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Back to Archives | Back to May 2006 Contents 

From the Director

Justice Department Awards Medals of Valor to Public Safety Officers






Regina B. Schofield

n an 1823 call to arms that doubled as a job announcement, Stephen Austin undertook to organize a band of "ranging men" to protect American settlers in the newly acquired territory of Texas. "I shall always be ready and willing to risk my health, my property, or my life for the common advantage of those who have embarked with me in this enterprise," he proclaimed. "Those who wish to be employed will apply without delay." The prospect of privation and physical harm must have given pause to potential applicants, but Austin's call nevertheless was answered. The new recruits were merged with an existing militia, and thus was born the first statewide law enforcement agency in the United States, the Texas Rangers. The hazards of serving as a peace officer might not have been far removed from those of ordinary life on the frontier, with all its perils and uncertainties. Fortunately, public safety and the quality of life for citizens of our country have vastly improved over the last 183 years. But the risks facing law enforcement have never diminished, and a willingness to face grave danger is as much required of officers today as it was then. On March 16, we honored the courage and self-sacrifice of our nation's public safety officers through the presentation of the Public Safety Officer Medal of Valor, the highest national award for valor in the profession. Five officers were presented with this year's presidential award, which recognized incredible deeds of bravery and selflessness. In a field for which valiant service is practically a workaday trait, these extraordinary men set themselves apart by performing heroic acts in saving and protecting human life.

Timothy Greene of the Rock Hill, South Carolina, Police Department was one of those exceptional officers. On March 18, 2005, a citizen flagged down Officer Greene to report a bank robbery. Upon his arrival at the bank, employees pointed out the fleeing suspect's vehicle. Greene stopped the car, but the suspect emerged to fire at least six rounds from a semiautomatic pistol, injuring Greene and shattering his patrol car windshield. He pursued the suspect, however, providing directions to other responding officers, until the gunman could be overpowered and arrested.

Peter Alfred Koe of the Indianapolis Police Department was another honoree. On August 18, 2004, Officer Koe received information that several fellow officers had been shot, one fatally, by a rampaging gunman. Koe and others immediately went to the scene, where he was shot and suffered wounds to his leg while glass and debris struck him in the face and body. Out of concern for the safety of the other wounded officers, he advanced on the gunman, exchanging gunfire at close range and effectively subduing him. After the incident, Koe directed medical responders to attend to his comrades.

Bryan Hurst of the Columbus, Ohio, Police Department was yet another officer who distinguished himself by his bravery. On January 6, 2005, Officer Hurst was on uniformed special duty at a bank when a masked gunman entered. The two men exchanged fire, and Hurst wounded the suspect. Despite suffering a mortal wound himself, he managed to keep the gunman under fire before finally collapsing. Authorities apprehended the suspect several days later when he sought medical attention at a hospital in Washington, D.C.

Officers Greene, Koe, and Hurst were honored alongside Edward F. Henry of the Charleston, South Carolina, Fire Department and Battalion Chief Gene F. Large Jr. of the Fort Walton Beach, Florida, Fire Department. They earned their medals and the gratitude of their communities and their country.

These courageous men and women demonstrated that the job of protecting the public is, as President Bush has said, a "great and essential calling." More than 870,000 sworn law enforcement officers put their lives at risk every day to serve their fellow citizens. Since New York City Deputy Sheriff Isaac Smith was killed in 1792, more than 17,000 have made the ultimate sacrifice in performance of their duties. Last year alone, 155 died in the line of duty. Moreover, law enforcement officers are the victims of more than 55,000 assaults every year. Clearly, the threats they face and the risks they run are serious. Yet it is difficult to determine how widely those risks, and thus the true extent of the sacrifice, are understood by the general public.

Crime is at its lowest level in 30 years, thanks in great part to the work of our nation's law enforcement officers. Ironically, however, they have been so effective in keeping citizens removed from harm that the specter of danger, once so very present and real, now seems a distant possibility to many. And although most people are grateful to have the protection of an organized and dedicated group of public safety officers, they do not often feel the personal impact of an officer's work. It is for these reasons that the presentation of the Public Safety Medal of Valor is so important.

The public needs to hear about people like Rodney Lee Chambers, an Amtrak police officer who had the courage and the presence of mind to confront a man holding a grenade. When the suspect pulled the pin, Officer Chambers grabbed the grenade before he could drop and detonate it. After wrestling it from the suspect, he moved away from bystanders and stood holding it for almost 20 minutes until the bomb disposal team arrived.

They should hear about brave officers like Marcus Young, a police sergeant in Ukiah, California. Riding with a 17-year-old unarmed cadet, Sergeant Young arrived at a local Wal-Mart store to investigate the report of an adult female shoplifter who had been placed in custody. As he escorted her to his patrol car, he was approached by an associate of the suspect. The man threatened Sergeant Young and refused to comply with repeated commands to remove his hands from his jacket pockets. When the man brandished a knife, Young grabbed his hand. The man then withdrew his other hand, which held a gun, and shot Young five times-in the face, the right upper arm, the left front side, and the back. Young was bleeding profusely, with a paralyzed right arm and a left hand torn apart about two inches between the index and middle fingers. After stabbing a security guard who had come to help, the assailant entered Young's patrol car, reaching for a firearm. Young, who was concerned for the well-being of others present, directed the police cadet to remove his side arm from his belt and place it in Young's left hand. Despite his injuries, Young was able to return fire, fatally striking the assailant. Sergeant Young and Officer Chambers are among 31 courageous public safety officers who have been honored with the Public Safety Officer Medal of Valor.

Medal of Valor
Courtesy of U.S. Deparment of Justice
The Medal of Valor not only recognizes the bravery and sacrifice of these extraordinary individuals, it also serves as a reminder of the critical functions and hazardous duties performed by public safety officers across the country every day. Beginning May 31, the Office of Justice Programs will again accept nominations for the Medal of Valor, and we encourage law enforcement agencies to nominate worthy members of their departments. Eligible candidates are those (living or deceased) who serve or have served in public agencies, with or without compensation, as law enforcement officers, including corrections, courts, and civil defense officers; firefighters; or emergency services officers. Nominees will be reviewed by the Medal of Valor Review Board, which comprises representatives of public safety agencies and the public appointed by the president, the minority and majority leaders of the U.S. Senate, and the Speaker and the minority leader of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Additional information about the Medal of Valor, including the nomination form and procedures, can be found on the Office of Justice Programs Web site at (www.ojp.usdoj.gov). The deadline for nominations is July 31, 2006.

Attorney General Gonzales captured the spirit of the Public Safety Officer Medal of Valor when, referring to our brave men and women in law enforcement, he said they "make extraordinary sacrifices while performing daily acts of heroism." The capacity to so ennoble one's day-to-day responsibilities is almost unique among law enforcement and public safety officers. We should honor that special quality in those who have chosen to be stewards of the public welfare. ■

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From The Police Chief, vol. 73, no. 5, May 2006. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.








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