Book chronicles lives of officers who gave all

BACK STORY

Then & Now

November 17, 2007|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN REPORTER

If a book can raise a lump in your throat, then Some Gave All: A History of Baltimore Police Officers Killed in the Line of Duty 1808-2007, by Steven P. Olson and Robert P. Brown, will certainly do so.

Since 1784, when a force of constables was established to enforce the town's laws (the department itself was officially established in 1845), 124 Baltimore officers have died in the line of duty.

The authors offer another chilling statistic. Since 1792, 17,900 federal, state and local law enforcement officers have been killed; during the last decade, an average of one is killed every 53 hours.

"That is the reality for the exceptional men and women who choose to take the oath of office and courageously serve their communities," write Olson and Brown, both city police officers.

"In some cases the death was accidental, in others intentional and often malicious," wrote Christopher Dreisbach, who teaches in the Division of Public Safety Leadership at the Johns Hopkins University.

The recently published book had its genesis when Olson, 35, a detective and member of the warrant apprehension task force, and Brown, 41, who is assigned to the Southern District, met four years ago over a few pints of Guinness in Patrick's on Pratt Street.

The two men had been on the same quest. Curiosity led them to try and illuminate the lives of the fallen officers whose names and stories had faded with the passage of time, and were now nothing more than etched names on memorial plaques hanging on station house walls throughout the city.

"Every day when I came to work, I'd see these badge-shaped bronze plaques with the same phrase: `He Served the Department with Honor,'" Brown, a 10-year veteran, said the other day.

"Those plaques were a sober reminder that being a police officer is a commitment and that bullets are flying out there," Olson said.

The men agreed that Brown would be the researcher and Olson would handle the writing chores.

"So, I started researching their names on my own. I had no formal research training. I'm just a cop," Brown said. "Then I started making copies of what I had found and stuffed the material in a gray plastic box. I just wanted to know their stories, and at times they were emotional."

In addition to departmental records, which were sometimes short on details, Brown checked lists with the Fraternal Order of Police and the National Law Enforcement Memorial. He visited libraries seeking information from yellowed newspaper clips and reels of microfilm.

He also visited family members and talked with fellow officers, to find details that Olson then fashioned into a narrative.

"Bobby is still actively researching, and while we think the list is pretty comprehensive right now, Bobby did find five officers who hadn't been recognized," Olson said. "And there still may be others, but as it stands now, it's a pretty definitive listing."

He added that he didn't know any of the officers personally, which "probably made the writing a little easier."

On occasion, he talked with family members "who were more than willing to talk and others for whom it was still a little too fresh. I also talked with those who had been at the scene," he said.

"The happy side is that these officers' stories are now told. That people can pick up something and know what happened to them without having to guess," Brown said. "But the research continues. That's my philosophy."

George Workner, a night watchman, was the first officer killed in the line of duty. On the night of March 14, 1808, nine inmates of Baltimore's jail stabbed him as they made their escape.

Four of the conspirators were sentenced to die on the gallows and were executed a little more than a month after their escape and recapture.

The most recent officer to die in the line of duty was Detective Troy Lamont "T-Roy" Chesley Sr., 34, who was an undercover officer with the department's housing unit.

Early on the morning of Jan. 9 this year, the 13-year veteran was killed during a robbery attempt in front of his home in West Forest Park.

Police said Chesley pulled his weapon as the other man opened fire. Both men were wounded, and the officer died a few feet from his home. Brandon Grimes, a 22-year-old with a long arrest record, has been charged with murder and has pleaded not criminally responsible. His trial is pending.

Chesley left five children.

They "have every reason to be proud of their dad. Many men and women take the oath to serve and protect their fellow citizens, but few did it quite as well as Troy did," the authors wrote.

"It is the life, not the circumstances surrounding the death, of Troy Chesley that will be remembered by his friends, family, and fellow officers.

"In attempting to rob a man of a few dollars," the authors wrote, the gunman "robbed a community of a favorite son."

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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