PLAINVILLE, Conn. (AP) — A retired Hartford police officer who was shot in the arm while investigating a narcotics case in the 1970s is leading an effort to create a national “Blue Heart” medal for wounded and slain law enforcement officers, similar to the purple heart awarded to those in the military.
“Right now, every department has its own medals or awards. There should be a national one for all, from the FBI, city and town officers to campus police,” Leo Chupron, 75, a U.S. Marine veteran who served in Vietnam, said in a recent interview. He retired in 1988 after 20 years on the Hartford force and is now a private investigator.
Last month, Chupron and other members of the Police Blue Nation, a nonprofit group, gathered at the Plainville police station to talk about their efforts to get national acceptance for their proposed medal.
“A national medal is long overdue,” Chupron said. “We know it is a long shot to get national recognition. One step at a time. Could be a year, three, four…”
The group has been to the Plainville Police Department before. They want the first Blue Heart to go to the family of Officer Robert Holcomb, the only town officer killed on duty. Holcomb, who was gunned down by a fleeing burglary suspect in 1977, had worked with Chupron on joint narcotics cases.
In November, Chupron and other group members attended the 40th anniversary memorial event honoring Holcomb, paid respects to the Holcomb family and talked about the Blue Heart.
After that event, Plainville Chief Matthew Catania said he supported the idea of a nationally recognized service award for sworn police officers.
Other Connecticut chiefs contacted by Chupron gave their support.
“I think it is a good idea. I don’t see how it would be bad,” said Wethersfield Chief James Cetran. “I see officers from other departments in other states with chests full of medals; you have no idea what they are. It would be good to have some standardized awards with a national frame of reference.”
A national police medal may be a noble idea, but getting national recognition will be challenging, an official with the nonprofit National Purple Heart Hall of Honor said in a recent telephone interview from the museum in New Windsor, N.Y.
“It’s a good idea, but the difficulty is that police are decentralized. Unlike the military, there is no one essential authority,” said Peter Bedrossian, program director for the Hall of Honor. “There’s no federal infrastructure.”
Police Blue Nation group is not naive about the challenge. Since its start in 2015, it has created a Facebook page to publicize the idea, sent letters to police departments across the country seeking support, started contacting Connecticut chiefs and designed a prototype of the five-piece Blue Heart set. The group is now seeking a mint to make the awards. The medal features Teddy Roosevelt, who was a New York City police commissioner before he became president.
Chupron said he has contacted a Florida congressman to help introduce a bill granting national recognition.
To gain support, the group is sending letters about their proposal to every police department in the country that lost an officer on-duty in 2017. They also will continue contacting Connecticut chiefs.
“We plan to go down to Washington, D.C., for police week,” Chupron said.
The annual week-long gathering to honor law enforcement attracts 25,000 to 40,000, including thousands of officers from around the nation and the world.
One measure of the difficulty of getting federal recognition is the application history of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial, the nation’s monument in D.C. to federal, state and local officers killed in line of duty.
The idea was first proposed in 1972, received federal recognition in 1984 and was dedicated in 1991. The marble walls had 12,000 names of fallen officers when it was dedicated on Oct. 15, 1991. It now has 21,183 names on it.
“Last year, there were 171 officers killed nationwide, probably 400 or more wounded,” Chupron said. “They deserve a national medal, something recognizable everywhere.”
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