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Centre County Ceremony Honors Fallen Officers

by on May 15, 2019 2:29 PM

Centre County law enforcement agencies and community members gathered Wednesday outside the courthouse in Bellefonte to pay tribute to the 150 officers who died in the line of duty nationwide last year and to recognize the daily work of police.

The 21st Annual Centre County Law Enforcement Memorial was held in conjunction with National Peace Officers Memorial Day and National Police Week, which was first declared nationally by President John F. Kennedy in 1962.

"I am proud as a county resident to have such men and women working together day in and day out to protect us, to protect my family and your family," Bellefonte Police Chief Shawn Weaver said in his opening remarks. "The officers that are here standing before you are the most important cog of law enforcement. They are working when you are sleeping. They’re working when I’m sleeping. They’re unsung heroes and I am very proud to be one of their brothers."

After the singing of the national anthem by Meg Brower, Pastor William Osman of St. John Lutheran Church gave an opening prayer and said Centre County is "extremely blessed" to have dedicated men and women working to protect the community.

"We also recognize that your service often comes with great risk and sometimes unfortunately that risk results in the sad call of officer down," Osman said. "Let the scriptures remind us that greater love has no one than this, than that they lay down their lives for their friends."

Magisterial District Judge Kelley Gillette-Walker delivered keynote remarks and contrasted the work she does in the judiciary with the work and risks law enforcement officers face every day.

If a judge makes a mistake, she said, a higher court can rectify it, but law enforcement officers have to make life and death decisions, she said.

"At my job I strive to succeed. At yours you strive to survive," she said. "I try my best not to err but you do not have that luxury of simply trying. Officers have but a split second to make a decision that judges and lawyers will argue over for years."

She discussed "the thin blue line" as a symbol of law enforcement and how it is a reminder of sacrifices and the line officers stand on to protect others and society.

"Being a police officer means giving your life for mine, for all of ours," Gillette-Walker said. "Just like a veteran, you have all written a blank check made payable to the municipality, the county or the state for an amount up to and including your life."

Centre County Commissioners Michael Pipe, Mark Higgins and Steve Dershem presented a proclamation declaring Peace Officers Memorial Day and Police Week in Centre County, while also offering their support for law enforcement.

Higgins noted that of the nearly 1,000 line of duty deaths that have occurred in Pennsylvania, one is remembered by a plaque less than 100 yards from the courthouse, where Bellefonte Officer Ronald Seymore was shot and killed in 1971.

Dershem, meanwhile, was emotional as he recounted earlier in the day coming across the business card of his father, who served in the FBI.

"It was incredible for me, because many years later that card still had to me the essence of law enforcement and my father taught me through my entire life," he said. "I can only say thank you for the opportunity to know that and understand how important it is for the job that you do on a daily basis, the risk that you take and what you stand for in our community... Know that there are so many people in the community that hold you at great value, almost immeasurable respect and certainly and, most important, deep in our hearts."

Representatives from nine Centre County law enforcement agencies read the names of each of the 150 officers who died in the line of duty in 2018, an increase from 128 the prior year. The line of duty deaths included five Pennsylvania officers — SCI-Somerset Corrections Sgt. Mark Baserman, New Castle Police Det. Sgt. Brian Cuscino, York Police Officer Alex Sable and SCI-Camp Hill Corrections Officer Mark Gaspich and Deputy U.S. Marshal Christopher Hill of York County.

"On this day we set aside to honor those officers who so bravely and skillfully served their citizens, friends and family," Gillette-Walker said. "They have made the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty. They have exhibited the valor that is so valued to a democratic society."

The presentation of the F.O.P. #51 memorial wreath by Spring Township Officer Chris Snare and Centre County 9-1-1 dispatcher Jessica Zimmerman was followed by a 21-gun salute by the Centre County Law Enforcement Rifle Team and playing of "Taps" by Altoona Police Officer Noah Bollman.

National Police Week comes at a time when some community members have expressed concerns about the relationship between local law enforcement and communities of color, as well as police interactions with those in mental health crisis, following the fatal shooting of Osaze Osagie by State College police.

Last week District Attorney Bernie Cantorna issued a report that said borough officers who were serving a mental health warrant were justified in the use of force against Osagie, who rushed at officers with a knife in a narrow hallway outside his Old Boalsburg Road apartment on March 20. The investigation also determined the shooting was not motivated by racial bias.

After the memorial on Tuesday, Cantorna said he "took a lot away" from his conversations with community members before and after the release of the report.

"I’ve known this, but it brings it home in a very direct way that people of color in our community and in the United States have a different experience and unfortunately the dialogue in our country only makes it worse," he said. "I want to do everything I can at least locally so that we’re working together, bridging the gaps and not dividing us."

He added the local police are dedicated to protecting and working together with the community.

"At a local level we have officers who only want to make our community safer," he said. "They’re here to protect and they are going to do everything they can, and I’ll do everything I can, to keep and earn the trust of the public. It’s not 'us and them.' It’s 'we,' and we have to work together to make this best place we can make it for everyone."

See photos from the memorial in the gallery below.

Photo Gallery - Centre County Law Enforcement Memorial 2019

Geoff Rushton is managing editor for Contact him at [email protected] or find him on Twitter at @geoffrushton.
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