Beyond the Badge: Meet the father-son duo who starts every shift with a special sendoff
MARSHALL COUNTY, Ind. --- On this installment of Beyond the Badge, get an inside look at the reason why some officers put their lives on the line every day to help protect ours, despite the dangers of the job.
The National Fraternal Order of Police reports there were 346 officers shot in the line of duty in 2021. 63 of them killed and not able to go home to their families.
The FBI reports the number of officers assaulted is much higher, coming in at 60,105 for 2020.
For some local officers, those scary statistics don’t stop them from putting the uniform on every day because they know their real reward is waiting for them back at home.
This week, Michiana meets a father-son duo in Marshall County, starting every shift with a special sendoff.
“I go in at about 9pm and I work till 7am,” Patrolman Richard Ayala said.
Ayala works the third shift.
“I do that four days a week on Friday through Monday night. I work every single weekend. It's definitely a challenge, but you know, I try to make the best of it. I try to spend as much time with them as I can. From the minute I wake up to the time I leave and go to work.”
The unknown can be hard for any officer.
“Weekends is where a lot of the action happens sometimes. So, you know, you just you never know what you're going into.”
Ayala is a family man and father of three, better known to his friends and family as Henry. There’s a lot on the line when he leaves for work each night. The priority is making it back home.
“You don't always think about it at first but over the years, you know, the first time I heard him cry and even the other two, you know, it really dawned on me that I'm giving up a lot when I leave the house and they're worth coming home to so that's the mission if you will, is to come home safe and sound.”
It’s something some might take for granted as they head out to work, but for law enforcement officers, it’s a reality they know all too well.
In 2021, deaths among officers were up in almost every category. The National FOP reports across the country, 63 officers were shot and killed. That’s up 34% from just the year before.
“You give up a lot when you leave but that's, you know, what you sign on when you take the job. I'm just like you. I have a family and I have people that rely on me that expect things from me that you know expect me to be there for them and take care of, you know, what's important.”
One of those people is his 6-year-old son, who is his biggest fan.
“Junior K-9 Officer” Liam Ayala wants to be a police officer when he grows up, to be just like his two favorite officers—his father and his colleague, Deputy Blake Bennett.
You might remember Deputy Blake Bennett from a previous Beyond the Badge. You can watch it here or Liam can get you caught up in the video above because he has the whole thing memorized.
“He'd watch the specials almost like more than 30 times a day and he's memorizing the behaviors and mannerisms and it's really interesting to see him take something like this on,” Ayala said.
Liam loves watching Blake in action because he wants to become a K-9 officer just like him.
Henry said Liam’s passion grew a lot this past year after seeing the pair in a training video.
“He had just watched it and then just became immediately obsessed and was asking me all the time. Where's Blake? Do I get to see Blake tonight? Is Blake off and it just became this this huge obsession with the canine program specifically.”
For a Junior K-9 Officer in training, Liam knows all of the training commands.
“It means a lot,” Ayala said. “It definitely is exciting, you know, for me to just see him take on a hobby and to be interested in something. I honestly believe he'd be good at just about anything he wants to do with his life. But I'm definitely very proud that he emulates that.”
It’s no question Liam wants to follow in his father’s footsteps.
“He knows how important is to see me off and it's almost as if he can't go to sleep until he knows dad is gone.”
Each night before his shift, Liam follows Henry’s every move so they can both get ready for work.
“If I could compare it to anything it's kind of like a like a pregame ritual. I get dressed and ready for work. And it never fails. Liam always follows me in there. He doesn't wear his gear, but he'll follow me in there. He'll put his stuff down and as I'm getting dressed, he'll do exactly what I'm doing. So, I'm putting on my duty belt. He's putting on his duty belt if I'm checking my belt keepers to secure my belt, he's checking them. He's asking all kinds of questions about, you know, my tools and gear I use. It's very, very special. That routine we have and he loves every minute of it, as do I.”
No matter where he goes, Henry’s kids are always close by.
“I carry a picture of my children that's on my dashboard of my vehicle. So, I mean, I'm always thinking about them. You got to get your mind right when you're going on calls. You know if I have a bad night at home, or if I didn't sleep good or something like that, I have to get my mind right the minute I walked out that door, because there's other people out here that depend on me and if you know if I if I was to let them down in any way that would just be detrimental to me. I don't know if I could even continue on doing the job.”
When he walks out the door, Henry’s always hoping to reach at least just one person through positive interactions with the community.
“If I can get through to somebody who might have had a bad experience with a law enforcement officer…if I can change that interaction, then maybe I can change one person. I can't change the world, but one interaction at a time. We're just like everybody else. You know, our job is a little challenging at times. And we're not always the favorites. We're not always the Hometown Heroes, but we're always there. You call 911, we're always showing up—rainy, snow, sunshine. Indifferent. We are there.”