That’s the date most veteran Payson Police Department officers think of each year when Project Blue Light returns to honor all law enforcement officers who have given their lives in the line of duty.
September 11, 1992.
The day Payson Police Chief Dave Wilson was shot and killed by an elderly, mentally unstable resident he was trying to help.
“Losing Dave had an enormous impact on us all in the department and in the community,” recalls Payson Police Lt. Don Engler, who had worked closely with Wilson. “I think Project Blue Light has helped to keep his memory alive and, of course, the memories of all the other law-enforcement friends we’ve lost. That makes you really appreciate and respect the people who support us by supporting Project Blue Light.”
Gordon Gartner, who became the town’s police chief upon Wilson’s death, agrees.
“Dave had been active in virtually every aspect of the community: the Rotary, Kiwanis, the Masonic Lodge, the chamber of commerce, the Masons,” Gartner said. “He was very much in support of youth programs, kids and education. He was just an outstanding contributor, and it was a huge loss. It hit the town very hard.
“Project Blue Light allows us to reflect a little bit,” Gartner said. “Not to be mournful, but to recognize and appreciate the sacrifice that officers make throughout the country on a daily basis.”
Organized each holiday season by the national grief support group COPS (Concerns of Police Survivors) and countless local police departments, Project Blue Light has a simple and singular objective: to inspire as many citizens as possible to include at least one blue light in their holiday decorations ... or to wave a blue pennant from their car antennas ... or to wear a blue ribbon over their hearts.
By displaying the color blue, families and individuals can show their support for those who have given their lives, while offering their thanks to the men and women who continue to serve and protect.
COPS began promoting Project Blue Light in 1988 after Mrs. Dolly Craig of Philadelphia decided to place a blue light in her window in remembrance of her son, Daniel Gleason, a Philadelphia police officer who two years earlier had been killed in the line of duty.
Mrs. Craig has since died, but her idea for Project Blue Light continues to burn bright in the hearts of the nation’s law enforcement officers and their families.
Over the past year, a record number of survivors have taken advantage of those resources. Through COPS, more than 350 survivors attended special retreats, almost $40,000 in scholarships were awarded, and more than $15,000 was paid in counseling reimbursement for children.
But of even more value than that, perhaps, is the comfort and recognition that law enforcement officers receive through Project Blue Light.
“When I see those lights, I appreciate the fact that someone has gone to the trouble of displaying them to show their support,” said Payson Police Officer Allen Dyer, who was shot and nearly killed three years ago by man in the old Payson Wal-Mart parking lot .
“Those lights say so much more than, ‘The cops are doing a fine job,’” Dyer said. “Those lights mean that someone has actually gone to some effort and expense to demonstrate their appreciation for what you are doing.”