PILSEN — Exactly 15 years after Officer Brian Strouse was gunned down in a Pilsen alley, more than a hundred officers and community members held up his legacy Thursday as a beacon of support for police in 2016.
Around 2 a.m. on June 20, 2001, Strouse was working as a tactical officer at the intersection of 18th Place and Loomis Street when shots rang out, and he was struck in his head and chest.
The site almost immediately became a shrine for the fallen officer, and mementos spread across the city. Two blocks of street have been named for him — one in Pilsen and another in Portage Park, where he lived — plus a pond at Hubbard High School in West Lawn.
And every year on the anniversary of Strouse's death, a memorial service has drawn officers from across the city to open the summer by remembering their fallen comrade.
Strouse, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, was "a young, aggressive police officer" who embodied "the best of his generation," said Philip Cline, the Chicago Police superintendent at the time Strouse was killed.
Speakers who knew Strouse described how he would show up at local block club parties and start conversations with strangers on his beat.
For Alvaro Obregon, a community organizer who emceed the event Thursday, Strouse's style of outreach embodied the kind of policing the city desperately needs.
"Back then it was sort of a novel idea for officers to be getting out of their cars and talking to people, but that's what he did, and he started to be known for it," Obregon said. "He was all about building bridges to the community he served, and it paid off."
But in the years since, Obregon said, neighborhoods throughout the city have seen a "breakdown" in their relationship with local police.
Halfway through 2016, as the department finds itself pushed by a dizzying surge in shootings and pulled by the intense public pressure that sparked a Department of Justice investigation, many are looking back to Strouse as a positive example.
Speaking from a lectern at the mouth of the alley where Strouse was killed, Police Supt. Eddie Johnson stressed community engagement as an antidote to both challenges.
"All across the country, law enforcement is under a lot of scrutiny right now," Johnson said. "Those of us in the CPD world know we're a family, we're a team, and events like this show the world that we have our challenges in Chicago, but the police and the community can still come together."
That was also the lesson Strouse's sister, Kathy Strouse, drew from the enduring memory of her brother's watch.
"He gave everyone a fair shot, and he didn't judge people," said Kathy Strouse, also a Chicago Police officer. "People can't look at police officers and think they're all bad just because of the actions of a few, and by that same token, police officers can't look at the people they're serving and think they're all criminals. That's what Brian showed us."
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