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Woodford Times - Peoria, IL
  • East Peoria telecommunicator organizes Project Blue Light for area's officers

  • East Peoria residents may have seen some blue lights glowing from people’s front porches lately.

    The blue lights have a meaning. They represent fallen officers.
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  • East Peoria residents may have seen some blue lights glowing from people’s front porches lately. The blue lights have a meaning. They represent fallen officers. The blue lights on the porch have evolved into a Facebook page and now a free event in East Peoria Feb. 25. Mary Robertson, a telecommunicator at the East Peoria Police Department, started Project Blue Light locally after Pontiac Police Department officer Casey Kohlmeier was killed by an alleged drunk driver Oct. 30. Kohlmeier, 29, was on duty, parked in his squad car on Interstate 55 with his K-9, which was also killed. Robertson, who has been with the department for nine years, said she got the idea for Project Blue Light through Concerns of Police Survivors, a national organization. “They come in after an officer is killed in the line of duty and help police departments arrange for the funeral and the memorial,” Robertson said. “The idea for Project Blue Light is sort of promoted by COPS, but it’s not one of the main things they do, but they’re the ones that promote that national idea.” Robertson started a Facebook page called Project Blue Light: Illinois. Already, after three months, the page has 3,328 Likes. The Facebook page says it’s a place to share pictures honoring the memory of fallen officers. After Kohlmeier’s death, Robertson attended his funeral along with some central Illinois officers. “When the blue light started, officers were sending me pictures of the bluelights they had put up. I was forwarding that on to my friend at the Pontiac Police Department. We had a conversation about maybe starting a Facebook page,” she said. Blue lights are available at places like Walmart, but Robertson said she works with a company called TPC Lighting from Ohio that donated 200 light bulbs. “I sell them. I give them away on the page,” Robertson said, adding that the two main times people display them is around the holidays and during police week, which is May 11-17 this year. On Feb. 25, Project Blue Light, in conjunction with the East Peoria Police Department, is sponsoring an officer and family appreciation dinner at the East Peoria Holiday Inn & Suites. The event is from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. and includes safety training for officers, a catered fundraiser dinner and a movie screening of “Heroes Behind the Badge: Sacrifice & Survival.” Robertson said the movie is not for the faint of heart and is about injured and fallen police officers. The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund in Washington, D.C., produced the documentary, and Robertson said people from that organization will attend the Project Blue Light event. Pontiac Detective Nick Taylor and officer Kohlmeier’s family is helping her organize the Project Blue Light event. Officers and their families, as well as supporters, are invited to the event, which can accommodate up to 300 people. So far, more than 35 police departments will be represented. Robertson said the main sponsors for the event are OSF HealthCare and Lincoln Office. She added they are still looking for sponsorships and donations from businesses for an auction/raffle that evening. Vendors will also be on hand to display items related to law enforcement. “Due to the sponsorships we’re receiving, it is free. The (Illinois Central College) MTU No. 7, which is for Tazewell, Woodford, Peoria, they sponsor the Below 100 training, so that was already covered,” Robertson said. “The movie and dinner will be paid for by Project Blue Light and the sponsorships we’ve received so far.” Below 100 is a training group for officer safety. Sgt. Roy Bethge of the Buffalo Grove Police Department is heading up the training at the Blue Light event. “When the tornado hit there was a group of officers that came down from Buffalo Grove, so he was in charge of that,” Robertson said. “I was connected to Roy through Project Blue Light.” After the Buffalo Grove Police Department helped in the area due to the tornado, the producer of “Heroes Behind the Badge” contacted Bethge. The producer said he wanted to show a screening of the movie in Illinois due to the tornado and Project Blue Light. “We just turned it into this whole day event,” Robertson said. Robertson said she is hoping to have a good turnout at the event, which is mainly focused on officer training and safety. Being a dispatcher, Robertson knows very well the importance of safety. “I focus mainly on officer safety when I train. It’s easy for officers to become complacent,” she said. Robertson said the relationship between an officer and a dispatcher is like a marriage. “You have to trust each other and be able to communicate,” she said. “That’s your worst fear (for an officer to get injured) as a dispatcher when working that radio.” Robertson said even if the event helps one police officer, it’s worth it to her. “Hopefully, this is so successful, we can do this again,” Robertson said. Chief Dick Ganschow said he is impressed with Robertson’s efforts. “I think it’s fantastic and she’s done a great job. ... I think she got into it because she’s so dedicated and feels so strongly about that issue and the issue of police and safety, but I am not sure she understood at the time how big this was going to get and fast this was going to grow,” Ganschow said. Robertson said she works on Project Blue Light after work. “It’s like another full-time job. It’s a lot of work but at the end of the day, I think it’s worth it. The messages I get from families about their appreciation for what I’m doing, that’s what really makes it worth it.” For more information, email Robertson at maryrobertson@cityofeastpeoria.com or visit www.facebook.com/projectblueIL.
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