Last year, 140 police officers nationwide took their own lives, said Middletown Police Chief Rodney Muterspaw.
He called that number of suicides “staggering” and said it proves how much the job can “take its toll” on those who choose to serve and protect.
Muterspaw, speaking Thursday afternoon at Woodside Cemetery as part of National Police Week, also touched on the cases of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) among active and retired officers around the county. He called that disorder “a crisis as well.”
He said since the first recorded police officer death in 1792, there have been more than 19,000 law enforcement officers killed on the job. On average, he said, 160 officers across the nation are killed every year.
Muterspaw said the best way to honor whose who have died is to “respect those who are protecting you now.” He said residents should respect the law and the officers who enforce the law.
“Do not make the mistake of remembering once a year what these fallen officers did for you and the citizens of Middletown,” Muterspaw told about 25 people who gathered, mostly those in law enforcement. “Instead, remember it daily. They once stood where we stand today, just as future generations will stand after we are gone.”
He then thanked those officers in attendance.
“Maybe you didn’t feel you changed the community and the people you protected,” he said. “But you did. You touched the lives of many people without even knowing it. For these intangible and immeasurable acts of courage and kindness, we thank you.”
The police department then recognized several employees Thursday night during its annual dinner at the Eagles Lodge.
Brook McDonald was named Officer of the Year; Danny Gibson was Corrections Officer of the Year; Beth Potter was Dispatcher of the Year; and Tony Peck was named John D. Webster Reserve of the Year.
Muterspaw said the other six officers nominated for the top award — Detective Tim Meehan, Detective Jason Wargo, Detective Jon Hoover, Officer Gary Bender, Officer Jordan Wagers and Officer Dennis Jordan — were “very deserving,” but McDonald’s leadership as a patrol officer stood out.
“He gets the job done,” the chief said of McDonald.
McDonald started at the Middletown Police Department as a Corrections Officer in August of 2005, then became a Patrol Officer on Nov. 12, 2009. He has been on the Middletown Special Response Team for several years and has also served on the Honor Guard.
Gibson has worked with the department since December 2009. During that time, he also served as a reserve officer for one year.
Potter has been a dispatcher with the department since August 1995.
Muterspaw said the dinner drew 290 people from the community, the largest attendance he could remember. Just four years ago, there were 135 there, he said.
“That just shows that we’re doing something right,” the chief said. “People are appreciating what we’re doing and that means a lot.”