Wheeling Police honors fallen in memorial ceremony

WHEELING — Former Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Mel Blount said focusing on children is the key to a better police department and community as a whole.

“The way we can make America better is we’ve got to invest in your young people,” Blount said Wednesday at the Wheeling Police Department Law Enforcement Memorial Ceremony. “We’ve got to be better parents and then work to make sure that we’re instilling the right values so that our police department is not put in compromising situations or put in situations not good for them or the community.”

Blount spoke before an audience of 200 law enforcement officers, their families, local officials and other residents at WPD’s seventh annual memorial ceremony at Heritage Port, held to honor officers who lost their lives in the line of duty.

“One thing that I do know … is that the men and women who work in service are valuable people,” he said. “Whether it’s firefighters, whether it’s police officers, these people are very valuable to keep a community safe and we should hold them in high esteem.”

The ceremony recognized the nine Wheeling Police officers who died while serving since the department was founded in 1806. It further paid tribute to officers who died in the line of duty across the U.S., including 163 officers lost in 2018.

“It’s with great pride that we dedicate today’s ceremony to these brave officers who have given their lives in the line of duty,” said Philip Stahl, public information officer for WPD. “We honor their sacrifices and commitment to the communities that they serve and this great nation.”

On average, one law enforcement officer is killed in the U.S. every 57 hours, Stahl said, with 23,000 line of duty deaths in the country since 1791.

Police Chief Shawn Schwertfeger, who initiated the ceremony when he came to the department seven years ago, thanked the law enforcement officers and their families in attendance at the ceremony.

Schwertfeger said he once spoke with Blount at a football game at Wheeling Island several years ago, when anti-police sentiment was present in the national dialogue.

“Mr. Blount said to me simply, ‘Don’t let all this national news on TV get you down and don’t buy into it. Keep doing the right things and know that you are supported,'” Schwertfeger said. “He spoke from the heart and it meant so much to me.”

Blount, the youngest of 11 children who grew up on a farm in Vidalia, Georgia, played for the Steelers from 1970 to 1983 and is a four-time Super Bowl champion. He later founded youth homes in Vidalia and Chester, West Virginia to help disadvantaged kids.

“When kids aren’t getting the fundamental upbringing and discipline at home, it spills out into the streets,” he said.

Blount said imparting values on children is essential, noting that he took his children to church every Sunday while they were growing up.

“You’ve got to instill those kind of values because life is difficult,” he said. “I don’t care where you come from or how wealthy or how poor you are. But if you have some values and if you have a foundation then you can deal with the storms of life.”

“If we want to have a great police department, we need to do a better job at home with our children,” Blount continued. “If we want to have a great city, then we need to make sure that we’re producing young people who can respect the law and who can come back and make a contribution to this community.”

The ceremony featured a posting of colors, dedication of wreaths and 21 gun salute by the Wheeling Police Department Honor Guard.

Attendees heard songs from the Warwood Middle School Chorus, prayers from Pastor Melvin Williams, a performance of taps by American Legion Post 1 and “Amazing Grace” by the Greater Pittsburgh Police Pipes and Drums.

Mayor Glenn Elliott also spoke at the ceremony, thanking law enforcement officers for their service.

“We owe your our sincere gratitude for the pact you have made with our community and with the communities that you protect and serve,” Elliott said. “As a city, we have to hold up our end of the bargain. We have to give you the tools you need to keep us safe, and just as importantly, make sure you have the tools to keep yourselves safe in doing so.”

In closing, Blount spoke of his aspirations to improve communities.

“To the Wheeling Police Department, I want to commend you for your service. For all the families of fallen heroes, our hearts go out to you,” he said. “We want to work to make not only Wheeling better, the state of West Virginia but also make America better.”

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