Friday, September 20, 2019

‘My dad is definitely with us’

Police, family, neighbors unite
to salute Officer Benjamin Perez

By Joan Hadac
Editor and Publisher
Southwest Chicago Post

Seventeen years after her dad died, Katarina Perez shared a few thoughts about his life, at a public and emotional ceremony.

“As a young man, he was very intelligent, humble, smart,” she said. “He was a student council president. He ran his own prom. He was popular. He drew people to him. He was charming.”

Flanked by family, friends and dozens of supportive police officers, Perez was a key speaker Sept. 18 at an outdoor roll call of the Chicago Police Department. The event, which honored the late Officer Benjamin Perez, was held on the street at 53rd and Nashville, near the Perez family home. It was the ninth consecutive year an outdoor roll call was held in Perez’s honor.

Officer Perez was a young dad 17 years ago. He had been
Officer Benjamin Perez
on the police force for four years.

Assigned to the Ogden (10th) District, he was killed in the line of duty on Sept. 18, 2002. He and his partner, Officer Ron Zuniga, received information about a narcotics transaction occurring near the Burlington Northern-Sante Fe railroad tracks, just north of Cermak and Spaulding.

The officers climbed over an embankment and were conducting surveillance from a railroad trestle. As they watched for illegal activity, a Metra commuter train traveling at a high rate of speed was headed in their direction. 

Although both officers were able to get off the tracks, Officer Perez was pulled underneath the wheels by the forceful winds the train created.

He left behind his wife, Michele; as well as Katarina, a 9-year-old schoolgirl at St. Daniel the Prophet; toddler son, Benjamin; and infant daughter, Rebecca. All of them, as well as members of the larger family, were on hand Wednesday.

“I see old faces. I see new faces. It means a lot to us to know that you’re here,” she told the audience. “My dad is definitely with us, I can feel it.”

Known as a modest, hard-working, effective policeman, Perez earned 16 CPD honorable mentions in his four years on duty—yet no one in his family, not even his wife, knew of them until after his death. His family found the certificates stashed in a china cabinet drawer as they went through his personal effects.

Serving as master of ceremonies at the roll call was retired CPD Supt. Phil Cline, a former Garfield Ridge resident and current Chicago Police Memorial Foundation executive director.

“Ben died doing a job he loved, serving a country he loved even more,” Cline said. “He was the best of his generation. Ben was the ‘real police’…our mission is simple: go out and be the police. But that mission is sometimes dangerous.

“A small part of every one of us died when we lost Ben,” Cline continued. “Not just members of the police department, but every Chicagoan. When you look at Ben’s life, you discover a man who devoted himself completely to others and to his family. We did not just lose an exceptional police officer, we lost a remarkable person.”

Editor's note: 37 minutes of the ceremony captured in the video below.

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