DELAWARE LINE OF DUTY DEATH~ Sergeant Joseph Szczerba
On September 16, 2011, Sergeant Joseph Szczerba of the New Castle County Police Department was murdered in the line of duty. Sergeant Szczerba was an 18-year veteran of the force, and was stabbed to death while responding to a call in the Penn Acres Community near New Castle around midnight. It all began when officers were called to E. Roosevelt Avenue and Fithian Drive for a report of a disorderly subject. According to investigators, Sergeant Szczerba was the supervisor on duty and responded to the dispatch from police headquarters about 2 miles away. He was the first to come across the suspect. Sergeant Szczerba called for backup but apparently got out of his car and attempted to take the man into custody at East Roosevelt Avenue and Fithian Drive, near Penn Acres Park.
A physical altercation occurred before other officers arrived at the scene to help with the arrest. Once they saw the sergeant’s condition, the other officers called for help and began performing CPR on him before an ambulance arrives. Sergeant Szczerba was rushed to Christiana Hospital and pronounced dead soon after. The suspect, who has not yet been identified, was taken into custody. Two other officers and a civilian received non-life threatening injuries in the incident.
The New Castle County Police Department says Sergeant Szczerba joined the force in 1994. He was promoted to sergeant in January 2008. He had received two citations for homicide investigations and one other for burglary investigation.
Rick Gregory is now the police chief of Provo, Utah. He remembers his time working with the officer. He wrote that Szczerba was “(the) best field supervisors I ever had the privilege to work with. Joe lead from the front, was always in the trenches with his team, and never left until the job was done. Joe possessed the warrior mindset – meaning he was always mentally and physically ready to put his life on the line to protect the citizens and his brother and sister officers. I had the honor of promoting Joe to sergeant and the privilege to have worked with Joe and to call him my friend.”
After graduating from Salesianum in 1985, Szczerba attended West Chester University, where he earned a bachelor’s of science in liberal studies and a minor in criminal justice and public administration. He married his wife, Kathleen, in 1992 and two years later joined the New Castle County Police Department. From that point, he began to make an impression. Bruce Taylor, a retired New Castle County police senior lieutenant, trained Szczerba when he was at the police academy. Taylor said many of the trainees are a blur to him, but Szczerba stood out.
“Every year, one officer stands out,” Taylor said. “He was so likable, so happy to be in the academy, that it was obvious he was going to be in the department for a long time and go a long way. I was very happy to have him in the academy.” Szczerba graduated from the police academy on July 11, 1995. After serving five years as a patrol officer, Szczerba in 2000 was assigned to the criminal investigation unit, where he worked in family services. In 2008, he was promoted to sergeant and served on the “E squad” as patrol supervisor for the central district.
During his nearly two-decade career, Szczerba also served in the police department’s research, development and inspections unit. “He was the poster child for the New Castle County Police Department,” said W. Scott McLaren, the county’s public safety director. “He was the perfect officer, always with a positive attitude.” New Castle County Sheriff Trinidad Navarro, a former county police officer, described Szczerba as a “level-headed, even-keeled, soft-spoken” quiet officer. “When you talked about police officers believing in truth and justice, Joe was that kind of guy,” Navarro said. “He always stood up for what was right. He was made for this job.”
On Sept. 19, Senator Christopher Coons (D-Del) addressed the United States Senate with a speech to honor Sgt. Joseph Szczerba, the New Castle County Police Officer who was killed in the line of duty last week.
“Mr. President, I rise today to honor a hero. I rise to remember the sacrifice of a man whom I am proud to have known,” Coons said. This was the first time in nearly 40 years that a New Castle County Officer died in the line of duty. In 1972, Cpl. Paul Sweeney was killed in a traffic accident. Szczerba is the first County Officer to have been murdered while on the job.
It was the worst news I’d ever received in public life. Each year as County Executive, when I attended our annual police memorial, we quietly prayed that we would never know this day. Two weeks earlier was the second anniversary of the killing of another Delaware police officer, Patrolman Chad Spicer of Georgetown. Delaware is a state of neighbors and we are still as a state mourning Chad’s death. We could not have possibly lost another brave police officer. Nation wide, there have been 126 police officers that have died in the line of duty this year. The average tour of duty for these officers is about 12 years, and the average age is 40. More than 50 were killed by gunfire.
Heaven today, Mr. President, is a safer place today because Joe Szczerba is on patrol. He was a good man and a great cop, and he died a hero. He died doing what he was called to do and he died doing what he loved to do.
The New Castle County Police Department has passed on its highest award to their fallen hero. Less than a week after losing his life in the line of duty, Sgt. Joseph L. Szczerba was posthumously promoted to the rank of lieutenant in a private ceremony. His wife, Kathy, was presented with his new badge, a framed copy of the letter promoting him and the Medal of Honor at the County Government Center Wednesday night. Szczerba is the first recipient of the Medal of Honor in the New Castle County Police Department’s 98-year history.
Sergeant Szczerba is only the second officer from the New Castle County Police Department to die in the line of duty. Sergeant Szczerba is survived by his wife Kathy, brothers Gerald and Stephen, and sisters Nancy and Karen. Please join with us in sending our condolences to the family and peers of Sergeant Joseph Szczerba.
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