“611 Manteca … 611 Manteca … 611 Manteca. No response, 611. … 611 you’re clear to secure, you will never be forgotten.”
Hundreds gathered inside Manteca Community Church on Lathrop Road on Tuesday to remember and celebrate the life of Manteca Police officer Steve Harris, who died tragically in his home in Ripon last week.
The longtime fixture on the force left his mark on the 400 or so in the audience, many of whom voiced their disbelief in losing the 54-year-old officer to a stomach ailment.
Harris was known for his light-hearted sense of humor, which came out quite clearly in a brief slide show that focused on his comedic side. Afterwards, officer Joe Ahuna took the microphone and told of his field training challenges under Harris.
A former officer in the early days of Harris’ career, Jeff Boyd, had flown in from Oklahoma to properly send off an old friend. He, too, had his stories to tell when the two were teasing each other on and off duty.
“I was warned about him,” Ahuna said. “When he acts as a comic, don’t sit in the front row for you will not just see the show, you will be part of it.”
Ahuna and Harris shared a birthday, and Ahuna recalled a birthday years ago. Back then, neither was aware of the connection. The junior officer was busy writing reports when Harris came into the room learning that it was his birthday too. Ahuna asked him for privacy and not to continue looking over his shoulder so he could finish his reports so he could go home on time for a family dinner.
Harris instead left the building and said he would be back shortly. When he returned he took Ahuna into the break room against his will where the employees had gathered to shower him with “Happy Birthday” greetings. Going back to his report writing he was puzzled he hadn’t gotten any more calls out in the community.
Harris had signed on with dispatch in his place, and responded to all his calls so that he could make that family dinner on time that he didn’t want to miss.
In closing, Ahuna addressed Harris’ family members.
“Thanks for sharing your dad with me,” he said. “He was an awesome guy.”
Officer Sam Gallego took the microphone and spoke about his partner of the last 30 years – two officers who spoke every day on the phone or in person whether they were on or off duty. They graduated the same year, Harris from Amador and Gallego from East Union. They had both joined the U.S. Navy, serving as radio men but on different ships.
Both men were hired by the Manteca Police Department within two weeks of each other. Harris always claimed to be the senior officer because his tenure outranked his buddy by 14 days. Their oldest children were born just three days apart. Chris Harris and Emily Gallego are both 30 years old now.
“Steve wanted to get drugs off the street and away from children – that was his passion,” Gallego trumpeted. He added that they both retired in December of 2011 but were rehired as school safety officers to become known within the department as the “kindergarten cops.”
Gallego mentioned his partner’s giving side. “It was nothing for Steve to go into a supermarket and get a ready-made meal, walk outside and give it to a homeless person.” He was also taken by the children of suspects, Gallego said, remembering one case where he witnessed hunger. Harris went into Walmart to get a Teddy bear for a little girl and a gift card for the family to buy food.
Gallego and Harris shared the vice president position at the Swiss Hall in Ripon, where Harris was known as the “Lawn Czar” assigned to make sure the lawns and trees were watered and cared for around the campus.
Chief Nick Obligacion spoke to the fact Harris had been his training officer and taught him much of what he knows about police work. He remembered Harris’ antics and the effort he took to make everyone smile. Harris was on the SWAT team for some 10 years and loved pretty much every minute, the chief noted.
Harris had earlier penned an “Afterglow” about his life that he had intended to be included in a future memorial service.
It read: “I’d like the memory of me to be a happy one. I’d like to leave an afterglow of smiles when life is done. I’d like to leave an echo whispering softly down the ways of happy times and laughing times and bright and sunny days. I’d like the tears of those who grieve to dry before the sun of happy memories that I leave when life is done.
A salute of police weapons sounded at the conclusion of the memorial, along with a trumpeter playing Taps, followed by the sound of a police dispatcher sending Harris a final message over his car radio.
“611 Manteca … 611 Manteca … 611 Manteca,” followed by “no response 611” and finally “611 you’re clear to secure, you will never be forgotten.”
Ripon Police Chief Ed Ormonde sent two officers to serve as members of the honor guard joining with Manteca officers, as well as four manned Ripon police units to cover the calls throughout the city during the memorial service and a portion of the following reception.