Traverse City Record-Eagle

May 16, 2013

Memorial ceremony a tribute to TC's Sgt. Finch

Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — It was a quiet, sunny day when Traverse City Police Sgt. Dennis Finch responded to a call about a man with a gun outside a Wellington Street home.

Finch had been called to the residence many times before. He knew the man — John Charles Clark — whose gunshots would shatter the peace of day and kill him.

That was May 12, 1998.

Finch's death in the line of duty was remembered on another peaceful spring day 15 years later. The Traverse City Police Department and the Grand Traverse Sheriff's Department held a Peace Officers Memorial Day ceremony on Wednesday.

Law enforcement agencies across the country celebrated on May 15 every year since 1962 and mark the entire week as Police Week.

Grand Traverse County Sheriff Tom Bensley said the day has a special meaning in Traverse City; Finch was shot and killed just one block from where the ceremony was held.

"It's a poignant reminder that on a quiet day something like this can happen in Traverse City," he said.

Finch's widow Agnes attends the ceremony every year. She stood near the front of the crowd and greeted police officers with a hug and smile.

"It always makes me feel good to be around police officers. Period," she said. "I always feel a bond."

Bob Cooney, prosecutor for Grand Traverse County, counted himself among the many in the crowd outside the Governmental Center who recall the day Clark shot Finch.

"It was another routine call," he said. "He had gone there believing that he could once again talk the man down from whatever was causing him to act out, to get him help and to restore peace and order to the neighborhood and the city he loved and sought to protect."

Clark, 63, is serving a life sentence for first-degree murder in the Chippewa Correctional Facility. Finch's name is now on the side of the Woodmere Avenue facility that houses the city police and Grand Traverse County Sheriff's Department — the Sgt. Dennis W. Finch Law Enforcement Center.

Cooney said this year 41 peace officers were killed in the line of duty. He said people often take the relative safety of their communities for granted.

"We should keep in mind that this can be shaken in an instant by a criminal act," he said. "It is this sense of security that allows us to sleep at night, to walk around our neighborhood and downtown free from fear, to go about our daily lives without being victims of crime. We all pride ourselves in living in a community like Traverse City and Grand Traverse County that is relatively safe and secure. But keep in mind that sense of security doesn't just happen. What makes it possible are the law enforcement officers that we honor today."