End of Watch in Alexandria

End of Watch in Alexandria

Wreath laying for fallen Alexandria officers.

Judy Birney Schoenle lays a flower at the memorial for her father, Conrad Birney, killed in 1972 responding to a bank robbery.

Judy Birney Schoenle lays a flower at the memorial for her father, Conrad Birney, killed in 1972 responding to a bank robbery. Photo by Vernon Miles.


Police Chief Michael Brown.


Alexandria police officers with a memorial wreath.

Retired Alexandria Captain Ken Howard has a favorite story he likes to tell about his old partner, Michael Cody. Howard worked with Cody in the patrol wagon, colloquially known as a paddywagon back at the time, and Cody loved strawberry milkshakes. Once, while Cody was savoring a strawberry milkshake, he left it sitting up on the dashboard. Suddenly a call came in about an officer in trouble four blocks away, and Cody sprung into action. As the car lurched forward, the strawberry milkshake splattered all over the front of his uniform.

But there’s another story about Cody that’s impossible for Howard to forget. It’s the story of how his wagon was t-boned on K Street and 8th Street in Washington D.C. by a car running a red light. The force of the impact threw Cody and the other officer out of the car and into the street. The memorial page notes that Cody was 29 in 1969, with a pregnant wife at home, when he and the other officer bled out on the streets. Howard was visibly shaken when he remembered that when emergency personnel arrived to the scene, they found citizens gathered around the fallen officers. But they weren’t helping the dying officers. The crowd had stolen the officers badges and weapons and money.

In the days after, Howard said there was an empty chair sitting at the morning roll call. There was no banter or laughter, just a deep, sucking emptiness. It was a feeling he’d become familiar with several times over the years. It happened after Morty Ford, a family friend, was killed in 2011 by a Hepatitis-related illness contracted from a blood transfusion in the wake of a shootout 40 years earlier. It happened after William Truesdale was shot by a prisoner who stole his service weapon, an incident Howard witnessed from an overlooking window. Howard remembered the feeling of sitting in the hospital, a needle in his arm filling up a blood bag, when a doctor came in and said Truesdale had died.

“Driving by one of those places, the memory comes flooding back,” said Howard. “These things never leave you.”

On Monday, May 7, Howard gathered with a full courtyard of fellow police officers, Alexandria citizens, and family members to honor the 18 service members killed in the city. Officers and family members laid flowers at a memorial for each of them, from Constable Elijah Chenault killed when struck in the head with a stick in 1823, to Ford.

“This business is a small world,” said Chief Michael Brown. “You know each other more than as coworkers, you’re friends and colleagues. These situations are tragic, but they’re a reminder not only of the sacrifices but the camaraderie and pain that we all share when we lose one of these souls.”