Today is Police Memorial Day, the annual remembrance of the nine Baltimore County Police Department’s who died in the line of duty, as well as department members who died while in police service.
BCoPD’s fallen officers are: Officer Edward Kuznar (d. 1969); Officer Charles A. Huckeba (d. 1977); Corporal Samuel L. Snyder (d. 1983); Officer Robert W. Zimmerman (d. 1986); Sergeant Bruce A. Prothero (d. 2000); Officer John W. Stem Sr. (d. 2000); Sergeant Mark F. Parry (d. 2002); Lieutenant Michael P. Howe (d. 2008); and Officer Jason L. Schneider (d. 2013).
The ceremony, usually held at Patriot Plaza in Towson, was moved due to inclement weather to the County Council chambers at the Historic Courthouse in Towson. Here is the text of Police Chief Jim Johnson’ remarks:
Good morning, fellow officers, honored guests and citizens of Baltimore County. Thank you for taking the time to be with us as we observe our annual Police Memorial Day. This is an occasion to remember the nine Baltimore County Police officers who gave their lives in the line of duty and, in so doing, to contemplate the meaning of the work that we do.
I do not need to tell you that all across this nation law enforcement finds itself beset by turmoil, controversy and danger. Here in Maryland, police over the past 12 months have been touched by all three.
The turmoil from the 2015 unrest in Baltimore City – felt keenly here and the other counties touching Baltimore — carried over into the New Year and has yet to see resolution in the courts and in the court of public opinion.
The controversy spawned by the Freddie Gray incident and by contentious incidents in other towns, cities and states continues to dominate headlines, foment divisions and cast an unrelenting spotlight on our mission, methods and motives.
The danger is not – as some critics of law enforcement contend – a myth. Police have not invented a threat in order to avoid a conversation about accountability. We understand fully the need to explain and defend the use of the powers entrusted to us, and to confront errors and wrongdoing on our part. We are not imagining that the times have produced anger and resentment over everything from economic and racial injustice to mental health issues and the perceived failure of institutions. All of this has morphed into a feeling of disdain for governmental authority in general and of contempt for police in particular.
While most Americans respect police and understand the challenges we face each day, the present climate is a breeding ground for non-compliance with and violence against officers. Even wholly justifiable police actions are scrutinized, criticized and second-guessed in TV and newspaper stories, on social media and around water coolers. Pervasive anti-police rhetoric empowers the few – the unbalanced and the radical – to turn their feelings into deadly action.
Last year, the U.S. Department of Justice published a study on ambush attacks on police. It notes, “Concerns about targeted violence against police are rising in an era of strained community relations, struggles with police legitimacy, and anti-government extremism.” After years of holding steady, the number of ambushes on police is rising and now constitutes the second-leading cause of shooting deaths of officers; the recent deaths of two Harford County sheriff’s deputies and a Prince George’s County detective in unprovoked, sudden attacks make us painfully aware of this fact.
It is nearly two years – an eternity in this era of 30-second attention spans — since events in Ferguson, Missouri started us down this difficult road, and still there is no end in sight. We must remember that the tenacity of this national debate shows that citizens in many communities have experiences and a point of view to which attention must be paid. The discontent is not based on nothing.
And yet, as an officer for more than 40 years who has witnessed the commitment and sacrifice of thousands of fellow police men and women and the ultimate sacrifice of far too many, I am disturbed by the disparagement of our profession. I am troubled at the stubbornness of the chosen narrative of “problem policing,” even when the facts show an officer properly responded to a threat. I am concerned that the mood of the moment may cause some – even some of us – to question the nobility and worth of our calling.
Last year, 124 U.S. officers gave their lives in the quest for a peaceful, orderly world; 42 of them died by gunfire. Thirty-five already have died this year. These figures actually understate the risks. Given that the number of non-fatal shootings is rising, we can conclude that the number of fatalities would be even higher were it not for advances in protective gear and other technology – and especially for advances in the Fire, EMS and medical profession. These first responders are saving people who in earlier eras would have died, while taking on plenty of risk themselves. They are our partners, and we thank them.
To take a longer view, consider the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, D.C. More than 20,000 names of officers killed in the line of duty are inscribed on this monument; the first known death dates back to 1791. Regardless of when they lived and died, these were men and women of valor: Fearless in the face of danger, caring of their fellow man, driven by a cause more important than themselves.
Our nine fallen heroes are remembered there, as they are here:
Edward Kuznar … Charles Huckeba … Samuel Snyder … Robert Zimmerman … Bruce Prothero … John Stem … Mark Parry … Michael Howe … Jason Schneider.
This morning is a time to remember them as we knew them – as friends, as fathers, as sons and brothers. It is a time for laughter as we recall them in happier times. It may be a time to feel the pangs of grief anew.
But most of all, this ceremony is a chance to reflect on why we are police officers … and why – no matter how fraught the times – the work we do matters.