This is the text of Police Chief Jim Johnson's Police Memorial Day message, "The Tip of the Spear," delivered this morning at the annual Police Memorial Day Ceremony at Patriot Plaza in Towson.
Good morning, everyone. As we do each year on the second Friday in May, we gather this morning to remember the members of the Baltimore County Police Department who gave their lives in service to our citizens.
This is always a somber and meaningful event, but especially so this year because the past 12 months have seen another name engraved on the monument here in Patriot Plaza: Tactical Officer Jason Schneider.
As we know too well, on August 28, 2013, Officer Schneider was shot and killed while serving a warrant in Catonsville. He was 36 years old, in his prime and one of the best officers I’ve known in my nearly four decades with this department. I am among the many who still find it difficult to believe that Jason – such a strong and vital man – is really gone. The loss of Jason has had a profound effect on this agency, me personally, and most importantly his family.
Our hearts continue to ache for Jason’s wife, Erica; his parents; his children and those who cared deeply for and depended upon Jason – including his Tactical Unit. This is an honorable day for them, but a difficult one. The loss is still fresh and keenly felt.
Jason has joined a noble group of dedicated officers, some of whom have been gone for many years. Today, we remember with equal respect and sadness all nine of these fallen comrades: Edward Kuznar … Charles Huckeba … Samuel Snyder … Robert Zimmerman … Bruce Prothero … John Stem … Mark Parry … Michael Howe … and, now, Jason Schneider.
Each one of these peacemakers has earned his seat in heaven. Each one of their stories is a tragedy.
But Jason Schneider’s story – like Bruce Prothero’s before him, and Sam Snyder’s, John Stem’s and Charles Huckeba’s – is not just a tragedy. It is an outrage!
For these five did not just die in the line of duty. They were murdered in the line of duty.
They did not merely succumb to the risks and perils inherent to a dangerous line of work – a fate that by itself ensures a legacy of heroism, and a memorial on a plaza now and for generations.
They succumbed to something far worse: The darkness of the human heart.
These five died because of selfishness … because of cruelty … because of disregard for the rule of law. Consciously, knowingly, they put themselves face to face with people bent on breaking the contract that allows civilized societies to exist. They were the tip of the spear of justice. What more noble mission can there be? What higher calling in the human experience?
In his classic novel, “Heart of Darkness,” Joseph Conrad wrote of the potential savagery that exists in all men. There is, he wrote, a “fascination of the abomination” shared by us all; we can indulge this fascination and head down the path to evil, or step a safe distance from it.
For the police officer, however, it is not enough merely to step away from evil. We are asked to confront it and battle it, head on – to go into the darkness armed with guns and badges, yes, but also with the belief that most people are good, and that a safe and orderly world is worth fighting for and worth dying for.
We should feel more than grief today. The murder of officers of the law is an attack on civilized society.
It is outrageous, and we should feel an angry determination to avenge the deaths of our slain brethren by rededicating ourselves to the service of our citizens and the fight for right.
The darkness will never go away, no matter how good a job we do. Evil is a weed; as soon as we stamp it out, it sprouts up somewhere else. That is the human condition, the same now as it was at the beginning of time.
But I do not need to remind you that police work today demands that we face dangers specific to these times:
The proliferation of guns in the hands of criminals and the emotionally unstable or drug induced.
The complex problem of mental illness, and how to help those who suffer before they hurt themselves or others.
The economic stagnation and simple greed that plagues so many and that breeds a culture in which crime is both an act of desperation and a business.
And, of course, in these times we must take care of our own physical and emotional struggles, especially now as we continue to grapple with the trauma of last summer.
The nine noble men we remember today, I am certain, are grateful for our tributes and touched by our tears.
But if they could speak, they would admonish us to stay strong in the darkness, “a beacon on the road toward better things.” We have and will continue to do just that as we go into the future, protecting the life, property and peace of this great county and this state.