried to do good for the Department. We haven’t always agreed, but that’s just part of it….”
At some point, our conversations inevitably would nearly always turn to football. He brought up Austin Box. “You know, I had it all wrong with that whole thing.” I asked what he was referring to and he said that he, “had misjudged the circumstances around how Austin passed and even the Austin Box Foundation itself.” He had based his opinion on his years dealing with people in narcotics and prescription drugs. He said, “I didn’t realize what the foundation was doing to educate about prescriptions and that’s great! Kids don’t realize the dangers. If they help get that word out, that would be really cool!” I agreed with him and talked with him about the Foundation. I asked him if he had seen Champion Park. “No, can we go look at it?” he asked me. I looked at him, sorta dumbfounded. “Uh, you’re in charge Tanner.” “Let’s go! Tell me where it is,” he said. I navigated him to the park. He used his lights to light the park up so he could see it.. He was in awe. We had to get out. “This is amazing!” he said. “Yeah, it is. This is what Enid could have had if we passed the bond issue,” I said. He ignored me like he was a kid in Wonka’s factory. “I’ve got to bring the kids over here!”
I had planned on asking him his thoughts on the people under him on Patrol. But during the ride, he gave me my answer without prompting. Officer Sean Dyer was working that night. We had just spoke with Dyer when he told me, “He’s going to be a helluva cop one day. He really already is, he just doesn’t know it.” Dyer is a very even keeled guy from my own observation, but that didn’t stop Tanner from trying to stir him up. He gave Dyer a nickname based on the way Dyer appeared to him. I can not and will not share that nickname, because it belongs to Dyer. And beyond that, it’s slightly inappropriate given the circumstances. But that was kind of how Tanner could be…slightly inappropriate given the circumstances. Always joking when it was ok. Serious when needed. He also mentioned one of the Department’s newest officers, Officer Sam Chenausky. “Smart.as.hell.” I concurred.
That last night, we happen to spend some time with Sheriff Jerry Niles. Niles spent some time showing us some new office space that the County will be utilizing. He told me as we got back into the patrol car, “Niles is a good guy. I’m so glad he won.” Something I had already assumed based on my experiences with the Sheriff, but coming from Tanner, it seemed to validate it even further.
He had a special place in his sense of humor for the other sergeants of the night shift that he worked with. This wasn’t something he told me, it was easy to see on both nights. There was humor, but there was a great deal of respect.
For Captain Dean Grassino, the captain over his division, he said that he was very detail oriented. “He likes things done…..” and then we received a call. We didn’t get back to talking about the Captain. However, I could tell by his tone that it was a positive statement.
But really, the bulk of the night, that last night was Rick showing and telling me about his other life. This was something he did not do the first time out. He told me of his father and how proud he was of the business his Dad had built. “Although, it totally pisses me off that he can make in 3 months what I make in a year! Can you believe that? 3 months!,” he half yelled. He expressed some concern over how much longer his father would be able to run the business. But then, in hilarious Tanner fashion wandered back and he said, “3 damn months!!”
Not long after that discussion, Tanner zoomed into a neighborhood and I got turned around. I had no idea where I was. He would occasionally do that and turn to me and ask if I knew where we were. That is something they do to new cops to test them. He was not testing me this time. The next thing I know is he is rolling slow and shining a light on a house. The house was already well lit and seemed to be in a nice neighborhood. “That’s my house,” he said. “I patrol it every night. Gotta check on them.”
We began talking about our families. We spoke of our sons playing football. By some twist of fate, our sons had played against each other in a scrimmage the night before and we had no knowledge of it at that time. Tanner was so proud of the way his son had played, even though he only got to see an hour of the scrimmage before his shift began.
He told me about his daughter Emily, who he said was, “really, really, smart.” On our previous ride, we had driven past the EHS University Center. He did not know what was being built at the time as it was in the very early stages of construction. I explained to him what it was intended to be and all the benefits that would result from the construction. “That’s cool! My daughter can get in there and that would be awesome!”
Despite his bragging, I could tell that he would forever be proud of his kids, no matter if they scored touchdowns on my kid‘s team or if they made it to the University Center at EHS. While those small things made him proud, it would never change how he saw them. They were his pride and joy.
Then, he pulled out a picture, and showed it to me. “That’s me a few years ago.” The picture did not resemble Tanner too much to me. I mean, I could tell it was him, but he was pretty muscular. “And check this out,” he said. “This is my wife.” He showed me a picture of his wife Shawna. I looked at the picture and then looked back at him because I was quite sure he was joking. He was beaming with pride. “Are you f’n kidding me Tanner?!” I said. Now, at this point, I legally could have been arrested for assaulting a police officer as I smacked him as best I could from the extreme comfort of my vest. “How in the heck did you land that?” I quizzed him. He just laughed that Rick Tanner laugh and said, “I know right? I’m a lucky dude.”
No, Rick. We were lucky. We all were. For whatever role you played in our lives, small or large, we were lucky to have known you and have you around us. We all learned something from you and will all miss you terribly.