With Columbus Division of Police officer Frank Hetterscheidt playing “Amazing Grace” on bagpipes and the American flag at half-mast, University Police officer Regina Shoopman and Red, a police horse with no rider, watched from a path in front of Blankenship Hall, ready to honor police officers killed in the line of duty.
Ohio State University Police held a Peace Officers Memorial ceremony Wednesday at Blankenship Hall to honor police officers killed in the line of duty, including Michael Blankenship, who served as a University Police officer from 1978 until his death in 1997.
Blankenship was shot and killed on Feb. 10, 1997 in the lobby of the Wexner Center for the Arts while responding to a robbery.
Blankenship and his partner responded to a call made by a security guard regarding suspicious activity in the Wexner Center. When University Police attempted to make an arrest, the suspect produced a handgun and shot Blankenship in the face.
Blankenship Hall, which houses University Police, is named in his memory.
University Police Chief Paul Denton told The Lantern the annual memorial ceremony helps University Police reconnect with the sacrifice Blankenship made in the line of duty.
“He made a sacrifice to the university community in keeping it safe,” Denton said. “He really connected with the community and the students here — something we all try to emulate.”
A plaque in memory of Blankenship hangs outside the hall. Written by an anonymous student, it reads, “Bless you who shields me from the reckless hands of tragedy. For you are shepherd to my freedom and protector of my dreams. Thank you, Michael.”
Anna Stephenson, who has served as a University Police officer for 34 years and considers Blankenship to have been her best friend, told The Lantern she remembers the night of Blankenship’s death vividly.
But Stephenson said she wants officers to remember Blankenship’s commitment to community engagement and crime prevention while moving forward in his memory, and she wants University Police to continue that tradition of commitment.
“I want us to learn, I want every officer to learn from the death of another officer,” she said. “In law enforcement, we should never have an officer die and we don’t go back and say, ‘What could we do better? What could we do to learn from that?'”
Retired University Deputy Chief Richard Morman, Deputy Chief Craig Stone and Craig Morgan, University Police retiree, were in attendance along with members of local law enforcement.
During the ceremony, Stephenson urged University Police officers to remember and utilize safety practices and tactics in their daily police work.
“When you drive around campus, I want you to say, ‘There are no routine interactions in police work,'” she said. “I wish you to be safe, and I pray that I do not see another friend, coworker or colleague become a police statistic. You have to be the change that we want to see in our profession.”
A prayer was offered at the ceremony by Steve Norden, volunteer chaplain for the Dublin Division of Police, for deceased officers and their families.
“Today, we are acutely aware the liberty we enjoy in this great land of ours comes at a tremendous price and a great sacrifice paid by so many,” Norden said. “We thank you today for those who have given their lives in the service of protecting the freedoms we enjoy.”
The ceremony was held during National Police Week, which brings recognition of police officers killed in the line of duty to the national stage.
A candlelight vigil held Wednesday evening in Washington, D.C. honored 273 deceased police officers whose names have been added to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial, according to the memorial fund’s website.
Blankenship’s name was added to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial wall in 1998.
Denton told The Lantern the ceremony on Wednesday also allowed for reflection beyond campus and central Ohio on the rise in police deaths nationwide.
On Monday, the FBI announced 51 law enforcement officers were killed in the line of duty in 2014, which is an 89 percent increase in felonious deaths since 2013, according to an FBI release of 2014 preliminary statistics on law enforcement deaths. The release noted that an annual average of 64 officer deaths have occurred between 1980 and 2014.
In her speech, Stephenson also mentioned the presence of violence against law enforcement officers in the news, saying the actions of both police and civilians have resulted in the deaths of fellow officers.
“We are experiencing an epidemic; a crisis in the faith of our law enforcement community,” Stephenson said. “In this light, I ask each one of you to look internally and examine how you can make the individual difference to impact this crisis, to impact our profession and to impact our community.”
Denton recognized during the ceremony that there have been several high-profile police incidents in the past year, adding “that should not be a justification for casting all officers in a negative light.”
OSU has seen several protests in connection with police incidents, including a Dec. 8 rally protesting the Ferguson decision and police brutality, and a May 2 march coinciding with Baltimore protests after the funeral of Freddie Gray.
“We must not lose sight of the fact that the vast majority of police officers are men and women of integrity, are respectful of individuals and their constitutional rights, and are dedicating to protecting their communities while sometimes placing their lives on the line,” Denton said.
He added that this is a particularly difficult and uncertain time for many police officers, with some officers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder or being forced to sacrifice time with family.
“One of the best ways to salute former officers is to honor and thank those who continue the hard work of keeping their communities safe,” he said.
Denton told The Lantern it takes a special person to be a police officer, but that it takes a special police officer to police a university campus.
“We have a special connection to the students, the faculty, the staff, people who are engaged and highly involved, and that’s a value for us to be part of their educational process,” he said.
Concluding the ceremony, Stephenson stood at the podium in a moment of silence before her police radio received a ceremonial call for Blankenship’s unit number, “Unit 303 … Unit 303: Officer Michael Blankenship,” then following a pause, “End of watch: February 10, 1997.”
Behind Stephenson, Hetterscheidt resumed “Amazing Grace” on bagpipes, and the riderless horse emerged from under the flag at half-mast and down a path of Blankenship Hall.
“Rest in peace, sir,” the voice from the police radio said. “We have the watch from here.”