AUGUSTA, Maine — Republican Gov. Paul LePage said Thursday that if he could sign legislation to guarantee no law enforcement officers would ever again lose their lives on the job, he would do so.
Unfortunately, it would never work. That’s why it’s up to police officers, sheriff deputies, game wardens and forest rangers to get the job done, he said.
LePage spoke at an annual event to commemorate the Maine law enforcement officers who lost their lives in the line of duty. At the memorial set up in their honor outside the State House, the governor spoke to a crowd composed of hundreds of officers and their families.
“Those behind us on this wall signed a blank check,” he said, referring to the 83 names on the memorial. “They gave it their all, to protect each and every one of us here. A ‘thank you’ just doesn’t seem to be enough.”
Though no uniformed officer in Maine died in the last year, a moment of silence was observed for Stephen Arkell, the police officer slain in a shootout Monday in Brentwood, New Hampshire.
The governor said he was not only there to honor the officers, dead or alive, who serve their communities, but their families as well. Officers’ spouses, children and other family and friends know each day that their loved ones could potentially find themselves in harm’s way, he said.
One of those family members listened as the governor spoke. Her name is Mary Black Andrews, and she lost her first husband — Maine State Trooper Charles Black — 50 years ago.
Black was off duty on July 9, 1964, but was at court in South Berwick for a case. Nearby, two masked men had entered a bank. A witness saw Trooper Black and told him about the robbery in progress.
“It’s just a quirk of fate that the first policeman there was my husband,” Andrews said in an interview. “[The robbers] were coming out the door with their guns drawn as he rounded the corner. They shot him five times. … He was just starting to draw his gun. He didn’t have a chance.”
Black was just 28 years old when he died, and was the first trooper in state history killed by gunfire. Andrews gave birth to the couple’s son just three weeks later. She said the community of law enforcement and their families had been crucial in helping her pull through her grief and care for her new child.
“It’s like a society in a way,” she said. “You’re part of a special group and no one else can know what it’s like.”
After LePage’s address, retired Houlton Police Chief Darrell Malone read each of the 83 names aloud while a state police marching band played “Amazing Grace.” Andrews said the annual ceremony is important.
“It is painful — as was the shooting in Brentwood the other day,” she said. “But it reminds me that people do remember, that they recognize the sacrifice these men make.”
Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.