Oro Valley Police K9 handler and prodigy, William “Bill” Burney, passed away earlier this month after losing his battle with esophageal cancer. He leaves behind his wife of 34 years, Marcia.
Burney, 63, retired on Dec. 31, 2010. He had been involved with law enforcement since 1973.
Of the many officers’ lives Burney touched, one who was close to him was Commander Jason Larter.
Larter spent his first night with the Oro Valley police department on Dec. 24, 1997, with Burney. Burney was Larter’s field training officer and his mentor, who taught him how to be a K9 handler.
“Throughout the ranks he had always been the guy that was never afraid to tell you when you were doing something right, or when you were screwing things up,” Larter said.
“He always said, ‘don’t forget where you came from, don’t forget the troops, and don’t forget what it was like to work midnights.’ So I think I have always taken that to heart and tried to use that every day and not forget where I came from.”
It was 13 years ago when Larter spent his first night out with Burney, and to this day he still remembers where they were when he gave him some life-long advice.
“The very first night I started, he told me two things that I defiantly remember,” Larter recalled. “The first thing was ‘don’t ever leave for work in a fight with your spouse, because you never know if that is the last thing that you will say to them, because of the nature of our job’. And then the second thing goes right along with that. It was ‘don’t ever leave for work without telling your spouse that you love them, because that might be the last words they hear from you.’”
Larter recalled a lighter moment years ago, when the department was first issued pepper spray. He remembers seeing Burney get into his car and when he went to put on his seatbelt, Burney accidentally clamped the seatbelt buckle into the pepper spray.
“It clamped down it on it just started hosing him with pepper spray inside that car,” Larter chuckled as he recounted the event.
Burney started handling dogs in the military in 1966, and brought that knowledge with him when he continued on into law enforcement where he became both a K9 handler and trainer.
For 44 years, Burney built on and expanded his knowledge of K9 training. One of the people had a close working relationship with Burney for the past 10 years was Mike Canto, who now works for the Department of Homeland Security.
Canto was on a counter-terrorism task force. Being a bomb explosives person, he was working with detection dogs.
“You would be hard pressed to find more of an expert than Bill.”
His first impression of Burney was that he was simply a “wealth of knowledge. Especially with explosion detection K9s.”
“He was the real go-to guy,” Canto said. “Everyone would go to Bill who had issues on explosive detention K9 stuff. He was the guru that everybody would seek out to try and get help from.
“He is so highly respected that you could bring up his name at any agency and they will know who he is,” Canto said.
Aside from being a K9 expert, he had a personal and softer side. Canto recalls getting injured and blowing out his shoulders. Burney was there making sure he was alright and seeing if he needed anything throughout the recovery of his five different surgeries.
But you didn’t try to smack talk with Burney.
“He was a man you did not verbally spar with because you were going down,” Canto said “He was incredibly silver tongued, quick-witted, and if you verbally spared with him, you were put in your place. It didn’t matter if you were a police chief or a rookie cop, you were going down.”
His co-workers said he led a pretty private life, up until he was diagnosed with cancer in February.
Burney underwent surgery within the following months, followed by chemo and radiation therapy.
“He was doing well,” Larter said. He was fine after a first and second scan of his body, but two months after the last scan, a third scan revealed that the cancer had come back.
“And when it came back that time, it started spreading.”
In his downtime, away from work, Burney enjoyed quiet things like peacefully sitting, listening to music and watching the Military and History channels.
“He is going to be so sorely missed; his friendship, companionship, his incredible knowledge-base, and his sense of humor. He is going to be incredibly missed by everybody,” Larter said.