Local police departments mourn Westerville officers deaths

David Williams

This week, flags are at half-staff and police officers’ badges have a black band across them. On Saturday afternoon, two officers in Westerville were killed in the line of duty when responding to a 911 hang-up call believed to be domestic in nature. Now, the tragedies affects others in the same line of duty.

“It’s an officer’s worst nightmare, an officer’s family’s worst nightmare, to have to be involved in a shooting”, said Tricia Knoles, Community Resource Officer with Kent State University Police Department.

KSUPD has never lost an officer in the line of duty, while Kent City Police has not lost an officer in the line of duty in the last several decades. Its most recent fatality was several years ago, when an officer lost her battle to cancer.

The officers shot in Westerville, 39-year-old Eric Joering and 54-year-old Anthony Morelli were responding to a suspected domestic dispute when the suspect, Quentin Smith, opened fire, killing the two officers with a handgun purchased in Broadview Heights.

Hang-up calls are very frequent and are often handled on a case-by-case basis. As such, training for calls like these can vary. KSUPD officers train once a month in addition to on-duty training and basic call training, and are currently revising their training schedule to include three-day block training sessions to be held twice a year.

“I’m sure every officer has said they’ve had an incomplete 911 call,” Knoles said. 

A majority of incomplete 911 calls are accidental, according to KSUPD. When dealing with domestic disputes, officers handle them based on the “totality of the circumstances”, Knoles said, much like incomplete 911 calls.

When responding to incomplete 911 calls, officers will first call back to ensure the call was not made by accident. When a call is received the location associated with the number will appear on the 911 call display, and if the call was made from a cell phone, the latitude and longitude of the cell phone appear on the display unless the call pings from a cell tower. If there is no answer, officers are then dispatched to check the area from which the call originated and manage the situation accordingly.

“We have an obligation to make sure everyone there is okay,” Mike Lewis, Administrative Lieutenant with the Kent City Police Department, said.

The funerals for both fallen officers is Friday. Officers from both KSUPD and Kent City Police Department are likely to attend. Flags will remain at half-staff and officers will continue to wear a black band on their badges until Friday.

David Williams is the safety reporter. Contact him at [email protected]