Tribute to fallen heroes: Muskegon County holds annual Police Officers Memorial

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– Legal News photos by Diana L. Coleman


By Diana L. Coleman
Legal News

Law enforcement officers from all Muskegon County municipalities, Grand Haven Public Safety officers, Michigan Conservation officers,  Muskegon County Sheriff’s officers, Marine Patrol, and Mounted Posse were all represented at the annual Police Officers Memorial held at the Paul C. Johnson Pavilion at Heritage Landing. The event was moved this year due to the construction of the new jail; it has previously been held at the Peace Officers memorial statute and remembrance wall in front of the Michael E. Kobza Hall of Justice.

Family members of fallen officers gathered to pay tribute to their loved one. There was a large crowd for the event beyond the officers’ families that including Muskegon County Prosecutor D. J. Hilson, assistant prosecutors, public defenders, judges, and court personnel. Though the event was stoic in nature, all law enforcement officers present indicated a deep respect for, and commitment never to forget, their fellow officers whose lives were lost in the line of duty. Civilians present could not help but feel a deep sense of gratitude for those law enforcement officers who made the ultimate sacrifice defending the citizens of their communities.

The event host was Detective Brian Harris of the Muskegon County Sheriff’s Department and current Vice President of the Charles D. Hammond Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 99. The Muskegon County Honor Guard presented the United States flag and Detective Harris led all in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.

Harris explained to those present that since the first recorded law officer death in 1791, more than 17,000 have been killed in the line of duty. On the National Police Officers memorial in Washington D.C. there are 1081 federal officers listed and 622 correction officers listed.

Michigan State Police Lt. Christopher McIntire, Rockford Post Commander, was the guest speaker.  “We are constantly asking ourselves what we can do to better protect our officer,” said McIntire. “Due to our training and protocols when pulling over offenders, fallen brother Paul Butterfield had called in the identity and description of the vehicle he was pulling over. Within two hours the suspect murderer of Officer Butterfield was caught and lodged in jail. Investigating each incident to prevent future officer injury or death is always ongoing.”

Lt. McIntire quoted the words from a Toby Keith song “I Don’t Want to Die for You” and noted that 105 officers died in the line of duty in 2013, while 42 have died so far in 2014 — the most recent being the officer killed in a domestic dispute that resulted in a home explosion and the perpetrator dying in the fire.

A recorded tribute entitled “What is a Police Officer” narrated by the late Paul Harvey was played bringing  tears to many eyes.

Gail Ander of the Philadelphia Baptist Church sang a musical tribute to the officers. The roll call of fallen officers was then presented, with an officer from each fallen officers unit and any family members present placing a flower next to the officer’s picture. Taps were played following the flower presentation and the service concluded with the Muskegon County Police Pipes and Drum corps playing “Amazing Grace.”

Following the memorial, Detective Harris called Amy Anderson Gerard to the podium to present her with a bouquet of flowers and paid tribute to the endless hours she spends each year making certain that the Police Officers Memorial is put together correctly, all family members are contacted, and the program runs smoothly. “Without Amy,” said Harris, “I am not sure there would be an annual police memorial. She is invaluable to all of us in law enforcement.”

Kenneth Mahoney, Chairman of the Muskegon County Commission, also came to the podium. The President, Vice President and Treasurer of FOP Lodge No. 99 also came forward and presented Commissioner Mahoney with a check just over $10,000 representing the final payment by the FOP Lodge to the County for the Peace Officer memorial in front of the Hall of Justice. The memorial was the brainchild of officer Orville Smith years ago and he pushed to make the memorial a reality. The county fronted 70 of the 80 thousand dollars needed for the memorial, and gave FOP Lodge No. 99 an interest-free loan.  The check given to the county at this year’s service represents the final payment of that 70 thousand dollar loan—paid off five years earlier than the loan agreement.

The FOP officers thanked the county for fronting the money for the Peace Officer memorial. Commission Chairman Mahoney graciously accepted the check for early payoff, but never doubted that the counties officer would repay the loan.

All were invited to remain for refreshments and to visit with law enforcement officers and the families of their fallen heroes.