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Blue lights shine in memory of fallen police officers

| Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2012, 9:01 p.m.
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Some local police departments are urging residents to put a blue light in a window to recognize fallen police officers. Courtesy of Steve LaRussa

Outdoor decorations certainly are lavish this year, as they capture the holiday spirit in the traditional colors of red and green.

But there's one more tradition those in law enforcement would like residents to consider — placing a single blue light in a window.

The solitary sentinel represents the many fallen heroes who kept their pledge to protect and serve.

A blue light shines from the window of the Cranberry Township Police Department. It has kept its vigil for years.

Sgt. Chuck Mascellino of the police force appreciates the candle's message.

“Officers give up a lot personally,” Mascellino said, although he recognizes that some departments are very well paid.

“They miss family time. It's nice to be recognized by the citizens.”

Project Blue Light began in 1989 when Dolly Craig wrote to the Concerns of Police Survivors organization, or COPS, based in Camdenton, Mo., explaining that she would be placing a blue candle in her living room window to honor her son-in-law, Danny Gleason, who died in the line of duty with the Philadelphia Police Department in 1986. She said she also was adding a second candle in honor of her daughter, Pam, who was killed in an automobile accident. The couple had six children.

Since that time, COPS officials have considered the project Dolly Craig's legacy. The blue light shines for those who gave their lives and for those who continue to patrol the streets.

“We deal with people on their worst days — as a victim or the one doing the action,” said Mascellino, who has been with the Cranberry department for 16 of his 19 years in law enforcement.

“We experience things people shouldn't experience.”

Madeline Neumann of New Jersey, national COPS board president, has taken comfort in the glow of many a blue light. At age 22 and six weeks married, Neumann heard the news that her husband, Keith, an Essex County, N.J., patrolman, had been killed in a drug raid in 1989.

“We had known each other since kindergarten,” she said.

Local grief groups couldn't heal the pain she was feeling, but she found “a bond and kinship with survivors,” when she attended National Police Week ceremonies in Washington, D.C., nine months later. She also learned of the COPS organization, which supports survivors. In 1996, she established a COPS chapter in New Jersey.

It doesn't matter, she said, whether there is one blue light or more.

“Even a lot of blue lights say, ‘Your loss is appreciated. You are not forgotten,'” she said.

Blue is the color most associated with police because of the history of the uniform.

Neumann remembered the story of a little girl who set out to purchase blue light bulbs from a Sewell, N.J., hardware store. When the shop owner asked why she needed so many, Andrea McMeekim, 8, told the story about Project Blue Light.

Returning home with donated lights, Andrea wrote notes to each of her neighbors. A note and a bulb were placed in their mailboxes. Soon, the lights found their places in holiday decorations, and the little girl knew that her story had persuaded them to participate.

“Today, it's a big annual thing in that development,” Neumann said.

The tiny glow of a simple blue light says a lot to an officer passing by in a patrol car.

“We don't see it that often,” Mascellino said.

“We put things to back of mind and go through our routines. When we see citizens' support, it helps us.”

Part of that, unfortunately, is learning that another officer has been killed in the line of duty.

“Another one!” he said, as a report of an officer down in Georgia came over the radio.

“But you can't make it personal because you don't do your job. You just go out and do your best. If we wore mourning bands for every officer killed on duty, we'd wear them all year round.”

Dona S. Dreeland is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6353 or ddreeland@tribweb.com.

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