AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin Police Department Sgt. Tim Kresta can recount details from each of APD’s line-of-duty deaths during his multi-decade tenure with the department. He remembers each person’s name, face, cause of death and interactions with the officers during their time on the force.
He helps handle the benefits for officers who have passed while serving. But for Rick Randall, APD’s senior chaplain, his memory often lingers on the families of the fallen officers who are left behind.
“A funeral’s obviously one of the most emotional and intimate moments in a family’s life,” Randall said. “Normally, funerals are fairly private services with intimate family and friends attending. What makes a police funeral different is you have all of those components, and then you add the public part.”
Randall has served as APD’s chaplain for 23 years as part of his 44-year ministry service. Most of the services he’s overseen have been for retired officers.
However, within the past decade, APD has lost five officers in the line of duty — in addition to two officers lost last week to COVID-19.
“In a very real sense, the line of duty deaths represent the real cost of keeping our communities safe,” he said.
APD officials confirmed to KXAN Monday that Sr. Officer Randy Boyd and Sr. Sgt. Steve Urias will be counted as line-of-duty deaths within the force, with benefits working the same for them as for officers lost in car accidents, shootings or other circumstances.
The two marked the first officers to die from COVID-19 during the past 18 months of the coronavirus pandemic. Statewide, 130 Texas police officers have died from COVID-19, as of Aug. 27.
Texas leads the nation with the highest number of COVID-19 deaths in police officers, according to data compiled by the Fraternal Order of Police. Out of the 581 police officer deaths from the virus documented nationally, Texas’ statistics make up 22.4% of all COVID-19 deaths.
Under APD, active line-of-duty deaths result in specific protocols to honor the fallen officers during funeral processions, including a rifle salute, flyover, the folding of the flag and the traditional bagpipes playing “Amazing Grace.” Each of these details fall in line through collaborations between Randall, APD’s Honor Guard and city or state officials, among others.
Alongside these specific protocols comes the logistics of where best to host the public service. For some fallen officers, visitors travel from across the state and even beyond to pay their final respects.
Locally, APD works with several religious organizations that have larger capacities as well as have expressed interest to hosting these services. Shoreline Church and Hill Country Bible Church have both frequently hosted APD-related services.
“I think it’s a perfect blend of our heart to partner with the community and honor those brave men and women who have literally laid down their lives to serve our community, as well as a combination of that heart with the very practical reality that we have a facility that is large enough to handle the kind of funerals of this type that unfold in our community,” said Robert Koke, lead pastor of Shoreline Church.
Dependent on the wishes of the fallen officers’ families, Randall said APD might facilitate one public service before the family and loved ones of the fallen can have their own separate, private ceremony.
Nestled off East 14th Street within the Texas Capitol grounds is the Texas Peace Officers Memorial, honoring those who have died while on the line of duty. Twenty-three APD officers’ names are currently etched within the memorial, of the 25 officers who had been killed in the line of duty as of KXAN’s interview with Randall Aug. 25.
During the interview, word of Boyd’s passing came, with Urias’ death confirmed Aug. 26.
Hundreds of names mark the walls of the Texas Peace Officers Memorial, from as early as 1875. The state will be expanding the memorial to add names to the back of the wall — a visual reminder of the lives lost in sacrifice.
“I think the great tragedy is as you look at these walls, it’s full,” Randall said, adding, “This is an appropriate expression on the part of the members of the state of Texas, on the part of law enforcement all across the state, to say we will never forget what you gave in in the line of duty.”