Howard Co. policeman earns a national award for service

American Legion honors Eckley as officer of year

May 25, 2004|By Marc Peters | Marc Peters,SUN STAFF

In the early morning of June 25, 2002, Officer 1st Class Patrick Eckley and his canine partner, Ben, searched for the source of piercing screams that caused nearby residents to call 911 and walked into the dark woods next to a Columbia apartment complex.

The officer and his dog came upon a man sexually assaulting a 17-year-old girl. His hands were still around her throat. When the man started to run, Eckley unleashed Ben, who bit the suspect on the leg and held him until the officer could subdue and handcuff him. Eckley arrested the man, who was later sentenced to 65 years in prison for attempted murder and sexual assault.

It was all in the line of duty for Eckley, who recently was named the American Legion's National Law Enforcement Officer of the Year.

He will accept the award Sept. 1 at the American Legion's national convention in Nashville, Tenn. He also will be honored July 17 at the American Legion Department of Maryland's annual convention in Ocean City.

Eckley said he does not deserve the attention.

"Everybody in this job has a really hard job to do. I do not know what set me apart," Eckley said. "I come to work every day and I do my job. This is just a side note. It's great to be recognized, but if I'd won the award or not, it wouldn't affect my work ethic."

This is the second year that a Howard County officer has won the American Legion honor. Officer 1st Class Timothy C. Wiley, also a K-9 officer, was recognized by the American Legion last year, making Maryland the only repeat state in the eight-year history of the award.

This is the latest in a series of accolades for Eckley. He has been awarded the Bronze and Silver Star and a Life-Saving Award by the Howard County Police. He was named Howard County Police Officer of the Year in 2003 and received Officer of the Year awards from the Howard County Chamber of Commerce, the Federal Bar Association and The Sun, among other commendations.

"Each award has [its] own meaning. Each one is just as special," Eckley said. "I don't look at it as just another award and throw it on the bookshelf."

Eckley has been a Howard County officer for 11 years. He also served four years in the Army.

"I didn't really have a notion of going into public service. I come from a very small town in Pennsylvania. Everybody knows everybody, and everybody helps everybody," Eckley said. "That stuck with me and with what my family had instilled upon me. You're supposed to be a good neighbor. You're supposed to help other people."

He began his career as a patrol officer and later became a K-9 officer. "I've always loved dogs," he said. "I am not one for sitting behind a desk. I really like working the street as a cop. This is a perfect way to match both my love for animals and police work and still stay out on the street."

Last year, Eckley made 140 arrests and was involved in 229 building searches and nearly 200 drugs scans, resulting in numerous arrests and seizures of marijuana, cocaine, heroin and Ecstasy.

Also noted in his American Legion commendation was his effort in August 2002, when he and Ben searched for a child who had run away after a suicide attempt. They found the girl after about 45 minutes.

American Legion National Cmdr. John Brieden said his organization presents the annual National Law Enforcement award to deserving officers "because we believe their communities, states and nation should be proud of them.

"There are so many reasons to be proud of Officer Eckley: honorable service in the U.S. Army, meritorious service as a sworn officer and extensive community involvement," Brieden said.

"Law-abiding citizens in Howard County, in Maryland and across America should feel good about a nation that produces the Patrick Eckleys and all the other American Legion National Law Enforcement Officers of the Year," he said. "I am looking forward to presenting him the award."

Eckley volunteers with Maryland Special Olympics and works with disabled children at Cedar Lane School. He volunteers with a project that renovates homes for low-income families.

"I'm proud of the work he does for the Howard County Police Department," said Chief Wayne Livesay. "It sets a great example of the work we do here. ... The volunteer efforts are important to us - that he goes beyond the call of duty, so to speak."

Eckley said he is humbled that he is being honored by the American Legion.

"I was in the service. Our generation is a lot younger, and we kind of forget about the veterans who laid their lives down and fought for this country in plenty of the previous wars," he said. "It's an honor to be selected by them, but it's a greater honor just to be in their presence. They've done more for this country then I can probably ever do."

Ben retired in February. Eckley is training a new dog to do drug searches and tracking.

"It was really hard [to lose Ben as a partner]," he said. "We were getting to the point that it was more of an automatic. He knew what I was going to do. I knew what he was going to do. We really clicked as a team.

"In the same sense, I was kind of happy," Eckley said. "He had some arthritic problems, so hopefully now he will be able to live a long and happy life."

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