May 15, 2021

Honoring Heroic Officers


Dear PERF members, 

Every year around this time, I think about an event that is profoundly sad, but also inspiring – the Candlelight Vigil, hosted by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial, which honors officers who have died in the line of duty. 

I’ve participated in this event for more than 20 years, and as often as I speak publicly, no event makes me more nervous about making it perfect and not getting tongue-tied. As you read the names, you look out into the audience and see the faces of young children holding candles and quietly listening. It is overwhelming in its impact. You wonder if you may be looking at family members of the officers you are naming.

These past two years, the Candlelight Vigil has been done virtually. It’s still a powerful moment in history, because you realize that each officer’s family has a story to tell.  Today I’d like to mention a few recent fallen officers, whose names will be read next year.

In some cases, slain officers leave large families behind.  Officer Eric Talley of Boulder, Colorado was the first to arrive at the scene of a mass shooting at a grocery store in March. He ran straight into the store to confront the shooter, and lost his life. Officer Talley was the father of seven children and a devoted husband. He gave up a lucrative job in the private sector at age 40 because he “felt a higher calling” to become a police officer.

In 2019 Officer Talley’s children wrote him a poem for Christmas, in which they recounted how he was a good Dad to them, and how he risked his life to protect others. The poem, titled “Our Unsung Hero,” was read at his funeral.

Jimmy Inn, a Stockton, California police officer, was killed this month when he responded to a domestic violence call. A 911 caller had called police to report a woman outside a home screaming. The caller also noticed that she was wearing a torn shirt and was bleeding. Officer Inn was fatally shot almost immediately after arriving at the scene.  He leaves behind his wife Tela, who is also a Stockton officer, and three children.

In February, two FBI agents were killed and three were wounded in Sunrise, FL when they arrived at an apartment to execute a search warrant in a case involving child pornography. The two slain agents, Daniel Alfin and Laura Schwartzenberger, specialized in investigating violent crimes against children.

When I think of police heroes, I’ll never forget the hundreds of U.S. Capitol Police and Washington, DC Metropolitan Police officers who fought for hours to defend members of the House and Senate, Vice President Pence, and the U.S. Capitol building against a riotous mob on January 6. Tragically, 42-year old Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick suffered two strokes and died a day after he fought back rioters and was sprayed with a toxic bear spray. MPD Officer Michael Fanone suffered a heart attack and a concussion after being dragged down the Capitol steps, beaten, and shocked with an Electronic Control Weapon.  And two officers – one from the Capitol Police and one from MPD – died by suicide shortly after the attack.  Our thoughts and prayers are with the officers and their family members who were subjected to the trauma of that horrific day.

These examples I mention follow in the footsteps of others who have died to save others, like the 23 members of the NYPD who died running into the World Trade Center almost 20 years ago, along with dozens of officers from other agencies killed on 9/11, and hundreds who have died since then of 9/11-related illnesses.

People like me who worked in the Boston Police Department remember the sacrifice of two brothers who were slain in the line of duty. Detective John D. Schroeder was shot and killed in 1973 as he tried to prevent an armed robbery.  His brother, Patrolman Walter A. Schroeder, a father of nine children, was killed three years earlier when he responded to a silent alarm at a bank. Today, the highest honor for bravery that a Boston officer can receive is the Schroeder Brothers Memorial Medal.

While we’re remembering the police officers who have died in the line of duty, we should also honor the officers who have used their quick thinking and specialized skills to save lives.  Take Landon Guzzo, who was sworn in as an officer in Parker, Colorado in 2019. The American Red Cross named Officer Guzzo a Hero of the Year for saving five people’s lives during his first year on the job, including two in separate incidents in his first week as a solo officer! The five incidents included one case where Guzzo kept a man alive by administering CPR for four minutes until another officer arrived with a defibrillator, and another incident in which he administered naloxone to a man who had overdosed.  

There should be a special category for officer heroes who save the lives of suicidal persons. In Newark, New Jersey, Officers Darrel Fields, Abdul Aziz Yasin, and Miguel Silva recently worked together to rescue a man who had climbed over a railing on a bridge. It’s hard not to get choked up as you watch the body-worn camera video footage of this incident, and you hear the officers speak to the man with empathy and genuine concern.

Last month the Atlanta Police Department honored five officers – Sergeant J. Sutton, Sergeant D. Davis, Officer A. Ruffin, Officer S. Verrelien, and Officer M. Bouquette – who saved the life of an unconscious man who had experienced a seizure in a locked, burning car. Dramatic body-worn camera footage shows that after breaking the passenger-side window with their batons, the officers realized they could not get the driver’s door open, so one of the officers jumped into the car to pull the man out from the passenger’s side.

Finally, let’s remember the hundreds of officers and professional civilian members of police departments who have died of COVID-19-related illnesses. With few exceptions, police officers don’t have the luxury of being able to work from home; they are needed on the streets despite the severe threat that COVID has posed.  And no department was hit harder than the NYPD, especially in the early months of the pandemic last spring. The NYPD has now lost 55 members. The most recent was Officer Michael Mundy, who died on April 28, 2021 after serving with the department since July 2001.

In Los Angeles, the first police employee to die of COVID-19 was Senior Detention Office Erica McAdoo, who served at the department’s downtown Metropolitan Detention Center. Tragically, she died on July 3 at the young age of 39.

Many of us have friends in policing who passed away from COVID.  I will miss Wayne County, Michigan Sheriff Benny Napoleon, who died on December 17 at age 65. Benny served as Detroit police chief from 1998 to 2001.

Policing is a noble profession, and it’s different from most other lines of work. When people decide to become cops, they do so knowing that someday they’ll probably have to risk their lives to save others. That is what distinguishes policing from other professions, and why we here at PERF feel so honored to do what we do. 

During the past year, which often felt overwhelming with the stresses from COVID and the calls for reforms and a fundamental “reimagining” of what policing should be, it’s important to remember all of the good cops who stepped up and served so nobly. Their bravery, sacrifice, and heroism are one part of policing that doesn’t need any reimagining.

Weekend Clips are below.