SACRAMENTO, Calif — Even though Mark Bartley has long since traded his police badge for a calm retirement, he still knows the small difference that an unexpected snack bag and water bottle can make on a dark day.
After 26 years as an officer, Bartley called it a career back in December of 2018 with the Elk Grove Police Department. He remains vice president of the End of Watch Fund, a group dedicated to helping the families of fallen officers.
After a shootout led to the death of Sacramento County Sheriff’s Deputy Adam Gibson, preparations went underway for his funeral service and procession. On a smaller scale, the End of Watch Fund started their own preparations for the officers who'd be attending in solidarity.
On Monday, a group of 20 volunteers started filling Ziploc baggies with a few quick bites and some fresh water. Granola bars, nuts, a bottle of water, and some cards from kids and adults are the usual suspects. They’re all wrapped up and ready to be left as a small appreciative gift to an officer leaving the slain deputy's funeral.
It was an idea born out of Bartley’s own experiences after having been to many law enforcement funerals himself.
“Every time we came out of a funeral, we were starving. We were thirsty,” he said. “The funeral is a long time. The procession is a long time.”
His friend came up with the idea of leaving snack bags on cars. It was an idea Bartley dismissed at first but it later ended up surprising him.
“We did it at one funeral, and it just took off. It got great response. People loved it. Cops loved it. We’ve been doing that for years now,” Bartley said.
On Wednesday, they’ll do it again.
“We’ve got it down to an art and a science, and it just works out. We got great volunteers. I see a lot of the same volunteers every time I go out… It’s heartwarming to see,” Bartley said.
As cars fill the parking lot at Bayside Church in Rocklin, the End of Watch crew will be carrying their wagons, stocked with big bins of snacks and water, dropping off the small gifts to each section. Even though he’s retired, Bartley said there’s no difference with the emotions he feels heading to an officer’s funeral. The brotherhood is still there along with his sympathies for the families.
“It’s got to be hard on the families. I can’t imagine what they’re going through,” he said. “I lost a friend early in my career and it still sits in there.”
Nonetheless, he said he and his crew will make their rounds, slipping in and out as soon as possible to avoid getting in the way. It's a solemn day and one he wishes didn't have to happen.
“For the people in attendance tomorrow, I just wish they didn’t have to be there,” Bartley said.
Anyone interested in helping the End of Watch Fund can visit their Facebook page where you can learn more about how to donate and what to donate or learn more about their fundraisers, which can range from their February crab feed and to their September chili cookoff.