Like so many Santa Cruzans, I knew Sgt. Loran "Butch" Baker, one of the two Santa Cruz police officers killed in the line of duty Tuesday.
We weren't friends, so to speak, but we were friendly. He was a helpful, knowledgeable source as I cut my reporting teeth on the crime beat for the Santa Cruz Sentinel.
The Butch I knew was a detective to the core. He was focused and sometimes gruff as he hustled through crime scenes, but always expressed compassion for victims. He wanted justice for them.
"Butch was my most skilled investigator in my police," Santa Cruz Police Chief Kevin Vogel said this week. "We're going to miss him."
Our paths sometimes crossed at the county courthouse. Butch would say hello and share updates about the victims and their families of crimes committed years prior. These details weren't for print; he cared deeply about the people whose lives had been torn about by violence and seemed pleased to share their happier news.
One case we discussed that sticks in my mind was "Pogonip Jane," a teenage girl found slain in the park that is her namesake. Her remains were discovered in a shallow grave in January 1994.
Butch was one of the original officers on the case.
"The case has been bugging me. I really want to give someone's mom closure," he told me in 2010.
To this day, Pogonip Jane has not been identified. No one was ever prosecuted for killing her.
I always hoped Butch would solve that one.
Butch grew up in Saratoga and attended Bellarmine College Preparatory in San Jose, the Santa Cruz Sentinel reported in this profile of the fallen officer. He started at Santa Cruz police in 1985, alongside Vogel, Watsonville Police Chief Manny Solano and Capitola Police Chief Rudy Escalante.
The last time I interviewed Butch, we sat in the Santa Cruz Police Department roll call room with his 18-year-old son. Adam had just started as a community service officer with SCPD and Butch was just a few months shy of eligibility for retirement.
Butch told me watching is son work brought back memories of being a rookie cop.
"I get glimpses of me when I first started," Butch said.
I feel lucky to have known Butch. The deaths of he and Det. Elizabeth Butler have devastated our town, a place Butch cared for so much.
"It's a great community to be a cop in," Butch told me when I interviewed he and his son in 2010.
I hope that's still true.
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