Two years of fundraising efforts finally paid off when the families of two fallen Mesa police officers pulled a rope to unveil a new bronze statue at a solemn police memorial service.
The service, in front of Mesa police headquarters, included many trappings usually reserved for police funerals – including two large wreaths and a flyover by three Mesa police air units that symbolized the lives of three officers whose names are on the memorial.
The statue, by Arizona artist Neil Logan, depicts a scene reminiscent of police funerals, a kneeling officer holding a tri-fold American flag. Such a flag is usually presented to the deceased officer’s family during burial services.
Instead of a last call, a staple at police funerals, the Mesa ceremony featured a memorial call to Marshal Hyram Peterson, Officer Steven Pollard and Sgt. Brandon Mendoza.
A police dispatcher made the call over the department’s dispatch system. She said the officers “made the ultimate sacrifice while serving our community with courage and valor.
“The men and women of the Mesa Police Department are forever grateful. May you rest in peace knowing your strength, legacy and honor lives on with all of us.’’
Commander Bill Peters, who spearheaded the two-year-long fundraising drive, said he knew all of his work was more than worthwhile when he saw Maryann Mendoza, the mother of Brandon Mendoza, and Ida Pollard, the mother of Steven Pollard, hug each other in an emotional embrace.
“It’s been very time consuming, but we are proud and honored to present this to the community,’’ Peters said, at no cost to taxpayers.
“It’s an honor to those who have fallen, and those who have served and are serving,’’ he added.
When Mesa police realized they needed to upgrade the previously bland memorial, Peters and other members of a small committee launched a fundraising drive incorporating the usual methods, including two dinners, a raffle and corporate sponsorships.
But one unique fundraising method stood out. It was the “Build it with the Beard’’ campaign, and it was highly popular with normally clean-shaven officers.
So popular, in fact, that newly swarthy officers were willing to donate $50 a month to grow and keep their beards. The program lasted two months – as long as Mesa Police Chief Ramon Batista would tolerate.
The beards paid off in more than compliments and raised $8,600 toward the memorial’s eventual $101,000 price tag, which was collected during the fundraising campaign through the sponsorship of the non-profit Mesa Citizens Police Academy Association.
“It started out in January and it was doing really, really well,’’ Peters said, so Batista agreed to extend it for another month.
Although Peters joined in the effort, he readily admits he did not look as dashing as some of his colleagues. “It came in all gray,’’ he said.
While the beards disappeared some months ago, their donations will be remembered for decades to come, thanks toLogan’s sculpture.
The life-sized statute was installed on the top of the brick memorial that has been in front of Mesa Police headquarters since 2003.
Logan has made police memorials a bit of a specialty, sculpting them for Sedona, Cottonwood, Flagstaff and the Coconino County Sheriff’s Office.
Peters said this year’s event drew the largest crowd ever. In addition to the unveiling ceremony, it had some added significance because it marked the fifth anniversary of the death of Mendoza, who was killed on May 12, 2014 in a head-on collision with a wrong-way driver on his way home from work.
Mendoza was struck by an impaired driver, who also was an undocumented immigrant. Both men died.
Pollard, the other Mesa officer killed in modern times, also lost his life in a collision tied to an impaired driver. Pollard had stopped a car driven by a suspected impaired driver on U.S. 60 when he was struck and killed by a car on Nov. 27, 1994.
Officer Down, a national website, recognizes two Mesa police line of duty deaths, including Peterson, who was shot to death by a bicycle thief on Nov. 13, 1913.
But the site also omits Mendoza, who was not technically on duty when he was killed.
The website lists two Gilbert police deaths, Lt. Eric Shuhandler and Officer Robert Targosz; and four Chandler police deaths, officers David Payne Smith, Carlos Luciano Ledesma, Robert Joseph Nielsen and James Robert Snedigar. Tempe police have lost five officers; Kevin Louis Weeks, Robert Lyle Hawk, John Eaton Bradshaw, night marshal Cyrus Spangler and night officer Albert Nettle.
“We’ve been very fortunate, considering all the contacts we have,’’ Peters said. “Part of it is good training and part of it is luck.’’
In all, Arizona has lost 257 officers. Phoenix police have lost the most officers, with 39, followed by the Arizona Department of Public Safety with 30.