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Editorial: Slain officer’s son — ‘I have never seen it this bad’

Officer Kurt Kaner of the Chicago Police Marine Unit in DuSable Harbor in Chicago in 2013. | Alex Wroblewski~Sun-Times

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It’s a lot tougher these days for loved ones to watch police officers head out the door to work.

Last week saw funerals for five Dallas police officers. This week, there will be funerals for three officers slain in Baton Rouge. Nationwide, police officer deaths by gunfire are up 94 percent this year.

Much of the recent news coverage about cops has focused on cases when policing has gone wrong. Unjustifiable shootings. Excessive stopping and frisking, often along racial lines. Cops covering up for each other.

Those are real problems, not imaginary, as we have written many times. It would be wrong to pretend otherwise.

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But families of police officers worry — as we should all worry — about a growing anti-cop national mood, one in which more Americans fail to appreciate that vast majority of good cops who just go out and perform admirably every day. They put their lives on the line for us, yet they are disdained.

As Baton Rouge Police Officer Montrell Jackson posted on Facebook on July 8, just days before he was shot and killed: “ … In uniform I get nasty, hateful looks and out of uniform some consider me a threat. … ”

The hateful looks — the bitter anger — are what worry the relatives. No husband or wife or son or daughter wants to open the door to their home to see an assembled group of somber police officers, perhaps accompanied by a religious leader from church.

“It is the most devastating feeling, without them having spoken a word yet,” said Shelly Perez, whose husband, the father of her three young children, was killed accidentally by a train while on a stakeout in 2002. “You know it is going to be bad, and you know your life is never going to be the same again. … It hurts that my husband can’t be there to watch his son pitch at high school games and can’t attend graduations and weddings.”

A chaplain and uniformed officers came to the door in 1970 when Kurt Kaner was 5 to tell the family that Kurt’s father, Kenneth G. Kaner, had been ambushed and fatally shot with a stolen sawed-off shotgun in Englewood while he was filling out a missing-person report.

“I never knew what it was like to have a father,” said Kurt Kaner, now 52. “I would see other families with fathers, and that is where I would learn what I had missed.”

“You miss him at all the big events. Birthdays. Christmases,” he said. “But it is the little ones that more important, the times when you want counsel.”

Pauline Kaner in 1988 displays the badge of her husband, Kenneth, a Chicago police officer who was slain in 1970. |Tom Cruze, Sun-Times
Pauline Kaner in 1988 displays the badge of her husband, Kenneth, a Chicago police officer who was slain in 1970. |Tom Cruze, Sun-Times

Kurt’s mother, Pauline Kaner, kept herself strong for the family, but was devastated by the loss, he said.

Now, he feels like he is getting his first chance at a father-son bond with his own son, playing ball, going to shows and engaging in other family activities.

Kurt Kaner has been a Chicago Police officer for 22 years, and he’s married to a police officer. It took him a long time to overcome the fears and become a police officer father. His 6-year-old son wants to be a police officer, too. But Kaner hopes he changes his mind.

“I have never seen it this bad where officers are worried about their safety,” he said.

Kaner cherishes a letter of condolence from Chicago Police Officer James Alfano Jr., written when Kaner’s father was slain. Alfano wrote that Kaner’s father’s work was of great worth to Chicago. But two months later, Alfano also was gunned down in the line of duty.

The shock of his father’s death hit Kaner perhaps the worst when a family German shepherd his father had trained grew old and had to be put down. It felt as though the final link to his father was gone, and he cried for three days.

“I didn’t realize until I went to college and took a psychology course that people don’t always grieve right away, maybe not until something triggers it years later,” said Kaner, who, like Perez, is active in the Gold Star Society, which honors fallen Chicago police officers.

Police reform is more than important. It’s critical to creating a fairer society. We must continue to push.

But every day, we ask police officers to go out and do a dangerous and difficult job. Their families worry every time the doorbell rings, and we should worry with them.

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