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Local law officers lauded

RESOLUTE — Sixth Ward Councilman Bob Villamagna, left, presents a resolution proclaiming Saturday Police Office Memorial Day in Steubenville to Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 1's Patrolman Jim Marquis. -- Linda Harris

STEUBENVILLE — Just about the time City Council was adopting a resolution Tuesday designating Saturday as Peace Officer Memorial Day in Steubenville, crews were busy in front of the city building removing the blue line that had been painted in the street two years ago.

“I knew it had to come off,” 6th Ward Councilman Bob Villamagna, who retired from the city police department in 2002, said, referencing a complaint filed after the line was painted by a motorist who claimed the blue paint had caused his Tesla to veer. The allegation was met with skepticism, but in researching the issue, City Manager Jim Mavromatis discovered the blue line in front of the city building — and the red one in front of the fire department — violated a U.S. Department of Transportation policy.

“It’s just kind of insulting they did it the night we were giving the resolution to our police,” Villamagna said.

He pointed out Peace Officer Memorial Day is meant to celebrate members of the law enforcement community who’ve given their lives in service to their community.

“It’s very important,” he said. “It honors the service of the officers who have served their community well, officers who have given their lives to protect people in their communities. People fail to realize police are their first line of defense.”

Patrolman Jim Marquis, president of Fraternal Order of Police Fort Steuben Lodge No. 1, said they’ve decided to delay their annual memorial service until October, when the national in-person remembrance events will be held. The annual Blue Mass will also be held in the fall.

He said remembering the fallen is important.

“(We) go out and do a job, some of us don’t come home,” he said. “They don’t get to enjoy life, they don’t get to enjoy retirement, enjoy their families.”

Police Chief Bill McCafferty says, locally, officers are blessed to have a supportive community, but that’s not the case in other parts of the country.

During the past couple decades he said “the department has changed, it’s completely revamped,” thanks to the training and policies instituted as part of a 1997 consent decree with the Department of Justice. That order, one of the first of its kind issued by the DOJ, came after a lengthy investigation into alleged misconduct by the department. By the time the city was released from the decree in 2005, the department had new policies in place regarding use of force, training, internal affairs investigations, the detention and arrest of suspects and how information is gathered and retained.

“We have a lot of support, we really do,” McCafferty said, “and we have a good police department.

“Somebody made a comment that there are too many bad apples (in law enforcement), the whole barrel is poisoned. But if we see a problem develop, we take care of it.”

Villamagna agreed, insisting you “can’t paint all police with the same brush.”

“They’re not all bad,” he said. “They’re human beings and they’re going to make mistakes. Unfortunately, the mistakes they make sometimes are very bad and when they are, they have to pay for it.”

But Villamagna also said police willingly enter situations most people run from, and many times have just seconds to assess a situation and decide how to respond.

“Soldiers defend us abroad, police defend us locally in our communities,” Villamagna said. “A lot of police who defend us in our community have also defended us abroad, they were soldiers. It’s a noble profession, but it’s not for everybody.”

He also noted that “there are going to be bad police, just as there are bad politicians, bad teachers, bad priests — there’s bad in every profession. Police officers are not going to be perfect, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t good police. We have outstanding police officers, not only here but across the country, who will lay their lives down every day to defend people in their community.”

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