FOP remembers those officers no longer with us

Morning Journal/Mary Ann Greier Detective Ryan Pike recites the final roll call for fallen officers.

COLUMBIANA — One by one, with the strains of “Amazing Grace” playing on bagpipes in the background, Columbiana Detective Ryan Pike slowly read each name.

Fathers, mothers, daughters and sons, husbands and wives, friends and co-workers, community protectors — 163 fallen officers who ended their watch last year remembered.

Pike also read the names of five fallen officers with local connections, including former Columbiana County Sheriff Robert “Brassy” Beresford, who passed away last week, and the names of 29 fallen K-9s. The other local officers remembered included Salem Police Lt. Charles “Chaz” Shafer who passed away in 2018, Youngstown Patrolman Michael Hartzell whose watch ended in 2003, Girard Patrolman Justin Leo whose watch ended in 2017 and Salem native Shane Detwiler, killed in the line of duty in 2009 while serving as a deputy sheriff in Texas.

Those attending the Fraternal Order of Police Quaker Lodge 88 National Peace Officers Memorial Service on Thursday quietly listened to the somber recitation at the Links Banquet Center at Firestone Farms.

“As you listen today to the reading of the names of fallen officers, please remember that each and every individual name is the name of a person who had dreams and plans that will never be realized, graduations and weddings that won’t be attended, and countless memories that will never be made. Each name is a story that ended way too early,” Judge Mark Frost said.

Frost, who’s retiring at the end of this year as Columbiana County Municipal Court Judge, served as the guest speaker. Honored guests included family members of Patrolman Michael Hartzell, his mother Mary Kay Hartzell and his aunt and uncle Donna and Bill Leskovec, Youngstown Police Chief Robin Lees and Brad Ditullio of the Youngstown Police Department Bomb Squad. His father Howard had planned to be there, too, but was unable to attend.

Pike, secretary of FOP Quaker Lodge 88, said he has 20 years service as a police officer and every year it gets harder and harder to read those names. He shared some statistics for the 163 line of duty deaths from last year, noting there were 152 males and 11 females, the average age was 42, the average years of service was 13 years 2 months and the most deaths occurred in May. The number one cause of death was gunfire, followed by 9/11-related illnesses and vehicle crashes. The state with the most deaths was New York with 23. Ohio had four.

According to the Officer Down Memorial Page at www.odmp.org, the total number of deaths so far since they started keeping count was 23,726, a number which can change daily. So far this year, there have been 43 deaths, including two in Ohio. Pike noted there’s a Below 100 initiative to get the line of duty deaths under 100 in a year through additional safety training for officers.

FOP Quaker Lodge 88 President Salem Patrolman Michael Garber, whose partner is K-9 Simon, commented that attendance at the memorial service is about the same every year, no matter who the speaker is or what’s going on.

“To me, that speaks volumes. People are truly coming to honor fallen officers,” he said, adding it means a lot to him to see so many active and retired officers in attendance. “I can’t thank everybody enough for supporting us.”

He also talked about the family element and the fact that the officers and their family members have such a close bond and the officers themselves are family to each other. They have a great support system and support each other.

Frost talked about the losses and how his mom taught him that the police officer is his friend and the person to go to if lost or in trouble. He talked about how society has changed and officers are increasingly held in disrespect and are now being targeted. His message of “what can we do” included a plea to honor and respect police officers and teach children what his mother taught him, to support police levies and encourage government to adequately fund law enforcement, to encourage stiffer penalties and enforce existing penalties for those who harm officers or attempt to harm them.

He said there’s a page on the odmp.org website where the public can generate letters to parole boards to oppose the release of cop killers. He said not to forget the power of prayer and to make sure the fallen aren’t forgotten.

“What we do here today is important. Blue lives matter. And blue deaths matter,” he said.