Elizabeth Chase Butler, Kresge Alumni ('96), Killed in Line of Duty

While studying at UCSC, Det. Elizabeth Butler completed a field study internship at the Beach Flats Community Center, an experience that led her into police work. Detective Elizabeth Butler believed in community policing.

March 12, 2013

(Photo by Shmuel Thaler, Santa Cruz Sentinel 2005)
Detective Elizabeth Butler (Kresge, '96, community studies), who was killed in the line of duty Tuesday, February 26, put her skills working with people into action on the streets of Santa Cruz. She was 38. Butler and fellow Santa Cruz Police detective Sgt. Loran "Butch" Baker were gunned down as they went to question a suspect in an alleged sexual assault. Butler grew up in Lomita, Calif. and graduated from Bishop Montgomery High School in Torrance in 1992. That fall she began her studies at UCSC, majoring in community studies, working with professors Nancy Stoller, Patricia Zavella, and Mary Beth Pudup. She also took courses in ethnographic film and modern dance.

Retired UC Santa Cruz community studies lecturer and field study coordinator Mike Rotkin remembers her well. "I read her daily field notes for six months," he said. "I got to know her very well. What a tragedy." A key component of the community studies major is a sixth-month field study. Butler completed hers at the Beach Flats Community Center in Santa Cruz where she worked with young Latino students.

Pudup said she worked closely with Butler to complete her senior essay based on that experience and also got to know her well. "She had a kind of quiet and very mature integrity even as an undergraduate," Pudup wrote in an email. "Her commitment to serving the Santa Cruz community got its start during her field study."

Butler's work with kids and the community led her to become a police officer. "A lot of community studies students go into progressive occupations – counselors, social work," Rotkin said. "Elizabeth really understood what she wanted to do when she decided to be a police officer.

"I'm very proud of her decision. She was very thoughtful."

Her older sister, Alexis, told the Daily Breeze in Torrance that her sister applied to become a police officer because the job would allow her to make use of her ability to speak fluent Spanish and satisfy her desire to help people. "She ended up being a really good police officer," her sister said. "She loved the job."

Pudup said Butler was able to put "her special combination of compassion and steely resolve to good purpose" in police work. "Such a loss, to community and family," she wrote.

Butler attended the Evergreen Police Academy in San Jose in 2003 and joined the Santa Cruz force after graduation.

In her 10 years with the Santa Cruz Police Department, Butler served as patrol officer, hostage negotiator, downtown foot and bicycle officer, agent with the county drug task force, and as a detective. It was as a detective during the follow-up investigation of an alleged sexual assault that she and Baker were killed.

Butler enjoyed police work, said Rotkin, who served as a city councilmember and mayor at various times during the time Butler was an officer. "It's not that different from social work. You're dealing with people no one else wants to deal with. She really took to it."

Butler "believed in community policing," Rotkin said.

Writing in a Santa Cruz Police blog post in June 2011, Butler said, "Solving criminal cases with the community’s help and participation is the most fulfilling aspect of police work."

In a 2005 profile in the Santa Cruz Sentinel, Butler described her job as a downtown patrol officer as a mixed bag of public relations and fighting crime, saying almost every day she would confront homeless people, shoplifters, drunks, drug deals, panhandling, and tourists asking how to get to the beach or where to get the best burger in town.

"You have to be a people person down here," Butler told the paper.She leaves her partner Peter Wu, sons Joaquin, 5, and Stellan, 2, mother Louise, and sister Alexis.

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