Philadelphia police officers take vows to protect and serve the citizens of this city. But what, specifically, does that look like? Not every act of public protection and service is a Rambo-worthy feat with blazing guns, flying tear gas canisters, and whirling choppers overhead. Most are everyday acts of excellence, valor, bravery, and heroism that unfold unexpectedly, rarely make headlines, but often change lives.
On May 22, at a biannual commendation ceremony at the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5, the Philadelphia Police Department honored dozens of officers for just such behaviors. Twelve officers received the Medal of Bravery. Ten received the Medal of Heroism for placing themselves in danger while working to save a life. Nineteen received the Life Saving Award. Three received the Medal of Excellence for providing service that exceeded the stated expectations of their job. And 27 received the Medal of Tactical De-escalation for results that saved a life.
Excerpted below are comments that were read for the commendation of three of the 61 officers whose exemplary actions were honored. (Sadly, space constraints don’t allow for every commendation to be summarized here, but all officers’ names are included below). On behalf of the city, the UpSide thanks them all.
Sgt. William Robbins, 18th Police District
March 3, 2019: While on patrol, Robbins responded to a radio call for a “male in the river” at 30th and Chestnut Streets. Upon his arrival, he observed the complainant on the edge of the Schuylkill. The complainant made his way down to a retaining wall alongside the river and was threatening to jump. The complainant undressed and was beginning to suffer from exposure due to the cold. With the Marine Unit still some distance away, and with little regard for his own safety, Robbins went to the river’s edge and engaged the complainant in conversation. During the conversation, Robbins was able to determine the complainant was a veteran who felt no one cared about him. Robbins assured him that he cared and assured him he was there to assist him. Robbins was able to build a rapport with the man and de-escalate the situation. He got the man to safety, secured him, and transported him to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, where he was treated for both exposure and his underlying psychiatric crisis.
“He’s always calm and composed,” said 18th District Capt. Matthew Gillespie. “And he just really knows how to talk to people no matter who they are. And he needed those traits that day.”
Sgt. Matthew Lowe, 2nd Police District
April 19, 2019: While driving home from work at 2 a.m., Lowe observed dark smoke and smelled a fire in the area of Holme and Convent Avenues. Moments later, he observed fire illuminating the tree line east of him. Not hearing any sirens and assuming the fire was not reported yet, he headed in the direction of the fire. At 8630 Yale Place, he located a house that was fully engulfed in flames. He notified Police Radio and the 8th District as well as Fireboard [the Fire Department’s dispatch service]. He then parked his personal vehicle, ran to the front of the house, and began yelling for the occupants to come out. He yelled “Police," forced open the front door, and screamed that the house was on fire. An elderly female occupant was on the first floor and was afraid to leave. Lowe grabbed her by the arm and pulled her out of the burning home. The woman started screaming that her brother was inside the house. Lowe called for the male occupant and heard him yell, “I am coming outside," but he was not visible to Lowe. After several moments, the man came outside of the property [but] wanted to reenter to locate his dog. Lowe, along with responding officers, was accounting for occupants of the affected house when the man ran back inside to search for his dog. One of the responding officers realized the man had gone back inside and immediately went in and removed him. Fireboard was able to extinguish the fire as well as locate the man’s dog and reunite it with the owner.
“It was an outstanding act of courage,” said 2nd District Capt. Thomas McLean, who has known Lowe for more than five years. “He didn’t have to do that. He went above and beyond the call of duty. He put his own life at risk, and performed admirably.”
Officer Erik Pross, 24th Police District
Nov. 1, 2017: While on patrol, Pross and his partner responded to 2900 Gaul St. for multiple reports of a shooting. Upon arrival, they located the victim suffering from gunshot wounds to his torso and arms. The victim was transported to Temple Hospital where he subsequently succumbed to his injuries. Through investigation, a suspected shooter was identified and “flash information” was provided to Pross and his partner. They received the information and from previous encounters with a male matching the provided information immediately began to track his whereabouts. Shortly after, Pross and his partner made contact with the man via phone. Throughout the phone conversation, which lasted several hours, the man admitted to shooting the decedent. The man stated that he was not going to be taken alive by police and that he was going to take his own life prior to meeting with Pross. While remaining calm Pross was able to track the suspect’s exact location and then persuade the suspect not to take his own life and to surrender to Pross. The suspect surrendered without incident, and he was placed into custody and charged with murder and related offenses.
“Pross is one of those guys that you have confidence in,” said Capt. Stephen Clarke, Pross’ former commanding officer at the 24th District. “Makes you sleep a little bit better at night knowing that he’s out there.”
Roll call: officers who were honored on May 22.
2nd Police District: Officer Timothy Wacker and Officer Jason Shensky.
7th Police District: Officer Randy Vogt and Officer Alfred Fiorentino.
18th Police District: Officer Eric Leary.
22nd Police District: Officer Sean O’Donnell, Officer Raymond Convery, Officer David Brunetti, and Officer Jessica Gwiazdowski.
26th Police District: Sgt. Timothy Stephan.
35th Police District: Sgt. Jason Reid.
Highway Patrol: Officer Joseph Kochmer.
2nd Police District: Sgt. Matthew Lowe.
8th Police District: Officer Joseph Pawko.
22nd Police District: Officer Nicholas Harper, Officer Joseph Sperry, and Officer Robert Whittaker.
35th Police District: Officer Kevin Gallagher, Officer Heng Dang, Officer Gloria Toledo, Officer John Burns, and Officer Kyra Carter.
Highway Patrol: Officer Brian Nolan, and Officer Anthony Santulli.
Graphic Arts: Officer Jonathan Castro.
Tactical de-escalation awards
2nd Police District: Officer Dennis Ferry and Officer William Mathieu.
3rd Police District: Sgt. Timmy Sin, Officer Frank LaFontana, and Officer Mark Kvalsvik.
5th Police District: Sgt. David Petroski and Officer Steven Klepczynski.
14th Police District: Officer James Edmiston and Officer Joseph Gomes.
15th Police District: Sgt. Erik Bullock.
22nd Police District: Officer Raymond Convery, Officer David Brunetti, and Officer Gerard Brennan.
24th Police District: Officer Scott Schweizer and Officer Erik Pross.
25th Police District: Officer Michael Edward, Officer Pablo Desiderio, Officer Israel Miranda, Officer Bianca Laboy, and Officer Kyle Cross.
35th Police District: Officer Alex Lahoda and Officer Donte Coleman-Bush.
39th Police District: Officer Jeremy Elliot, Officer Leo Jackson, and Officer Raymond Sutton.
Highway Patrol: Officer Robert Bakos and Officer John Lee.
9th Police District: Officer Michael Levin.
12th Police District: Officer Jill Cook.
15th Police District: Officer Philip Riotto and Officer Jacob Hollis.
18th Police District: Sgt. William Robbins.
19th Police District: Officer Katrina Tyler.
22nd Police District: Officer John Keen and Officer Robert Lutz.
25th Police District: Officer Juan Fernandez, Officer Paul Sanchez, and Officer John Durando.
Airport District: Officer Leslie Haddock and Officer Pablo Seda.
Central Detective Division: Sgt. Benjamin Baynard.
Homicide Division: Capt. Jason Smith.
Training and education services: Sgt. Debra Corcoran, Cpl. Brian McBride, and Officer Shane Darden.
Delaware Valley Intelligence Center: Officer Julius Caesar.