Another Philadelphia police officer lies dead this morning. He was only 25 years old. His young wife is now a widow as she carries their first and only child in her womb, a child that won’t be born until the coming summer is almost over. A child that will never know it’s father, never even get to meet him.
He is John Pawlowski of the PPD’s 35th district, and he is the 7th Philly cop to be killed in the line of duty in the past 33 months. I remember a time when it seemed that we lost a brother or sister officer every few years. Now we don’t even get six months, and often it’s been much less.
There was a time when it made me sad and angry. But the wave of murders of our officers over the past couple years has simply left me numb. I can’t even watch the stories on TV anymore beyond the headlines to get the basic facts. I am well aware that the danger is part of the job for which we have all signed up, but I want it to just all stop, even if just for a couple years.
Part of the problem for cops is that we do a job that few others could ever possibly relate to, but we can all relate to one another. No matter what our current responsibilities in this career that we have chosen, we were all John Pawlowski at some point.
We all put on the uniform and the badge, strapped the gun to our hip, slid behind the wheel of a marked police car, and slipped out into the night to patrol the streets of Philadelphia. It is alternately thrilling and dangerous, exciting and deadly. It is sometimes slow, but rarely boring. And always, always, there is the next corner to turn, around which may lie one of the funniest things that you’ve ever seen, or the end of your life.
You work those streets as a cop in a squad of men and women who become your extended family. You are with them almost every day or night in those circumstances and situations. Especially as a young person in your early years on the job, you form a bond in that squad that will never leave you.
My squad was special to me, and always will be. It included my own brother, Mike Veasey, with whom I had the absolute pleasure to work with as a partner for a few years.
Our squad in the early years of the 1990’s also included others who I will also always carry in my heart: Dave Lee, Juan Perez, Lisa Collins, Tom McComesky, Bob Donahue, Joe Kramer, Tommy DiFlorio, Aaron Horn, Chris Faber, Kevin Bethel, Thom Hoban, Stevie Susson, Denise McDonough, Nick Campolongo, Herbie Felder, Kevin Wong, Charlie Kelly, Ray Plymouth, Anne Klineburger, Eddie Blunt, Patti Parks, Bobby Bonds, Dominic Tursi, Dennis Andraczak, Tommy Key, Gary Burrell, Louie & Stephanie Velazquez, and many others.
There are so many people that touch you on this job, that you lean on to get you through the tough times, that you laugh with during the good times. Not only those folks in your own squad, but also those in the other squads within your district, and other cops all over the city, and the many business and community people that become a part of our everyday lives.
Working the streets is addictive. It is an experience that is difficult to describe. Having that kind of respect from most people, experiencing that affection from folks you don’t even know, and carrying the burden of the power that the people have bestowed on you that includes taking away someones freedom and even their life. Only police officers who have worn that uniform and stepped out on those patrols will ever know that feeling.
This was the life that young John Pawlowski was living, the same one that I lived, that my brother lived, that our father lived. The same one that every street cop has lived. It is what makes losing John, and all the others in recent months and years, so very difficult.
It is always worth mentioning them all by name, because what has happened recently will forever link them: Gary Skerski, Chuck Cassidy, Steve Liczbinski, Isabel Nazario, Pat McDonald, Tim Simpson and now John Pawlowski.
We are them. They are us. It is Valentine’s Day, and a young woman carrying a baby should be waking up to her young husband and thinking about things like cards and flowers and candy and dinner. Instead she has to plan a funeral. I am numb…again.