Candlelight Vigil for Fallen Police Officers

By Dan Patton | Managing Editor

On December 5, 1853, Constable James Quinn became the first Chicago police officer killed in the line of duty when he sustained fatal injuries during an assault in “The Sands,” a village of shacks where crime was commonplace along the north bank of the Chicago River. More than a century later, on September 16, 2015, Constable Quinn was honored during the annual Candlelight Vigil for Fallen Officers when his great-great-grandson, James Phillips, read his name from a list of all 874 members of the Chicago force who have sacrificed their lives while serving and protecting the public.

IMG_2901“Our motto is ‘Never Forget,’” explains Phil Cline, Executive Director of the Chicago Police Memorial Foundation, the organization that founded the Vigil in 2006.

Superintendent Cline, as he ultimately came to be known during his 37 years with the force, also helped raise $3.5 million to build the park where the event takes place. Gold Star Families Memorial Park, opened just east of Soldier Field in 2006, was named in honor of the “Gold Star” parents, siblings and children of the fallen officers.

The Vigil began with a procession of antique and modern police vehicles cruising slowly north along Museum Campus Drive, which was lined on either side with hundreds of officers and recruits holding pictures of the departed. The Chicago Police Pipes & Drum Corps marched behind the convoy, turning east into the park, where civilians stood in awe of those who have and will risk their lives to protect the city.

IMG_2746Bill Condon, a board member of the Foundation, addressed the crowd from a microphone in font of the monumental wall. “I wish this night was televised so that the people of Chicago could understand the sacrifice,” he said. Rabbi Moshe Wolf and Father Dan Brandt — Chicago Police Chaplains known for offering guidance “when cops on the street are having tough times,” according to Superintendent Cline — spoke next.

Then came the reading of the names. It was a powerful moment in one of the Chicago’s most gracious and respectful ceremonies.

“It’s a fitting honor for the 874 names on the wall,” explains Cline. “A lot of families tell me they’d rather go to the park than the cemetery.”

The foundation’s respect for the officers who have passed is complimented by its support of the families that remain. It currently helps cover the tuition of 32 children of Gold Star families and, adds Cline, “If a police officer is killed in the line of duty today, we’d be at the house with a check for $60,000 tomorrow.”

The organization also recognizes officers every year for the Award of Valor. This year’s recipients, partners Mike Wrobel and Javier Alonzo, accepted their awards in a Soldier Field ceremony immediately before the vigil.

IMG_2925On June 6, 2014, Officer Alonzo was shot in the thigh when he and a team from the Gang Enforcement Unit curbed a convicted felon and known gang member suspected of carrying a gun on the South Side. As the incident escalated into a shootout, Officer Wrobel came to his partner’s aid, carrying him into their squad car and driving him to Company of Mary Hospital.

Wrobel was also shot by the suspect, in the chest, but his bulletproof vest deflected the shot and he sustained only minor injuries.

The case is one of many that inspired the Foundation to form “Get Behind the Vest,” an initiative to “raise $4 million to replace the 8,000 outdated vests in use by Chicago police officers.”

“When I first came on, we were losing ten coppers per year,” Superintendent Cline recalls. “Bulletproof vests came on in the 1980s, and that’s made a big difference.”

Although Chicago Police Officers receive a stipend for their uniforms, they are responsible for purchasing and updating their own bulletproof vests, which generally expire after five years and cost anywhere from $500 to $3,000 to replace.

At the same time, their need for greater protection from street violence has been increasing. “There’s a lack of respect for the police,” the Superintendent says. “Gang members are pointing guns at them.”

But there were no such disruptions during the Candlelight Vigil. For one summer evening, the Chicago Police were treated like the heroes that they are.

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