This is the text of Police Chief Jim Johnson's Police Memorial Day message delivered this morning at the annual Police Memorial Ceremony at Patriot Plaza in Towson.

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Good morning, everyone. Today we gather, as we do each year on the second Friday in May, to remember the nine members of the Baltimore County Police Department family who have given their lives in service to others.

Their names are inscribed on our hearts and in our memories, just as they are on the monument before us. This is a time to recollect who these men were as people – their smiles … their unique personalities … their attributes as husbands, fathers, sons and friends.

Mostly, of course, this is a time to reflect on their sacrifice and of the selflessness of others like them, including the two NYPD officers murdered last December by a man who began his path of violence here in our county. They were targeted simply because they were policemen. In ordinary times, we focus on the honor of such sacrifice – on the awe-inspiring wonder of human beings brave and generous enough to die for others.

But these are not ordinary times. We find ourselves caught up in a storm of controversy over the role of law enforcement in 21st century society. The fires of discontent that blazed last summer in a Midwestern town have spread to our own doorstep. Baltimore – the city to which we are tethered by history and geography and our own personal experiences – now is the epicenter of a furious national debate about police and our relationships with the communities we serve. Over the past two weeks, you have been part of these historic events. You have gone above and beyond to protect lives and property while enforcing the rule of law – all while surrounded by distraught and angry voices questioning the integrity of law enforcement officers everywhere.

This is not the place to dissect and debate the complex issues woven into the national conversation on policing. It is, however, the place to confront the emotions and doubts that current events may have stirred.

It is the right time to ask: Does our work still matter? Is our profession still respected? Does the sacrifice of our own fallen officers still matter to our citizens? Would our sacrifice matter?

Each of us took this job because we believed in something bigger than ourselves – because we believed that a safe and orderly society is worth fighting for. Do we still believe it?

Despite the complicated relationship between law enforcement and the public, we have been fortunate to enjoy the people’s good will for a long time, and especially in the years following the 9/11 attacks. Even recently, polls measuring the most and least respected professions consistently show police officers among the “top 10” respected jobs. People are so interested in the work we do that they stop us in grocery stores and restaurants to talk about it. Today, this ceremony will be broadcast through the media with a tone of reverence and respect.

Perhaps we have grown accustomed to such regard, perhaps a bit too much. The oath we swear is not conditional.

We agree to serve and protect regardless of which way the winds of public opinion blow. We serve, not for tokens of esteem, but because cruelty and selfishness exist in the world and must be fought. We serve because lawlessness leads inevitably to the breakdown of civilization.

More than this, we swear to serve all – not just those who hold us in esteem, but all. I know how hard this is. It is easy to work on behalf of those who admire us, whose values mirror our own. But we are called to protect all, including those who do not admire us, including those whose values do not mirror our own. We are required to treat all with respect; all – including those who do not respect the law, or us.

Despite the noise and negativity of the past weeks and months, I am confident that the overwhelming majority of our citizens appreciate the work we do and trust us to do the right thing. You have worked hard to earn that trust, and we hear expressions of gratitude week in and week out. Today, people across Baltimore County watch us laying wreaths and agree with all their hearts that the officers we remember were heroes.

Edward Kuznar … Charles Huckeba … Samuel Snyder … Robert Zimmerman … Bruce Prothero … John Stem … Mark Parry … Michael Howe … and Jason Schneider. Their sacrifice still matters.

From wherever they are, they remind us that ours is a just and noble cause, worth fighting for and, yes, worth dying for. I hope that this admonition sustains us through the difficult days ahead.