Officers mourn one of their own
Single-officer patrols are commonplace in the city.
By JoANNE VIVIANO
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- They were quiet, hands hidden in their dark blue pockets, eyes focused downward.
Across the center of their badges were stripes of black.
The city police officers filed onto Boardman Street from the Amedia Plaza building after a briefing on the slaying of a fellow officer.
"He was a fantastic officer, good humor, great kid," said Officer John Aeppli, pulling up in a patrol car. "I don't know anybody who could have anything bad to say about him."
"He was a good guy, always had a smile on his face," added Officer Malik Mostella.
The men spoke of fallen Patrol Officer Michael Hartzell. Police said the 26-year-old Austintown native was gunned down early Tuesday during a traffic stop in downtown Youngstown.
Inside the Youngstown Police Department, faces were grim.
Lt. Robin Lees became choked up as he spoke of the officer and his family.
Supervisors and office personnel who usually swap jokes were quiet.
Hartzell's cousin, Officer Terrence Alexander, who works in the auto theft unit, stayed on the job, moving quickly between offices in the Amedia Plaza and YPD.
"He was great," Alexander said. "Everybody loved him." Hartzell had always wanted to be a cop, Alexander said.
Others offered quick comments of praise as they walked down the Amedia Plaza steps to waiting patrol cars.
Officer Sharon Harrison recalled nights when Hartzell would relieve her on radio duty.
"He always had jokes, especially on midnights," she said. "He was always laughing, very outgoing, always there when you needed him, never complained.
"It's pretty hard," Harrison added. "I think all of us have that feeling in our gut, that 'it could've been me.' We're all feeling pretty bad."
"We're on edge, more careful," Aeppli said.
A female passer-by stopped by Aeppli and Mostella. "I'm sorry for your loss, guys," she said.
As the patrol officers were briefed, dozens of other law enforcement representatives from various Northeast Ohio and western Pennsylvania departments spent the day focused on hunting down Hartzell's killer.
Canfield Police Sgt. Robert D. Magnuson estimated that 150 officers responded to a call for help early Tuesday morning. Called out by 3 a.m., many were still searching hours later.
Police said Hartzell wore a bullet-proof vest when he was shot in the head and chest on a midnight shift. He was a one-man patrol -- meaning he was alone in the cruiser he drove.
Other officers said it's common that day shifts are one-person patrols. On midnights, there are fewer one-person cruisers but they still make up roughly half of the overnight patrol.
The reason, officers said, is lack of officers.
The shooting highlights the need to increase the number of patrol officers, despite Gov. Bob Taft's efforts to have departments cut staff, said Don Martin, chairman of the counseling department at Youngstown State University.
"As far as the psyche of Youngstown, this is tough," Martin said. "I think it affects the way we feel as a city."
Martin remembers when he was a child and went to the funerals of firefighters with his father, a New York City firefighter. He understands the bond among members of police and fire departments.
"This is tragic, very tragic for them, and it hits at the heart, and it will take a long time for them to heal," Martin said, adding that they'll attend memorials and connect with the slain man's family as rituals to help them mourn and talk.
"There are not many people who have a bonding like they have," Martin explained. "... They're depending on each other for one another's lives in some instances. This goes at the psyche of a police department. They take this personally, like it's a brother."
Touched other communities
But Youngstown officers were not the only ones taking it personally.
In Canfield, where Hartzell had worked as a firefighter, tears flowed.
"There weren't any dry eyes over there this morning, and they're a pretty tough crew," Magnuson said Tuesday afternoon.
"He'll be missed in law enforcement," Magnuson added. "But he'll be missed by these firefighters in Canfield as well."
At the YSU Police Department, Lt. Gregory Clementi said officers were quiet.
"You can tell. It's just not a normal atmosphere," he said, adding that silence had replaced loud voices and jokes. "I'm sure their hearts are heavy."
He said the death will likely also have an effect on officers' mind-sets as they conduct routine calls: "You never know when it's going to happen. When you take this job, you know there's a certain amount of risk, but you never think it's going to happen to you."
A group of Canfield firefighters and a dispatcher visited Hartzell's family Tuesday. Another group from the Austintown Police Department also went to offer condolences. Hartzell served six months as an auxiliary township officer.
Officers were focused on their job Tuesday, but Lt. Mark Durkin of Austintown described his department's atmosphere as somber.
"Everybody understands it's a tough day," he said.
Services for Hartzell will be at 10 a.m. Saturday in St. Christine Church, Youngstown. Calling hours are 5 to 8 p.m. Thursday and 3 to 8 p.m. Friday at Higgins-Reardon Funeral Home, Austintown.