Editorial: Edward Zunino, Sept. 9, 1949 – May 12, 2017
Dozens of police officers, elected officials and community activists gathered to celebrate the sixth annual National Night Out event, and one by one, representatives from these factions praised the work of this effort that helped turn this once crime-ridden section of the borough into one of the shining lights of Kennett Square. LaToya Myers of the Kennett Square Borough Council said that events like the National Night Out serve not only to strengthen the relationship between police and community, but to educate children.
“Trust starts young, and if you know that you can depend on an officer at a young age, it's going to continue on through adulthood,” Myers said. “The families know that these officers are here to assist them and serve them. They see that these officers ride down the street, they will stop and speak to the kids. Fostering that is exactly what we want.”
Everyone, it seemed, had their chance at the speaker's podium on the evening of Aug. 2, 2016, but the man who received the largest praise – the individual who initiated National Night Out in Kennett Square and did the most of anyone to shape and craft that vision of unity – said the very least. Retiring Police Chief Edward Zunino stood about as far away from the glad-handing of the ceremony as he could, but his name kept coming up in conversation. Speaker after speaker kept thanking him for he dedication he brought to his position and to the people he served.
“Back then, Eddie was a very special person in my family's life,” said East Linden resident Theresa Bass. “He was the kind of officer who believed that all children mean something. Instead of arresting young people and putting them in jail, he would sit down and talk to them, and figure out a way to help through the situations they were in. We love Eddie. He's part of my family.”
In his 42 years of service to the residents of Kennett Square Borough, Edward Zunino did not measure the success of the borough's police unit by statistics, trends and comparisons. He measured it by the impact that his officers had on people. In the wake of the Ferguson, Missouri riots of 2014, Zunino, along with former Kennett Square Borough mayor Leon Spencer, gave an interview with the Chester County Press. He disapproved of the way that law enforcement was being portrayed in the media, images that showed officers hidden behind pitch-black aviator glasses and carrying an air of detachment and false bravado. Zunino said that he encouraged the members of his department to roll down the windows of their vehicles and, if the time is right, join in childrens' activities they see from their squad car. The task, he said, is to destroy misconceptions, person by person.
Up and down East Linden Street last Aug. 2, evidence of Zunino's greatest gift to the people he served was clearly evident. Children wore the police hats of the officers. They playfully called the officers by the affectionate nicknames they had given them to every patrolman, lieutenant and captain. Captain Maurice Tomlinson of the Pennsylvania State Police perfectly summarized the true meaning of the miracle that the event celebrated.
“I believe that Whitney Houston said it best when she sang, 'I believe that the children are our future. Teach them well and let them lead the way,'” he said. “Because that's what's been happening here.”
Just for a moment, it seemed – in view of the child-like innocence between officers and neighborhood kids – the cruel toll of Edward Zunino's illness seemed to leave him. He walked to the podium and, after the applause quieted, he said a few words.
“Since I started here in 1975, there's been a lot of changes in this community, and all for the better,” Zunino said. “I'm really proud to be a part of that. I have made a lot of friends in the town, and especially in this neighborhood.”
Zunino then disappeared, back into the anonymous thicket of the crowd.