CLEVELAND — U.S. Attorney General William Barr spoke at slain Cleveland Police Detective James Skernivitz’s funeral on Friday morning, calling the fallen officer a man who epitomized the greatness of police and someone who died serving his city and his country.
Skernivitz was part of Operation Legend, a federal initiative led by Barr to stop violent crime in cities across the country. Cleveland police have not revealed any details regarding what Skirnivitz was doing undercover the night he was killed, such as whether he was participating in Operation Legend at the time. He was sworn into the federal task force a day before his death.
“As a veteran officer, he didn’t have to take on that dangerous mission. He could have let someone else do it, especially given the risk to police officers,” said Barr. “But once again, he volunteered, and once again he made a difference.”
Barr described Skernivitz as the kind of person who is critical to making a department successful.
“He never asked for recognition. He earned it,” Barr said.
Barr told Skernivitz’s family and those who came to pay their respects at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse that he witnessed firsthand “the superb work that he and his colleagues were doing to get violent criminals off the streets.”
“It had only been a few days after my visit that Jim was killed in the line of duty, making the ultimate sacrifice by laying down his life for the community that he served,” said Barr. “Unfortunately, I didn’t know Jim personally, but in a sense, I do know him well because I know the strength of character, the decency, the courage and the commitment.”
Barr noted that the detective’s death comes at a time when police are being intensely scrutinized, and, in some cases, vilified.
“Jim represents what is great and good about our police, and as has been said, he was a policeman’s policeman. He epitomized the greatness of our police, and I pray his tragic death may help remind people, those that need reminded, of some of the basic truths and help stop some of the vilification of the police,” Barr said.
The attorney general compared police today to the soldiers returning home from Vietnam who were spat on. He said that much has changed for soldiers over the years. People are now more likely to go out of their way to thank them for their service, and he said police deserve similar recognition.
“When our police leave the precinct each day to protect the safety of the community, there are no crowds cheering, and they don’t get their ticker-tape when they return home safe,” said Barr. “And when they deploy, it’s not for a certain period of time to accomplish a particular objective—police are on deployment ever day of their service, and our police don’t have a final victory in their fight against crime. No matter how great the achievements, on any day, the next day our officers put on the badge and do it all over again. There’s a special kind of courage and commitment to this job.”
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