One year later: Police chief reflects on RPD officer’s murder, dangers of police work
ROCHESTER, N.Y. – Last July, Police Chief David Smith told the local news media Rochester was in tough shape.
“I talked about how, I’ve never seen so many guns on the street in Rochester. I’ve never seen it that dangerous,” Smith recalled. “And that very night, we lost Tony.”
“Tony” is Officer Tony Mazurkiewicz, who was shot and killed on Bauman Street on July 21. He was a member of RPD’s Tactical Unit. He and his partner, Officer Sino Seng, were in an unmarked vehicle investigating a murder when investigators say they were ambushed. Seng was wounded. A 15-year-old girl was struck by a stray bullet as it pierced a wall in her house.
“I remember everything of that night in vivid detail,” Smith said, speaking with News10NBC’s Brett Davidsen on Thursday outside the memorial to Rochester’s fallen law enforcement – a monument which bears Mazurkiewicz’s name.
Officers pass by the memorial whenever they go to the Public Safety Building. The monument also bears the name of Daryl Pierson. He was shot and killed in 2014 while chasing a suspect on Hudson Avenue.
Smith, who wasn’t chief at the time, remembers where he was when he learned of Officer Pierson’s death, too.
Candidates understand the risks they are signing up for when they enter the police academy, Smith said Friday. But they handle it in different ways – even when someone dies in the line of duty.
“I’m sure for some of them it was, ‘Oh my God – this really can happen.’ And I’m sure some of them are just, ‘Nope it can’t happen to me’ because that’s how we survive. We compartmentalize and we put up that wall and we move on, which isn’t the healthiest thing to do and it’s one of the reasons in the profession we have so many issues with family life and mental illness and stress,” Smith said.
It’s stress he knows firsthand.
“I’ve been forthcoming and candid about the fact that I’m on my second family. This job and how I handle that job is partially responsible for that,” he said. “It’s how we deal with stress. It’s how we deal with our lives. I’ve been more than open about that. I have PTSD. So do a lot of us. It used to be you don’t talk about it. You don’t admit it. You go drinking with the guys. You just shut up and you handle it otherwise. I think by and large as a whole everyone is acknowledging as a society that we have some issues that need to be addressed.”
In the days that followed Mazurkiewicz’s murder, RPD told officers to patrol in pairs. That requirement has been lifted at the request of the rank and file, Smith said.
“These folks want to work. They do. They’re out there. We’ve gotten over 400 guns, I think, so far this year. Over 200 criminal possession of a weapon arrests. All the stolen car arrests. These officers want to work,” he said.
And when you see one doing just that, Smith has a suggestion.
“If you see an officer out doing their job and you have a chance, just thank them for doing what they do. It’s the best thing anyone can do to let these officers know they’re appreciated and they’re needed.”
Mazurkiewicz’s badge will be displayed inside the Public Safety Building. A small memorial will be held Friday morning. His wife Lynn, children, and grandchildren and his comrades in the tactical unit will gather together privately.
Soon, a sign memorializing his service – and his death – will be placed on Bauman Street, joining the others around the city that mark where a member of RPD lost their life.
“We can best honor him by trying to do exactly what he was doing: trying to take care of this community and keep this city safe and do our best to honor the oath that we took,” Smith said.
Officer Mazurkiewicz served on the force for 29 years.
More about remember Office Mazurkiewicz:
- Widow of slain RPD Officer Mazurkiewicz speaks out amid one-year mark of his death (July 19)
- Former RPD officer finishes multi-state marathon in honor of slain colleague (June 12)
- Softball benefit held in memory of slain RPD Officer Mazurkiewicz (Apirl 22)
- Family and friends honor fallen RPD officer at funeral (Aug 22)
- RPD Chief, officers remember fallen Officer Mazurkiewicz (Aug 22)
- Local barber honors fallen RPD officer Tony Mazurkiewicz (July 30)