Every year they raise their glasses to heroes who walk among them - the officers who rescue people from fiery crashes, the ones who speak for dead victims, the ones who search for Alzheimer's patients who wander away or missing children.
Tonight, as has become the tradition, Anne Arundel County police officers chosen to receive awards of excellence and commendations will wave off the applause. They will instead talk about others not being honored in the ballroom at Michael's Eighth Avenue.
They will mention supervisors, partners and current colleagues who have done the job without receiving a plaque or ribbon.
Even Cpl. Charles "Charlie" Brown, who will receive the Chief's Award for Job Excellence, said yesterday, "There are so many other officers out there more deserving."
Brown, who started as a police dispatcher in 1978, became one of the county's first accident reconstructionists and remains the fatal-accident squad's centerpiece investigator.
"He has received over 50 letters of appreciation from the citizens of the county," Chief P. Thomas Shanahan wrote in his citation. "He has been commended by the State's Attorney's Office, the Anne Arundel County Office of Law, numerous prosecutors, and fellow accident reconstructionists. ... He is a mentor and a shining example to his co-workers in police service."
Brown, who has investigated more than 350 fatal accidents in the county, was trained at Texas A&M; University and the Institute of Police Technology and Management. As much as the work is about physics and formulas, it's about people, said Brown.
"It's up to you to speak for the victim," he said. "If something happened to your family or friend, you'd want to know as much as possible about what happened. That's what I try to tell them."
But knowing has a downside, Brown said. He is constantly reminded that most fatal accidents could have been avoided.
In July, for example, Brown investigated the death of a motorcyclist who was wearing novelty headgear. "It said right on the label, 'This is not safety equipment,'" Brown said.
Brown photographed the helmet, which was broken into tiny pieces - held together, in part, by stickers.
The Police Department will also honor tonight a 10-year-old girl who helped rescue a Montgomery County woman being abducted by her ex-boyfriend in February 2000. The woman, who was taken from her home at knifepoint, persuaded him to let her use the restroom at Downs Park, where she slipped a note pleading for help to the girl who happened to be inside.
The girl, whose parents asked that she not be identified, immediately took the note to the ranger station. Using information from the note, park rangers and county police were able to find the couple's car and free the woman.
"It's very unusual for a child so young to have the presence of mind to locate an authority figure," said Officer Charles Ravenell, a police spokesman.
Police officials will also recognize outstanding examples of police work, including the March helicopter rescue of a suspect who led police on a three-county chase and then jumped off the Hanover Street Bridge into the Patapsco River.
Cpl. Larry Walker, the helicopter pilot, lowered the aircraft so that Officer Shannon Mack could lean from its skids and throw a floatation device to the suspect. The man, struggling to keep himself afloat in the freezing water, held onto the device until a police marine unit arrived and transported him to Harbor Hospital, where he was treated for hypothermia.
Police officials said the suspect would likely have drowned if it weren't for Walker and Mack, who will receive Silver Star awards for their bravery. "Their actions were above and beyond the call of duty, and both officers endangered their own lives to save another," Shanahan wrote in the citation.
Officers Lester Brumfield, Michael Cox, Daniel Sereboff and Cpl. Robert Martin will receive Silver Stars for rescuing two motorists from a burning car in August. Another Silver Star will be presented to Officer Bobby Crawford for disarming a suspect in a brutal home invasion robbery in April 2000.
Officials will commend the Northern District Platoon 1 for the July search of a 76-year-old Alzheimer's patient who had been missing for more than 12 hours. He was found by Sgt. Rhonda Osborne, who, according to hospital officials, saved his life. All officers from Northern District Platoon 3 who responded to a July 26 bank robbery will receive commendations for the quick capture of three suspected serial bank robbers.
Northern District officers will also receive a community service award for their work in the Brooklyn Park neighborhood, where police organized a community day and job fair and a program to keep children from skipping school. Lt. Joseph H. Bisesi, Sgt. William R. Krampf, Cpl. Gordon Merritt and Officer Elizabeth Shaffer will share the award.
Among the other officers and citizens receiving awards are Officer Dennis Schuman, who performed the Heimlich maneuver on a choking woman; Eric Trumbauer, who helped police catch an escaped prisoner at Glen Burnie District Court; Charles Bramell Jr., who helped police stop a shoplifter; and Ellen McAuliffe, a bus driver who extinguished a car fire.