Reflections on Law Enforcement Memorial Day 2017

In 2016, 145 law enforcement officers lost their lives in the line of duty in the United States. This year, 48 have paid the ultimate sacrifice.  Below is a reprint of a Barker’s View post that appeared on Law Enforcement Memorial Day 2016.

robert_nicol_rubbingFrom my earliest memories, law enforcement officers have always been my heroes.

They still are.

May 15th marks Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Day 2017.

A time for reflection on the incredible contributions of the men and women who so courageously serve and protect us all – and an opportunity to honor those brave souls who have paid the ultimate sacrifice.

In what is proving to be a particularly deadly year for line of duty deaths, it is important that we remember those officers who, as Lincoln said, gave “the last full measure of devotion.”

It is also fitting that we take this opportunity to consider the greater question of the role of the police in a free and open society – and the importance of citizen support for their indispensable work in preserving our way of life in America.

The great privilege of my life was the opportunity to serve in law enforcement with some of the most dedicated and talented public servants I have ever known.

For thirty-one years I had the distinct personal honor of standing with strong men and women who hold a thin blue line between order and chaos, between good and evil, between you and I and the predatory criminals who prey on that which we love most.

In my long career, I learned something about law enforcement officers and what these extraordinary people are made of.  I’ve always thought that any contribution I made was just a function of the job at hand, but I am extremely proud just to have been associated with people I consider true American heroes.

Brevard County Deputy Robert Nicol, Jr. was one of them.

In early 1986, I was a young police officer with the Holly Hill Police Department assigned to the Uniformed Patrol Division.

At that time, I had been on the job for about three years (in other words, I had just learned how to write a traffic ticket the same way twice) and I was working the “midnight shift” – 11:00pm to 7:00am – answering calls for service from an old Dodge Aspen patrol car with a single blue light on the roof, and a Motorola “Mocom” radio, equipped with a green light to let you know it was on and a red light to let you know it was transmitting when you keyed the microphone.

Certainly a quaint antique by today’s standards.

Today, a patrol vehicle’s interior looks more like the flight-deck of the Space Shuttle, with mobile data units, Lojack trackers, tag readers, electronic citation systems, digital video cameras and multi-channel 800MHz radios.

It is amazing how advances in technology transformed policing during my career.

One night I arrived at the police department for briefing, got a cup of coffee from Dispatch, and took my seat at the long wooden table where officers gathered before and after each tour to pass-on important and not-so-important information, listen to the sergeant give duty assignments, gossip, tell wholly inappropriate jokes, and bitch and moan about, well, everything.

(One of the first things you learn as a police chief is that cops complain – that is how they “deal” with the horrific and unnatural things the job brings them in contact with.  It’s when they stop complaining that you have a problem on your hands.) 

That night my sergeant introduced me to the “FNG,” a “—” new guy sitting by himself at the end of the desk.  He was a short, stocky blond with big 80’s-style aviator glasses who thrust out his hand and eagerly introduced himself with a big grin and a heavy Western New York accent, “Howyadoin’ I’m Bob!”

At the time, many police departments didn’t have the formal field training and evaluation programs of today, and most in-service training was conducted by senior officers teaching their juniors the ropes through experiential learning and anecdotal information.

That night I was assigned to show our newest officer the city limits and get him familiar with the streets, point out the hot spots, and generally indoctrinate him in how to survive the physical and political hazards of small town Florida.

If you’ve ever shared the confines of a police patrol unit for hours-on-end with another officer then you know how fast, and how strong, a bond develops between partners in a business where you put your life in another person’s hands and promise to do the same for them.

Robert Nicol, Jr. was born in Coatbridge, Scotland, in 1948.

He was a former deputy with the Ontario County Sheriff’s Office in Canadaigua, New York, a small community in the Finger Lakes region.

Escaping the aftermath of a messy divorce, Bob fled New York as a newly minted single-father with three young children – two boys and a girl – and his mom in tow.

Settling in Holly Hill, Bob soon applied to the police department and was hired almost immediately by Chief Pat Finn, who was highly impressed by Bob’s military background and his previous law enforcement experience.

During four-years in the U.S. Army, Bob served proudly in some of the fiercest fighting in Vietnam and was awarded two Purple Hearts for wounds received in combat.  He was also awarded the Bronze Star for valor and the Army Commendation Medal for his extraordinary service to our nation.

Bob Nicol was an American hero before he ever pinned on a badge.

Although twelve-years my senior, he had an energetic personality, contagious laugh and a great sense of humor that impressed me right away.  We quickly became friends, and since Bob didn’t know many people here, he and I spent a lot of time together talking, drinking, and inhabiting the bars and nightclubs of Daytona Beach.

When we weren’t working, you could find us perched at Club Mocambo, the Beachcomber, Silver Bucket or any of a dozen other illustrious local night spots, cutting quite a dash in our leather Member’s Only jackets.

Unlike me, Bob was an affable, good-looking guy who always had a way with the ladies -and I benefited more times than I care to admit just from my association with him.

The stories and escapades are legendary, but perhaps better left for a different forum. . .

I learned a lot from Bob – personally and professionally.

He was a great father to his two young sons and beautiful daughter – and he doted on his mother, a brash Scot who spoke with a thick brogue, and frequently made Shortbread cookies that I still miss to this day.

Most of all, Bob was a damn good cop – smart, dedicated and tenacious.

It didn’t take long for him to make a name for himself in the local law enforcement community and, in May 1987, he was offered a sworn position as a deputy with the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office.

It was a great professional development opportunity, and the job offered more money to support his children.

We discussed the pro’s and con’s, and late one night, Bob and I met door-to-door in our patrol cars in some parking lot near Ridgewood Avenue.  He told me he was going to take the job.  I congratulated him, we shook hands, then immediately began making plans to facilitate his move to Port St. John.

Bob and I remained great friends, even though our schedules and the hour-drive between us put a dent in our night-life.

Probably for the best.

It wasn’t long before Bob proved himself a true asset to the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office.  He was respected and very well-liked by everyone who knew him.

He was a cops-cop, and the epitome of who you wanted stepping out of a police car in a dark alley when you really need help.

On Saturday, September 19, 1987, Deputy Robert Nicol, Jr. was on routine patrol on U.S. 1, just south of State Road 405, at approximately 4 a.m. when he made a “routine” (if there is such a thing) traffic stop.

During the encounter, Bob arrested the driver, Scott Roberts, 21, on traffic-related charges.

Further investigation found that one of the five passengers in the vehicle, later identified as Jeffrey Mason, a 24-year old landscaper living in Orlando, was in possession of less than 20-grams of marijuana.

Bob arrested him on the misdemeanor charge.

While Bob was securing Roberts in his patrol car and attempting to control the four others still in the vehicle, Jeffrey Mason broke free and bolted – running across the divided highway with Deputy Nicol in close foot pursuit.

As they ran into the roadway, a vehicle traveling north swerved to avoid Mason and inadvertently struck Bob at high speed.

The force of the impact sent his body crashing into the windshield, catapulted him over the top of the moving car before throwing him to the pavement, witnesses said.

His neck was broken and the base of his skull was crushed.

Bob was transported to Orlando Regional Medical Center where he remained in Intensive Care with severe traumatic brain damage.

After a manhunt involving some thirty law enforcement officers, Jeffrey Mason was found cowering in a wooded area near S.R. 405 and taken into custody without incident.

It was later determined that he was on probation in the State of Ohio for involuntary manslaughter stemming from a 1983 traffic crash which killed the passenger in his car.

On Wednesday, September 30, 1987, my friend Deputy Robert Nicol, Jr. lost his courageous battle and died from injuries sustained in the line of duty twelve days earlier.

He left behind his mother, Pat Skindzier, and three children, ages 15, 8, and 5.

Brevard County Sheriff Jake Miller posthumously awarded Deputy Nicol the Medal of Valor for his actions that fateful morning – the highest honor bestowed on a law enforcement officer.

I will never forget the enormous number of law enforcement officers – all of us shining and resplendent in our Class A dress uniforms – who gathered for his funeral with full honors at St. Gabriel’s Episcopal Church in Titusville.

I openly wept for the first time in my young career over the flag-draped coffin of a fallen brother and friend.

Later, Nicol Park on US-1 in Port St. John was named in Bob’s honor.

A fitting tribute to a hero – but a tragic waste of an incredible soul.

It is a tradition in law enforcement and the military for brothers and sisters in arms to join for a fallen comrade ceremony on days such as this.

In the remembrance script we recite:

“Remember! All who have served alongside them; we who have donned the same proud uniform, being sworn to the same faith and allegiance — We will never forget their sacrifice. Remember!” 

On this Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Day, I remember my friend Bob Nicol – and his great sacrifice –  along with all the other men and women of law enforcement who have laid down their lives so that we may live in peace.

I hope you will too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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