DeWine: Society loses when officers die

Morning Journal/Katie White Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine is shown with Salem Patrolman Mike Garber, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Quaker Lodge No. 88. The lodge hosted the annual Peace Officer Memorial Service on Thursday and DeWine was the featured speaker.

COLUMBIANA — It can happen in an ambush, or by accident, or simply because of the clothes they are wearing, but no matter how it happens, a void is created when a police officer dies.

That void in society cannot be filled. That debt can also never be repaid to the officers no longer with us, or to the families they left behind, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said Thursday.

“We pray that those that are left behind can somehow find peace and comfort,” he said during the annual National Peace Officer’s Memorial Service in Columbiana.

The service was hosted by Fraternal Order of Police Quaker Lodge No. 88 of Salem and held at the Links Banquet Center at Firestone Farms in Columbiana.

DeWine, who is running for governor in 2018, was the featured guest speaker. He said that it wasn’t until he was 25 and working as assistant county prosecutor in Greene County that he truly learned what law enforcement deals with on a daily basis.

“I learned how tough that job was. I became friends with those men and women and saw what they had to do,” he said.

Last year saw an increasing amount of police officer deaths in the line of duty – five of those occurring on one day in Dallas, Texas.

Nationwide, there were 144 deaths.

Lt. Donn Beeson of the Salem Police Department and past president of the Quaker Lodge, said that Columbiana County and the surrounding counties were fortunate to have no law enforcement deaths in the line of duty last year.

The East Liverpool Police Department and others across the county did mourn the loss of Capt. Norm Curtis, who retired in 2012 after 38 years of service and passed away last summer at the age of 67.

Beeson said there were five law enforcement deaths throughout the state. They were:

— Patrolman Aaron Jackson Christian of the Chesapeake Police Department, who died in a vehicle accident on Oct. 18.

— Trooper Kenneth Valez of the Highway Patrol, who was struck by a vehicle on Sept. 15.

— Police Officer Sean Richard Johnson of the Hilliard department, who died in a motorcycle accident on May 19.

— Police Officer Steven Michael Smith of Columbus who was killed by gunfire on April 12.

— Police Officer Thomas Wayne Cottrell Jr. of the Danville department who was killed by gunfire on Jan. 17.

— K-9 Jethro of the Canton Police Department, who was killed by gunfire on Jan. 10.

Beeson said there have already been 38 officer deaths so far this year. The average age of the officers killed was 43, and the average time on the job was 15 years.

“We often think it’s the rookies that go out and risk their lives. It’s not,” he said.

DeWine said that of those who have died, some were killed for no other reason than the uniform they were wearing.

“When a police officer dies of discharging his or her duty, we all feel the loss. It is time to recommit to supporting our men and women,” he said.

He added that the attorney general’s office supports the 900 police departments and 88 county sheriff’s departments in the state.

As attorney general DeWine has increased training for law enforcement and educators to improve school safety, and decrease cases of human trafficking, child abuse, missing children and bullying, as well as meeting the needs of foster youth.

He has also devoted resources to fighting the state’s prescription drug abuse and heroin problems and increased the number of criminal prosecutions in consumer fraud cases, according to his office.

The family of Patrolman Michael Hartzell, who died by gunfire in the line of duty in 2003 while serving on the Youngstown department, was also honored at the service.

The family encouraged people to take advantage of the Mike Hartzell Memorial Scholarship available through Youngstown State University.

The scholarship is open to any child of a law enforcement officer in the area planning to attend YSU for the next school year.