Sense of fear in L.A. brought officer to GJ

Grand Junction Police Officer Allen Kwiatkowski buckles the strap on his helmet before leaving the main police station. He moved to Grand Junction from Los Angeles after 9-11.

Allen Kwiatkowski was 11 years into his career as a motorcycle officer with the Los Angeles Police Department on Sept. 11, 2001.

A third-generation law enforcement officer in southern California, he had dealt with just about everything from escorting presidential motorcades to dealing with riots.

But nothing prepared him for the reverberations from the attacks on the other side of the continent.

Just after the morning briefing that day, he was leaving the station with his partner when officers were called back for new assignments. Inside, televisions were showing the destruction of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in Manhattan and the damage done to the Pentagon.

He and other motorcycle officers were assigned to Los Angeles International Airport to clear the place out because all air traffic was halted in the wake of the attacks.

Some passengers were frustrated, but most were perfectly happy not to fly, he said.
Instead of an atomized society in which each individual looked out only for himself, he saw passengers work together to make arrangements to get to hotels and take care of each other.

On the streets, red, white and blue broke out everywhere in a spontaneous burst of patriotism, he said.

LAX, though, was empty, as were the normally jet-filled skies over southern California, Kwiatkowski said.

Save for fighter jets running coastline patrols, nothing flew.

“It was eerie,” he said.

Eventually, that eerie sense disappeared, but it was replaced by a foreboding.

“There was the underlying fear in the back of my mind that we were a potential target,” Kwiatkowski said.

By 2005, he’d had enough.

Kwiatkowski, 35, was familiar with Grand Junction from family and friends, so he picked up and moved to western Colorado with his wife and two sons.

“It was time to go,” he said.

He had no job waiting and had to rent a house in California after he sold his home before he could move to Colorado.

He worked in a Paonia coal mine before a spot opened up at the Grand Junction Police Department, he said.

He gave up a lot of salary for the move, he said.

He also has to take into account some things that never occurred to him in California, such as the possibility he could meet someone at the grocery store in the evening to whom he’d issued a ticket that afternoon.

All in all, though, he said, the trade has been a fair one.

“I feel a lot safer in a general sense,” he said, “than I did in southern California.”


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