Twenty-eight police officers who made the ultimate sacrifice were honored Wednesday with a memorial service at the Akron Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 7.
The annual event honored both the officers who gave their lives and the families that lost a sibling, child or parent, Police Union President Clay Cozart said.
“It’s a yearly reminder that not only do we not forget those officers, we also never forget their families,” Cozart said. “Because their sacrifice continues to this day and for the rest of their lives.”
The memorial service, which coincides with National Police Week, is held each year, but was canceled in 2020 due to the pandemic.
It honors the 27 Akron police officers and one Kenmore Deputy Marshal who died in the line of duty. Two Akron officers, Kenny Jones and Edward Stewart, died in the last six months.
Cozart said the two recent passing adds more solemnness to the ceremony, knowing that for both the officers’ families, that grief is still fresh.
He said it’s important to acknowledge and honor those families sacrifice.
During the roll call of fallen officers, family members in attendance are handed flowers, and a flower is pinned on a memorial wreath.
Deputy Chief Jesse Leeser, who’s currently acting police chief, said it’s important to take this time every year to remember the fallen officers.
Leeser said he was a kid delivering newspapers when he first read a story about the Akron officers who lost their lives. He said it left an imprint on him and led him to join the armed forces and later the police department.
He said the officers sacrificed their lives to protect people, but their actions inspire thousands of others.
“Sadly, there are too many names,” Leeser said. “Too many officers that have given everything. But I take some comfort in the ripple effect. Just as I was influenced by those officers and their sacrifice, I believe that thousands of other people have also been positively influenced by these events.”
Mayor Dan Horrigan said it was incredibly saddening to add two more names to the list of fallen officers this year. He said both Jones and Stewart were “outstanding public servants in our community.”
He said there’s nothing he fears more than a call saying one of Akron officers have been injured or died in the line of service. Horrigan said the fact that officers choose to serve even with the inherent risks they face is what makes them heroes.
Lisa Stewart, Officer Stewart’s wife, said the memorial touched her heart, and showed her the respect and appreciation the department and other officers had for her husband.
Stacy Hairston-Jones, Officer Jones’ wife, said the family knew him as a husband and as a father. Through the memorial and support they received, she said they’ve learned about other sides of him and the impact he had.
Jones, 55, died unexpectedly from a cardiac arrest. He was known as a gentle giant, and an officer who had “smile for everybody, all the time.”
Jones drove a paddy wagon on the afternoon patrol shift. He was described as a man of faith, family-oriented, a community advocate and a “big brother” to his fellow officers.
Stewart, 60, was affectionately known as “Stew” around the department. He died in February from complications due to COVID-19. The police department said he was first admitted to the hospital in mid-December.
Stewart, like Jones, also drove a paddy wagon. He was known for being an avid researcher, being community-focused and for being a mentor to other officers.
“Stew was like a godfather to the department,” Officer Calvin Barker said.
Lt. Michael Miller said the two officers were like brothers to each other, and with their similar personalities, left an imprint on the department.
“They both were passionate and compassionate people,” Miller said. “The legacy that they’ll leave on this police department, the imprint they left on me, just man-to-man, I’d be at a loss of words to continue.”
Tasked with prisoner transport, both officers saw otherwise good people in their worst moment and showed them kindness, Miller said.
“They’ll be deeply missed, personally and professionally,” Miller said.
Cozart said he’s had the privilege of getting to know the families of fallen officers through his time as FOP President and as chairman of the memorial before that.
He said the motto for the FOP Auxiliary, made up of family members of officers, is to “never let them walk alone.”
For the families that have lost a loved one, he said their service must always be remembered, and that their sacrifice should never be forgotten.”
Reach reporter Sean McDonnell at 330-996-3186 or firstname.lastname@example.org.