Fallen police officer Sgt. Don Campbell remembered

Fundraising campaign to help Campbell’s family reaches nearly half its goal

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Fallen police officer Sgt. Don Campbell remembered

Retired Long Beach Police Department officer Sgt. Don Campbell, who died Jan. 16

Retired Long Beach Police Department officer Sgt. Don Campbell, who died Jan. 16

Courtesy LBPOA

Retired Long Beach Police Department officer Sgt. Don Campbell, who died Jan. 16

Courtesy LBPOA

Courtesy LBPOA

Retired Long Beach Police Department officer Sgt. Don Campbell, who died Jan. 16

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On the morning of Wednesday, Jan. 16, retired police Sgt. Don Campbell parked in front of the Long Beach Police Department’s (LBPD) east-division substation at Willow Street and Grand Avenue. He then shot himself in the chest around 10:47am and died at the scene.

Campbell had retired a little more than one year ago, in December 2017, after 28 years of police service, during which he received several commendations.

The following day, fellow retired LBPD officer John McBride set up a fundraising campaign to support the wife and children that the 60-year-old Campbell left behind in Lakewood.

“Sgt. Campbell was in the process of having a room addition built for himself and his beloved wife, Terri, at the time of his passing,” McBride states on the GoFundMe site. “We would like to assist his wife in finishing this project, as well as help offset funeral costs.”

The campaign– the Sgt. Don Campbell’s Family Relief Fund– has raised about $23,500 as of Jan. 31, almost half its goal of $50,000, with contributions by 181 people.

The Long Beach Police Officer’s Association (LBPOA) says it will also hold a memorial service for Campbell on Saturday, Feb. 9, at the Arbor Road Church in Long Beach.

According to the LBPOA, Campbell began with the LBPD after graduating from the Police Academy in November 1989, working in a variety of assignments, including patrol officer, field officer, narcotics enforcement, gang detail and SWAT (special weapons and tactics).

Campbell was also the lead instructor for LBPD’s first AR-15 (rifle) certification course and a certified “less lethal” instructor.

In June 2000, the LBPD promoted Campbell to the rank of Sgt., at which time he returned to the patrol bureau and was assigned to the South Division Community Policing Team. 

A year later, in 2001, Campbell returned to the LBPD’s special-enforcement section (SES) as a supervisor and then to gang enforcement in March 2003, where he continued to work for 14 years until he retired at the end of 2017.

“Throughout his career, Don amassed approximately 100 commendations from peers, supervisors, other law enforcement agencies, and community organization,” the LBPOA states. “Don received three Class A Meritorious Awards for Heroism, one Class B Meritorious Award, two Class C Meritorious Awards, the SWAT Commitment in Excellence Award and the Richard A. Rose Career Achievement Award.”

The LBPOA further states that Campbell was nominated for the Public Safety Officer Medal of Valor, the highest national award that could be bestowed upon a public-safety officer.

Prior to his law-enforcement career, Campbell worked in construction and became an expert in foundation-, framing- and finish-carpentry. He continued building during his tenure with the LBPD, helping fellow officers and friends with their projects, according to the LBPOA.

“Don was a truly respected friend, peer, mentor and supervisor to many throughout his career,” the LBPOA states. “He will be greatly missed.”

Jim Foster, president of the LBPOA, told the Signal Tribune that Campbell’s closest friends preferred not to be interviewed for this story.

Courtesy Kerry Parker
Retired Long Beach Police Department officer Sgt. Don Campbell (right), in an undated photo posted on the Long Beach Police Officers Association social-media site, died Jan. 16.

“They pointed out that Don was a very private man who would have preferred to leave his private life out of the newspaper,” Foster said. “I am told the response of the friends reflects the family wishes.”

But the nearly 500 comments on the campaign website and LBPOA’s social-media page reflect how Campbell touched many lives, both within and outside of the police department.

One commenter, Scott McDonell, wrote that he grew up going to church with Campbell, playing sports and attending Boy Scout activities, and posted a 1975 yearbook photo of Campbell as a sophomore at Wilson High School.

Several police officers posted that he was a “cop’s cop.”

Tim Everts wrote that Campbell, whom he calls DC, was inspirational to him and other police officers.

“Scott Destefano and I wanted to recognize a true legend,” Everts commented. “DC inspired us and other street cops to try and do the job like him. DC was fearless and loved to crush crime. We’ll miss you, DC.”

Aaron J. Gibbs wrote: “He was a great officer to look up to when I first started. He was a hero of mine. A true warrior.”

Bob Correia wrote on LBPOA’s social-media site that Campbell was one of the best cops he had ever worked with in SES and SWAT.

“He was a leader who led by example,” Correia said. “He mentored me and many others on the SWAT team. He was a true tactician. When Don Campbell and John McBride pulled up to assist, you knew everything was going to be alright. Don had a great sense of humor, and we had a lot of laughs during squad meetings, SWAT training days and debriefs in the park. Don Campbell was fearless.”

McBride also shared his personal sentiments on Campbell.

“Don and I were in the academy together,” McBride stated. “We worked patrol together for years, along with being partners in SES and were also brothers off the job. Don by far was the toughest smartest guy that ever wore a badge.”

Silent epidemic
Suicides like Campbell’s are not rare. Recent studies have found that the average suicide rate among police officers and other first responders is higher than among civilians– and also less talked about.

There were 140 police suicides in 2017, numbering more than the 129 police officers who died in the line of duty, according to a 2018 review of the mental health and suicide of first responders by the Ruderman Family Foundation, a philanthropic organization.

The foundation’s review finds that suicide in this group results from mental illness stemming from constant exposure to death and destruction. It cites a study showing that police officers witness 188 “critical incidents” on average during their careers, which can lead to PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and depression rates five times higher than in the general population.

Several barriers prevent first-responders from accessing necessary mental-health services to help them cope with trauma, according to the foundation’s review, including a lack of public awareness, which reinforces the silence.

“Experts describe the shame and stigma surrounding mental health within professions that prioritize bravery and toughness,” the foundation states. “The public remains largely unaware of these issues, since the vast majority of first-responder suicides are not covered by the mainstream media.”

Of the 18,000 law-enforcement agencies across the nation, only three to five percent have suicide-prevention training programs, the review finds.

And while the suicide rate is higher among working officers than those retired, suicide-prevention efforts are necessary for both groups, according to another 2011 study.

“Suicide is a clear indication of the intolerable strain placed on the police officer’s life, both during and after the work experience,” the study found. “All too often, the dangers of police work are emphasized, leading to the neglect of the hidden psychological danger of this profession. It is timely to address this ‘other side’ of police work with educational and prevention efforts.”

In the meantime, on the funding-campaign’s site for Campbell’s family, McBride expressed his thanks for the public’s donations so far.

“The men and women of our law enforcement, of our community, our friends and families, are about the best humanity has to offer,” McBride said. “We will always have each other’s back.”

To contribute to the Sgt. Don Campbell’s Family Relief Fund, visit gofundme.com.