The Rock

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This is Kevin Roderick with LA Observed on KCRW.

At 11 o’clock this morning, the Los Angeles TV stations that do news switched live to the funeral of a cop.

randal_simmons-lapd.jpgRandal Simmons was the LAPD officer killed last week in the West Valley.

He went into a house where a barricaded maniac had already murdered three family members. There was a woman stuck inside, maybe more people as far as he knew.

Picture the scene. It was after midnight – dark – and the scene was in chaos. But Randy Simmons led the charge.

He had served the LAPD for 27 years. The last twenty on the Special Weapons and Tactics team.

SWAT. They take on the most threatening assignments that come up in police work.

Simmons had put in more than enough time to retire. Or at least promote into a safer job. But SWAT members called him The Rock. The Reverend.

He was, by all accounts, the exemplar of a professional police officer. Tough -- but a good crisis negotiator. Plugged deeply into the community he served. Devout, and loved by children.

He even had a physique that other officers could never achieve, no matter how many weights they lifted or laps they ran at the Academy. Chiseled by God, ex-chief Bernard Parks said.

Simmons became the first Los Angeles SWAT officer ever to be killed during an operation.

Most of the department’s officers – and delegations from around the country – came today to fill the Faith Dome on South Vermont.

But the wishes of grieving men and women in blue to pay their respects isn’t the only reason the services were packed ten thousand strong. Or that the streets of South Los Angeles were clogged with police motorcycles and onlookers.

Simmons didn’t just live his life enforcing the law. That would have been good enough, as Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said during the funeral. But he was much more.

At his church in Carson, Glory Christian Fellowship, Simmons led an outreach ministry called Glory Kids that he started with his own money. They were there today too, walking behind his casket, wearing t-shirts with his image on them that read Our Hero.

Univision has been interviewing South LA children in Spanish who talked about how much they will miss Randy.

It seems as if everyone in the city knew Simmons. Actor Lou Gosset, Jr. worked with him on youth programs. Tom LaBonge, the City Councilman from the Loz Feliz area, coached Simmons years ago on the department’s Centurions football team.

Villaraigosa said from the Faith Dome pulpit that he’s proud to be mayor of a city that bears the footprint of this giant of a man.

Yet I made a quick search of the Los Angeles Times news archives dating back to 1985. Nothing. No mentions of Randal Simmons until he died.

Not to pick on the Times. It’s the same with Lexis-Nexis. Nothing in the mainstream media. Chief Bill Bratton admitted during the funeral that even he had no idea of the presence that his officer left on the community.

There is lesson in this for all of the local media, websites included. But especially for the Times, which remains the most potent news-gathering operation in Southern California.

The paper named a new editor this week who’s talking about improving the coverage of, not just Iraq and Washington, but of....Los Angeles.

He’s not the first new editor to promise better coverage at home, but today’s outpouring in South LA could be used as something of a wake-up call.

The paper gets better online numbers for the latest news on Britney Spears than for what happens below the Ten Freeway.

But the community would be better served by knowing about people like Simmons. His wife – now his widow -- called Randy the greatest man she ever met. We need to find room to talk about people like that while they are still alive.

For KCRW this has been Kevin Roderick with LA Observed.

Banner image: Glory Christian Fellowship