Thoughts & Views: The thin blue line

When the news first broke Sunday morning that a Jersey City police officer had been killed in the line of duty, word was that he had been responding to an armed robbery at a Walgreens drugstore.

Later that day, at a press conference, matters were clarified. Yes, a robbery had been reported. But the “suspect” made no attempt to flee. He waited outside the store for police to respond to the 911 call. And when the first radio car pulled up, he put a bullet in Officer Melvin Santiago’s head.

This was the deliberate targeting of a cop. Just because he was a cop. This was cold-blooded murder.

The killer fired at another patrol car, but was taken down by police before he could wound, or slaughter, any other officers.

On Sunday, the Officer Down Memorial Page ( posted the following details:

“Police Officer Melvin Santiago was shot and killed at 4:09 a.m. when he and his partner responded to a robbery call at a 24-hour pharmacy on the corner of Communipaw Ave. and John F. Kennedy Blvd.

“A male subject had entered the store and assaulted a private security guard. He severely beat the guard and stole his service weapon . . . Officer Santiago and his partner had just pulled into the parking lot as the man exited the building and opened fire on them. Officer Santiago was struck in the head before he was able to exit from the patrol car’s passenger seat . . . . “

Officer Santiago had graduated from the academy only six months prior to the incident.”

Yes. He was on the job for just six months. He was only 23. And now he is being eulogized.

By now, you might be wondering why I have not named the “alleged” cop killer.His identity has been released, but so has a report of something he said as he was waiting for police to arrive.

Word is the gunman told someone outside the store, “Watch the news tonight. I’m going to be famous.”

You can find his name elsewhere. I will not contribute to his “fame.”

Part of my work at The Observer is to cover the local police, and I have to admit that compiling the police blotter can sometimes be fun, especially when the reports involve dumb suspects. But never assume that humor is intended to diminish the dangers officers face.

In fact, I sometimes wonder how they, and their families, get the courage to deal with those dangers. And where can I apply to get a fraction of that courage?

At any given moment, and during the most routine call or traffic stop, things can turn lethal. This is not exaggeration. It is fact.

On Sunday, the Jersey City Police Officers’ Benevolent Assoc. issued a statement:

“Our hearts are heavy with the news that Patrolman Melvin Santiago lost his life in the line of duty earlier today. “

Only six months on the job, Patrolman Santiago had already proven himself to be a proud member of the JCPD.

“Patrolman Santiago knew the risks associated with this job, yet he put himself in front of danger in order to keep Jersey City safe.

“We ask that every member of the Jersey City community join with us in giving our thoughts and prayers to Patrolman Santiago and his family.”

Make that every member of the New Jersey community.

And in whatever Observer town you reside, also give a thought and a prayer to all the police officers who are out there, facing the risks, to keep you and your loved ones safe.

 – Karen Zautyk 

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