By David Cruz
For three decades now, the annual Law Enforcement Memorial Service has served as a solemn gathering for cops from around the state — small towns to big cities — remembering and honoring fallen comrades who gave their lives in the line of duty over the last 30 years.
“These courageous men chose their path. They chose to be on the front line,” said Acting Attorney General John Hoffman. “They wanted the responsibility of protecting others and they sought the opportunity to make the world a better place by taking action, not just wishing it so.”
Lisa Preslar, of Garden State Concerns of Police Survivors, shared the impact the loss of her husband, Officer William Preslar, had on her family. He died in 2007 in an on-duty motor vehicle accident.
“My first thought was with my two children,” she remembered. “Two young girls asleep in their bed. Two young girls who were the light of their father’s eye and who, in turn, thought that their daddy hung the moon and stars for them. To say our family was devastated was an understatement. The worst thing I ever had to do was tell my children they were never going to see their father again.”
There were five Jersey officers who died on the job this year. Gov. Chris Christie was there to honor the fallen officers and to show support for their families, delivering solemn remarks, devoid of politics or partisanship.
“We know that the men and women — over 900,000 each and every day, who serve protecting our communities across the country, and their families — understand the uniqueness of this mission,” said a somber governor. “And for those who have made this their career, they understand also, not only the daily sacrifice, but the possibility of the ultimate sacrifice being paid by their loved one who serves.”
The state’s two largest forces — Jersey City and Newark — each lost officers this year. Twenty-three-year veteran Reinaldo Arocha died of a heart attack after a struggle with a suspect on the job. Jersey City rookie Melvin Santiago was only 23 years old with just six months on the job, when he was ambushed and shot to death.
“Our department was devastated with Melvin’s murder in July and they’re still healing. I have a lot of younger officers — even for us veterans — it’s been a rough year,” said Jersey City Police Chief Philip Zacche, noting that some of his cops were weeping today. “You would’ve caught me crying, too. I just had my head down. It’s very tough.”
Newark Police Chief Anthony Campos thanked members of the Newark department who traveled to Ocean Grove for the ceremony.
“Unfortunately, a very nice ceremony but very solemn, the reason that we’re here. What’s important, though — and I’m speaking more towards police officers in this — is the feeling that they’re feeling today, that feeling of unity, of being on the side of righteousness, you should feel it each and every day, not just at an event like this,” he said.
These are especially difficult times for law enforcement, from Ferguson, Missouri to Baltimore, Maryland. But for every cop seen behaving badly, it’s important to note that there are at least a dozen who serve with professionalism and honor. It is for them — and their survivors — that this service has been held now for 31 years.