Department of Corrections and Community Supervision

Remarks by Commissioner Brian Fischer
DOCCS Annual Memorial Service & Medals Ceremony
Albany Training Academy
June 14, 2012

Today marks our 13th Memorial Service & Medals Ceremony. It’s also the sixth time I have been asked to speak here as Commissioner of the Department and it marks the first time since the Division of Parole and the Department of Correctional Services merged into one new agency where there is true, joint participation.

I comment on this to highlight the fact that while regardless of our job titles, regardless of what was before, as we move forward as a new and more complex state agency, one thing remains the same - every day good people place themselves in harm’s way given the work that is asked of us, and we need to remember and respect one another for that reason and that reason alone.

While we all chose a career in criminal justice, little did we realize how complicated our system would become. We currently provide a level of security, treatment and community supervision few, if any, could have predicted a short 10 years ago, let alone 15, 20 or more years ago. As our system grows, so do the challenges, but so do opportunities for greatness.

Since last year we closed prisons, transferred staff, changed titles and adjusted priorities. At the same time, we saw a decrease in the inmate and parole population, while seeing an increase in the type of violent offender we’re asked to oversee - both in our custody or supervise in the community. We can only wonder what the next few years may bring.

Today we honored five members of our agency by awarding a Senior Parole Officer the Medal of Honor and a former Correction Sergeant (now Lieutenant) and three Correction Officers with Medals of Merit. Due to their bravery and selflessness, they are now part of an outstanding group of 47 Medal of Honor and 110 Medal of Merit awardees.

We also honor the 41 individuals who lost their lives while working for this agency, regardless of what the agency was called over the years. Like the Medal of Honor and Medal of Merit awardees, those that have fallen came from every possible rank we ever had. I ask that you listen to their names and titles as they are read off and understand that rank plays no role in whose life is taken before their time.

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit the United States military cemetery at Omaha Beach in northern France. There you see thousands of gravestones with the names of each soldier, their rank and hometown. I happened to see several that said they were from New York. The average age of the soldiers who died was 24.

I also noticed that while there were hundreds of visitors, many from different countries and speaking different languages, there was no running around or shouting to one another. In fact, everyone walked slowly and spoke in low tones as in a scene of quiet respect.

I was also made aware that very few people who visit these days have personal memories of those who died on D-Day and immediately thereafter. Likewise, few of us today remember those who were taken away by past violence. Perhaps that is the true essence of a day of remembrance - honoring those who we don’t personally know, but respect for what they stood for and the sacrifice they made.

In looking at all the graves in France, I could not help but ask why so many good people have to die long before their time. I also thought of the bravery shown by the soldiers who took part in the liberation of France and throughout Europe.

Today we come together to honor two groups of our colleagues. For the moment, let’s call them our soldiers.

For the group that are no longer with us, we honor their memory and in doing so, thank them for their sacrifice. Since all were on duty at the time of their deaths, doing their jobs as required, they are our fallen heroes.

Given the number of colleagues who died on one terrible day it is not inappropriate to acknowledge that this past September marked the 40th anniversary of the Attica riot and its terrible aftermath. Much has been said about the incident and many consider it a milestone event. We, however, need to remember it in terms of honoring those, who like us, went to work every day and did their jobs.

Each year fewer and fewer of us have personal memories of those who came before, but each was a member of our organization or related to us through law enforcement. Each had a family. Each had friends amongst us. We may not always remember their names, or the circumstances under which they gave their lives, but we must remember that they were one of us.

Allow me to create a quote of my own making:
"When a member of law enforcement is killed in the line of duty, they leave behind two families, theirs and ours."

The first group we honored today are those current employees who stepped forward and did what was necessary to assist others. You heard the details of their efforts, but it is not so much what they did that they should be so honored, but that they acted without regard to their own personal safety and came to the aid of others. It is their willingness to act that makes them our heroes. They are this year’s "hero soldiers" of DOCCS.

As author Brodi Ashton has said:
"Heroes are made by the paths they choose, not the power they are granted."

No one knows what tomorrow will bring. No one really knows how we might react to situations we find ourselves in. There is, however, one thing that we can know and depend upon: there is strength among us, so long as we all stand together as one.

Thank you.