Vice President Mike Pence was at Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5 on Thursday, meeting with the family of a slain officer and eight cops who were on the scene at last August’s shootout in Tioga.
Pence, in remarks to a crowd of several hundred people, described a private meeting he held with the family of Cpl. James O’Connor IV, a Millbrook resident and SWAT member who was shot to death in March as he was serving a warrant on a murder suspect in Frankford. The meeting included Terri O’Connor, his widow; and his son and daughter-in-law, James V and Nicole.
“Pennsylvania and America will never forget or fail to honor the service and sacrifice of Cpl. Jimmy O’Connor,” Pence said.
The vice president also met with six officers who were wounded and two officers who were inside a house near 15th Street and Erie Avenue with a barricaded gunman. He described Joshua Burkitt, Ryan Waltman, Justin Matthews, Nate Harper, Shaun Parker, James Wheeler, Edward Wright and Michael Guinter as “heroes,” and the crowd gave them a standing ovation.
The stop was Pence’s third of the day. Earlier, he took a bus tour of Lancaster and participated in a roundtable discussion at a Malvern business.
Supporters of Pence, President Donald Trump and police officers, along with protesters, gathered near Comly and Caroline roads during his speech at the FOP.
In advance of Pence’s visit to Pennsylvania, U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-2nd dist.) released a statement criticizing him for “gambling with the lives of Pennsylvanians simply to further his boss’ pathetic political agenda,” during the coronavirus pandemic. Boyle urged Pence to stay out of Pennsylvania and said it is “mind boggling” that the vice president is making campaign visits as people are testing positive for the virus.
Among those in attendance at the FOP were the families of fallen officers John Pawlowski, Gary Skerski and Brian Lorenzo; state Rep. Martina White; Republican congressional candidate David Torres; and Joe DeFelice, a former Mayfair civic leader who is now a regional administrator at the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Before Pence took the stage, the crowd heard from U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, U.S. Attorney Bill McSwain, FOP Lodge 5 president John McNesby, Deputy U.S. Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen and national FOP president Pat Yoes.
Rosen made mention of O’Connor, who was promoted to sergeant after his death.
“To Sgt. O’Connor’s wife and children, please know that our thoughts and prayers are with you, and the sacrifice of your husband and father will not be forgotten,” he said.
McNesby introduced Pence, handing him a “Back the Blue” T-shirt. A “Back the Blue” rally followed the vice president’s appearance.
Pence faulted the “radical left” for smearing police officers.
“We back the blue,” he said.
Pence said an uncle, a police officer in Chicago for 25 years, was one of his heroes.
“The men and women of law enforcement are the best people in America,” he said.
Pence thanked police officers and healthcare workers for helping to save lives during the coronavirus pandemic.
The vice president said there should not be a debate between funding police departments and funding communities. Both can be done, he believes.
“We’re not going to defund the police,” he said.
Pence said the Trump administration has supported policies that led to the hiring of more cops, strong prosecution of lawbreakers and additional training for officers.
The VP said justice will be served in the death of George Floyd, but added there should be no excuse for rioting, looting and toppling of statues.
Police officers are heroes every day, Pence said, adding that the Trump administration will always have their back.
“It’s humbling to stand in front of so many heroes,” he said. ••