Two retired Cranston police officers, patrolwoman Cheryl Zola and patrolman Russell B. Gross Sr., died within the last year and were honored as part of a 26th annual ceremony Tuesday morning at the Cranston police station to recognize law enforcement agents who have died in the line of duty.
Police Chief Michael Winquist said the two officers are special because Gross is believed to be the first African American to serve on the city’s police force and Zola, who died in a motor vehicle crash in February, was one of the first women on the force. Mayor Allan Fung called them “trailblazers.”
“They served with pride and distinction,” Winquist told a large crowd gathered Tuesday. “But they were also pioneers for females and minorities who followed them into this profession. Today our department benefits from this diversity.”
In addition to honoring Zola and Gross, the gathering at police headquarters, which included the Cranston police command staff, state representatives, and City Councilmen Michael Farina, John Lanni, and Paul Archetto, honored all of the law enforcement agents who have died in the line of duty.
According to Deputy Chief Todd Patalano, there are around 900,000 law enforcement officers, including city, state, and federal, in the United States. He said that there are 60,000 assaults on officers yearly, resulting in 16,000 injuries. An average of 146 nationally are killed each year in the line of duty, he said.
“Today and now more than ever, we remember those men and women who have gone before us to thank their families and ensure we never forget their service,” Patalano said.
Winquist said that in 2017 there were 128 officers who died in the line of duty, none of which were in Rhode Island. He said that the average age of the officers was 42, and on average each left behind two children. 9 of them were female, he said. Also, 24 police K-9 dogs died in the line of duty in 2017 as well.
He said that a concerning trend recently has been unprovoked ambushes on police officers, which resulted in 8 deaths last year.
Winquist said that in the Cranston department’s history, three officers have died in the line of duty, including John Bigby in 1908 in a fire incident, Henry Johnson in 1930 by gunfire, and Walter Bugsby in 1979, after he collapsed on the job.
“Police week honors those who are proudly serving today, and those who have retired from our profession,” Winquist said. “It is important to recognize families who selflessly support loved ones in our profession, which is dangerous in nature but required to retain order in society.”
“We will never forget the officers who have given their lives,” Fung said. “Today we thank all the officers enshrined on that wall [the stone wall outside of police headquarters that contains the names of former Cranston officers who have died] for their years of dedicated service, and for the peace they work to bring our community.”