Police: Verdict right, Kozminski "still in our minds"
By Tony Tagliavia
Wood TV
GRAND RAPIDS -- Nearly eight months after the fact, the memory of a police call to Emerald Avenue NE and its tragic end linger.

"Anytime something goes up on Emerald, the hairs on the back of your neck, for me, raise," Sgt. John Wittkowski said.

He told 24 Hour News 8 some of the issues surrounding the shooting death of Officer Bob Kozminski "will be relived in our minds. That's just human nature."

Wittkowski says those issues are brought back by domestic calls, calls where a subject is intoxicated, and calls where threats are made to police.

Still, he says, officers can't, and won't, let that memory have a serious effect on the way they do their jobs.

"We would do a disservice to the community if every time we go to a tense scene, we were afraid to deal with it or apprehensive," Wittkowski said.

The sergeant's boss made similar comments Wednesday.

"The officers pull together, they are supporting one another. At the same time we are going to move forward," Chief Kevin Belk told reporters.

Belk and others said Wednesday's verdict against Jeffrey VanVels was the right one. Deputy Chief James Farris called it a relief.

"Some finality is done. And to see the verdict that the jury came down with we're very pleased," Farris said.

But the verdict and the trial represent reliving the loss of a friend, a father and a fellow officer for many in the department.

"We've been sort of waiting for this day to come and go," Wittkowski said. "But there'll be other reminders, unfortunately -- the police memorial service in May, Bob's birthday again in October."

On March 8 at Kocziusko Hall, a club where many officers belong, they'll have a chance to remember Kozminski's life and raise funds for the Thin Blue Line. It's a group that helped the family of Bob Kozminski and other families who've lost an officer or seen one hurt on the job.

"We committed to doing it once a year every March," organizer Theresa Peterlein told 24 Hour News 8. The last fundraiser, in August 2007, brought in about $3,000.

The event begins at 4 p.m. at the hall on Park Street SW. Food donations from Meijer, Spartan Stores and Gordon Food Service mean all the monetary donations will go straight to the Thin Blue Line.
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