Owens honored for 28 years
Bart Owens has gone to work for the past 28 years knowing something different will happen every day.
Owens is a police officer. The job hasn’t made him rich, but he’s never needed monetary wealth to enjoy life.
“When I was young I always wanted to be a cop or a cowboy. There weren’t many cowboy jobs out there,” Owens joked. “I was told get a job that you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.”
He followed that advice. When Owens returned from a tour of duty in Vietnam a strong desire to serve, help people and a need to be outside and not stuck behind a desk led him to apply to the Santa Clara Sheriff’s Department. He served seven years in Santa Clara before moving his family to South Lake Tahoe and joining the South Lake Tahoe Police Department in 1977.
“No cop gets into the job to save the world, but, if I can make a small change in someone’s life every day …. we make small impacts and the cumulative effect is greater than you realize,” Owens said.
Impacts that he has made in his job and as an individual in the community put Owens, 50, center stage Wednesday. Cmdr. Owens was honored by his peers with the Arthur Duane Ritter Memorial Officer of the Year award. The award is given to an officer who has devotion to both the profession and the community and to whom others look up to and follow. The self-effacing man was overcome with emotion when Ritter’s widow, Peggy, made the presentation.
“I just want to say how proud I was that I knew Art and that I was his friend,” Owens said.
Ritter died of a heart attack at the age of 52 while playing basketball. Sgt. Bob Mabee and Sgt. Richard Munk are prior recipients of the award.
“I don’t think they had a clue how much this would touch me because we were such good friends,” Owens said after the awards ceremony. “Ritter was a good old-fashioned street cop.”
At first Owens said he felt the selection committee had made the wrong choice.
“I thought it should go to a street cop like Ritter,” Owens explained.
Owens started out on the street, but subsequent promotions eventually put him behind a desk.
“I see myself now more in a support role,” he said. “I’m here making sure everything is in place for the officers on the street. I thought it should go to one of them.”
Even though Owens jokes that after 28 years on the job he is considered a dinosaur by the younger officers, and no longer a street cop he easily recalls being out there.
Owens said he never used to want to stop to eat while he was on patrol because he was having too much fun. One day in Santa Clara County he was enjoying a peanut butter and pickle sandwich in his patrol car when he witnessed a robbery at a 7-Eleven store – not something you see everyday. He cornered the robber in the alley next to the store and drew his weapon on him. It was a successful collar, but in the heat of the moment he’d forgotten all about his lunch. When his commander got a look at the interior of his car there were some questions.
“There was peanut butter and milk smeared all over the car,” Owens said smiling. “But, I caught the guy, and I proved to my commander that it pays to eat lunch in your car.”
There are harder days that stick with him as well. He can easily remember the name of the teen-ager involved in the first fatality he worked. He’ll never forget telling the parents about their daughter’s death.
“I don’t think you ever get used to it,” Owens said. “But, it’s something that would happen whether I was doing this job or not. It chips away at you a little bit. You don’t forget those things, but you don’t dwell on them either.”
Owens does think about the people he works for and with. He was commended by Police Chief Dave Solaro for his willingness to get involved with anything that benefits children in the community. Owens donates his time and energy to the Optimist Club of South Lake Tahoe. He also is a popular speaker in the local classrooms.
When accepting the award Owens gave credit to his wife of 32 years, Chris.
“I couldn’t have done this without her. We met in high school and married at the age of 19, which isn’t suppose to last, and cops are suppose to have a high divorce rate. We beat the odds,” Owens said.
Owens is facing retirement in three years and said he isn’t wishing that time away.
“I will miss law enforcement,” Owens admitted. “My heart is still with the cop that’s handing that call every day. It’s been a lot of fun.”
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