Volunteers raising funds for police memorial

Greater visibility, listing of names planned

July 23, 1999|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

Baltimore police officers who gave their lives while patrolling city streets are remembered with a granite, arc-shaped wall dedicated two decades ago in Shot Tower Park, where the Jones Falls Expressway empties into downtown.

But the memorial is hidden and faces away from the road. Efforts are under way to build a new memorial that could not be missed -- tall Doric pillars and a shaded promenade for public gatherings -- at the same site.

Widows of officers and many volunteers will take to the streets this weekend to kick off a campaign to raise up to $2 million. Carrying cloth satchels, they will be at the Inner Harbor and Fells Point and at Orioles games wearing T-shirts reading: "They are etched in our hearts forever."

"It's not just important to the city, it's important to the families of the fallen officers, so they will be remembered for generations to come," said Elaine Sweeney, whose husband Lt. Owen E. Sweeney Jr. was shot to death in the line of duty in 1997.

Plans for the proposed 30,000-square-foot memorial were unveiled about two years ago, and the city and state each pledged $50,000 to its construction. Organizers say they were slow to raise money. The memorial was to have been built by this spring; construction is now set for October, with the dedication in November 2000.

Karen Hanrahan, the project's campaign manager, said about $250,000 has been raised, including the public money. She said the memorial, originally priced at $2.2 million, will probably be scaled back, with fewer columns and limestone replacing the more expensive granite. It's unclear how much money would be saved.

The new memorial will feature sweeping curved entry walls to guide visitors up steps and between a pair of flagpoles into a central circular plaza. Set back in a semicircle will be parallel rows of columns.

The memorial is designed to be viewed from the street as a classical colonnade and from the central plaza as a public gathering place. At the top will be a sculpture of an eagle holding a city police badge. At the edge, a tapered wall will be engraved with the names of the slain officers and the years they died.

But coming up with a list has not been easy. Official department records list 99 officers killed since 1870.

Organizers want to determine how many were killed before 1870 for inclusion in the memorial.

Determining when the department was created is a challenge in itself. The existing memorial says 1784; a book titled "Baltimore Police" lists April 3, 1797, when three commissioners were appointed to oversee a disorganized group of night watchmen who carried lanterns.

Hanrahan said her group has come up with 101 names since 1870, two more than are etched on a granite wall in front of the new Police Headquarters building at President and Fayette streets, across from Shot Tower Park.

The current memorial was dedicated in 1978 by then-Police Commissioner Donald D. Pomerleau after 13 officers were killed in five years. Two grass steps lead up to a 30-foot granite wall with a simple inscription, bracketed by two blue police badges.

For the new memorial, Shot Tower Park would be revamped. The memorial group is trying to find a home for a sculpture -- unrelated to the police memorial -- at the park. And eight dead trees would have to be replaced.

Tomorrow and Sunday are being called "Police Memorial Weekend." Sweeney called the events "very grand. I think this will give us the visibility that we need."

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