Hazel ParkDecember 13, 2013
Project Blue Light honors fallen officers
By Andy Kozlowski
C & G Staff Writer
HAZEL PARK — Put a blue light in the window of your home this holiday season, and you’ll be showing your appreciation for the sacrifices made by police officers — those who fell in the line of duty and those who continue to serve.
The sight of the blue light — symbolic of peace — also gives strength to the family and friends of those in law enforcement. They must cope with the knowledge of the danger their loved ones face every day.
Project Blue Light is the mobilizing force behind this gesture of support for police. And keeping the peace comes at a high price, something recognized at a ceremony Dec. 3 at St. Justin Church in Hazel Park.
In addition to honoring those who fell in the line of duty, the ceremony paid respects to those who fell while off-duty, those who fell that day in previous years, and those who passed away this year after retirement.
“We honor all officers,” said Debbie Swofford, state president of the Fraternal Order of Police Auxiliary. “We want to remember all of them — all of our fallen officers and emergency responders.”
The keynote speaker at the event was Livonia Police Chief Curtis Caid, who lost his own brother-in-law to the perils of police work.
Larry Nehasil was a senior police officer with the Livonia Police Department when he died Jan. 17, 2011, back when Caid was deputy police chief. Nehasil and others in the criminal surveillance team had identified two suspects in a series of home invasions across Southeast Michigan, including Livonia, and had tracked them to Walled Lake.
When the detectives saw the suspects — two brothers — attempting to burglarize a home in Walled Lake, they moved in to make an arrest. Nehasil wound up chasing one of them through the yard, and grabbed onto him, only for the suspect to turn around and shoot him four times. Nehasil returned fire, and as they both fell to the ground, the suspect fired one last shot, hitting Nehasil in the head. Both were found dead, with the suspect’s body on top of Nehasil.
“It was a terrible day for us,” Caid said. “But I’m proud of Larry and how he responded, putting himself in harm’s way. That’s part of our job that we do that, and that’s part of Project Blue Light, recognizing the risks officers take in performing their duties. … Other than our military, our police are the only ones that intentionally place themselves in a position where there’s confrontation with other people who don’t want to go to jail, or who may be armed. That’s their job: to confront those people, keep the peace and enforce the law.”
Nehasil gave his life to protect the peace, and nobody will ever know the full measure of that sacrifice; an elementary school was less than a block away from where he confronted the armed suspect.
Caid called family and friends of police officers the “unsung heroes” who must avoid dwelling on the dangers inherent in police work. He also said that the unpredictable nature of police work is why officers sometimes seem standoffish when they approach a car during a traffic stop — they’re guarded because they never know when someone might attack.
Project Blue Light is a way the public can tell officers they understand and appreciate the work that they do.
“When (officers, family and friends) see the blue lights, they know,” Swofford said. “They remember, and they know they’re being thought of. And the fact so many people show up and support this makes them realize they’re not alone. It helps them remember there are groups of people out there who support them and wish them well.”
As Caid said: “Something as simple as putting a blue light in your window means more to us than you can imagine.”