The ‘End of Watch’ anniversary for Harold B. Harless is on Oct. 17 and it has been 54 years since he was killed in the line of duty. In order to honor Harless and keep his memory alive, Sergeant Lloyd MacKinnon with Riverbank Police Services (RPS) will be riding for him in the Police Unity Tour in May, 2020.
Harless was a patrolman for the Riverbank Police Department from 1957 to 1963. He left the department to pursue other business opportunities. Then he returned to the police force in March 1965. He was known for vibrant green “cat eyes” which often times did not help him when he was on a stakeout or undercover because people would recognize him. As a community caretaker, Harless was kind and although he did not have much, would often host dinners at his home for those in need. Prior to becoming a police officer Harless worked for Gallo Winery and had a side gig as a bouncer at the Riverbank Club House. At the time he served on the force, there were only a total of six in the department, with one being the Police Chief and five patrolmen.
“He was just a kind man,” said son Harold ‘Bill’ Harless. “Everybody liked my dad. He was a really nice person. He was friends with everybody.”
On Oct. 17, 1965 Harless was on Patterson Road as the California Highway Patrol was pursuing a vehicle. Harless was in his patrol car as the suspect came barreling down the road at a high rate of speed with lights off and struck the patrol car on the left front driver’s side door. Harless was believed to have died instantly and his car was engulfed in flames from the collision. He is the only known Riverbank officer that has died in the line of duty. He was survived by his wife Georgia Mae, and five children: Bill, Lynn and Glynn, Linda and Kenneth. There were officers from Stanislaus Sheriff’s Department, California Highway Patrol, Police Departments of Turlock, Ceres, Sonora and Escalon that attended the memorial services for Officer Harless.
“The guy came with no lights on and hit him at 100-some mph and just destroyed his patrol car,” added Harless. “It was right down the street from his mother’s house. My dad was burned up. There was nothing left of him.”
Harless still lives in his boyhood home and his sister Linda stayed in Riverbank as well. One of his brothers passed from cancer a few years ago but the rest of the family has stayed in the area, including Ceres and Modesto.
“We often say and use that term ‘never forget’,” stated Sgt. MacKinnon. “We use it a lot. His picture is up in our office. The police station was named after him at some point. And Harless Park here in Riverbank on Roselle. There are a lot of ways we are honoring him on a daily basis.”
The Police Unity Tour is a large moving memorial of bicyclists from law enforcement offices throughout the country. They ride united, honoring those that have died in the line of duty. The ride begins in New Jersey and then will end at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, DC. The ride is approximately 300 miles under whatever weather conditions are in place that year, rain or shine.
“I am new to the Riverbank station and I have been here almost a year now. It is important to honor him,” MacKinnon added. “It is an absolute honor to ride for him and his family. I will be in a moving memorial; no matter who rides alongside of me, they will hear his story.”
The officers raise money to fund the national memorial and last year MacKinnon said that they raised about $2.3 million.
“We have to raise a lot of money,” he said. “The sheriff is super supportive. He helps us out immensely. There are rest stops, there is food, if our bikes break down there are mechanics to fix them. It is almost like NASCAR, they fix it and get you back out there on the road.”
During the ride, the bike riders on the tour will share stories of the fallen that they are honoring, which for MacKinnon will include the stories about Harless and his ‘cat eyes’ as well as being a community caretaker.
“It is super important to myself and everybody else that is a member of the unity tour, our saying we ride for those that died,” expressed MacKinnon. “That is the whole thing around us. We ride for those that died that is just echoed throughout the whole thing. When it is miserable and raining, that is what we keep telling ourselves and how we honor the fallen.”