Remembering Santa Monica Police Officer Rashad Riley
April 19, 2019
by Rick Cole
Officer Rashad Riley came home yesterday.
If you knew him, you would not forget him. His attitude, his warmth and his smile were incandescent.
As Chief Renaud informed the larger City family this week, Officer Riley had only served with the department for three years. Yet he had an outsized impact on all he encountered. The tragic circumstances of his death have devastated the Santa Monica Police Department family.
His drowning in Hawaii comes just a few weeks after longtime Rent Control staff member Beth Leder-Pack passed in her sleep. Both were vibrant, bigger than life personalities. Both were devoted parents. Both were deeply dedicated to serving our community.
Among the things that colleagues have been saying about Rashad this week is that “no one can say a bad word about him.” He transformed even casual interactions into moments of caring and connection.
When he applied to join the Santa Monica Police Department, there were 1,000 candidates in the system. He was one of two hired at the time. He was a natural. His supervisor on the Homeless Liaison Program, Sgt. Aklufi, nominated him last year as Officer of the Year, calling him “a force of nature.”
Even as we mourn, there’s a silver thread in the darkness. We were fortunate to have him among us. We are blessed and grateful for who he was, what he stood for and how he touched our lives.
The Santa Monica Police Department sets the bar high: the benchmark for excellence. That spirit infuses not only what they do, but particularly how they do it. If you were looking for the face of modern policing, it was Rashad. He and his colleagues on the HLP team have established the gold standard for compassionate problem-solving. He loved that work and his enthusiasm inspired others.
Only a few people know the world of law enforcement first hand. The rest of us are all subjected to an endless stream of media images and stories dominated by sordid crime, sensationalized violence, and rank cynicism. Police operate under unremitting scrutiny. It amplifies wrongs -- and takes for granted the sacrifices we ask of those who work to protect us. That incessant bombardment of distorted imagery inevitably colors our view of policing. That’s an injustice to the character and dedication of those who work in law enforcement, sworn and civilian.
The real world of 21st Century policing tells a thousand different stories – of smart analysis, empathetic response and resilient courage. Real progress has been made to embrace diversity, protect Constitutional rights and build community trust. Santa Monica PD has long been at the forefront of that advance.
Police have demanding jobs. In a nanosecond, what looks like routine work can be transformed into a life-altering test of every fiber of an officer's skill, training, and character. It is the rare person among us who can meet that test – and the even rarer person who can do it with the energy and exuberance of Rashad Riley. That the Santa Monica Police Department has so many of his caliber -- that is rarest of all. Understandably, everyone at SMPD is taking this hard. Let’s stand with them as they grieve – and as they continue to do their jobs to protect us and our community.
And say a prayer for Rashad’s family. Maya and Rashad met when they were in high school. She was there on the beach when he signaled for help. Now she’ll be raising 4-year-old Sunny, 6-year-old Austin, and 14-year-old Ty without him.
There are mysteries in life that don’t lend themselves to glib explanations. There are also precious joys and memories for us to cherish. Rashad left lots of those. That’s what we are left with and we are thankful for the consolation they bring in this time of tears.
The funeral for Rashad will be this coming Thursday, April 25 at 1 pm at Saint Monica's Church, 701 California St. Police Chaplain Joseph Metoyer will be conducting the service.
In support of the Riley Family, the Santa Monica Police Officers Association (SMPOA) has established a GoFundMe page for donations. Please contact SMPOA Office at firstname.lastname@example.org or (310) 393-1003 regarding donations by check.