Editorial: An honor for one, in collaboration with many
● By Richard Gaw
When we are spared personal tragedy – when wrongdoing happens to someone else and does not impact those in our close circle of friends and family – it is perfectly acceptable for us to feel grateful that we were spared the burden of living with the grief that those not lucky will likely bear. And yes, it is perfectly acceptable for us to be led by our emotions, and there is not a jury in the land who would convict any of us if we chose the path of silence, to hunker down against an unsafe world.
To those who know him will rightly say, New Garden Township Chief of Police Gerald Simpson has never been one of those people.
On February 11, 2013, at a little after 8 o'clock in the morning, 68-year-old Thomas Matuziewicz walked alone into the lobby of the New Castle County Courthouse in Wilmington. Brandishing a firearm, he approached his ex- daughter-in-law Christine Belford and her friend, Laura "Beth" Mulford and unleashed a fury of bullets, killing the two women. While Belford and Mulford lay dead on the floor, Matuziewicz exchanged gunfire with the Delaware Capitol Police, who were in the lobby on patrol that morning. After wounding two officers, Matuziewicz then turned the gun on himself.
When Simpson, first heard the news of the shooting, it was 8:23. He received a text message from a former colleague that simply stated, "Don’t know if you heard...Shooting in the Wilmington Courthouse Lobby...two Police Officers Confirmed Shot, identities and conditions not known."
He picked up his phone and began a frantic search for information. After all, his brother Scott is a member of the Delaware Capitol Police, and he posts at the Wilmington Courthouse. He eventually found out that his brother was safe, and that the lives of the two wounded officers were saved because they were wearing bulletproof vests.
Appointed by Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan and working with dozens of Chester County law enforcement officials, emergency medical responders and volunteer citizens, Simpson developed the Active Shooter Response Training Program, which in the event of a mass shooting, allows our local police, fire units and medical emergency teams to follow a blueprint of action that can quicken emergency response times, collaborate units, and potentially save lives.
For his work, Simpson was named by Hogan as 2014 Law Enforcement of the Year recently. At the ceremony, Simpson lavished praise on others, surrendering the glare of the spotlight to "the many professionals who are dedicated to their tasks."
To those who us who have known or worked with Chief Simpson, are any of us really surprised with his receiving such recognition? We're not, just as his readiness to share his good fortune with others does not faze us. Since he became the chief of police in New Garden Township in 2011, Simpson has improved the way policing has been done – not only in the township but throughout Chester County – by refusing to look at law enforcement as something done in the smallish confines of a singular police station. To him, law enforcement has no need for ego, for initiatives done for the benefit of headlines. To Simpson, law enforcement at its best is the collaborative energies of our collective ideas, all shared, selflessly. The residents of New Garden Township are proud to have him, as are the residents of Chester County, but Gerald Simpson will be the first to let everyone know that any recognition he receives is not just about him. And it never will be.