Memorial to Joseph Pozell
End of Watch: May 17, 2005
Rank: Reserve Sergeant Badge No. R-579
Age: 59 Years of Service: 9 years
Location of Death: Wisconsin Avenue and M Street, NW
Duty Assignment: Second District Reserve Corps
On May 14, 2005, Reserve Officer Joseph Pozell was struck by a sport-utility vehicle while working in one of the busiest intersections in Georgetown, at Wisconsin Avenue and M Street, NW. He was rushed to George Washington University Hospital in critical condition. He succumbed to the injuries he received three days later, on Tuesday, May 17, 2005. At the time of his death, Officer Pozell was surrounded by his wife (Ella), son (Joseph Jr.), and countless other family members, friends and co-workers within the Metropolitan Police Department. Officer Pozell was 59 years old.
On May 16, 2006, during the 27th Annual Memorial Service for Law Enforcement Officers in the Washington, DC, area, Chief of Police Charles H. Ramsey posthumously elevated Joseph Pozell to a “Level II” Reserve and promoted him to the rank of Reserve Sergeant.
Joseph Pozell began his association with the Metropolitan Police Department as a civilian volunteer with the Police Auxiliary Service in 1996. On May 18, 2002, he was appointed as an officer with the MPDC’s Police Reserve Corps. He began helping pedestrians and motorists navigate the traffic-choked intersection in Georgetown in December 2003. He said he began directing traffic because it was “a good way to do something for the community.” He became an iconic figure in Georgetown and was featured in several local news commentaries. Sergeant Pozell was survived by his wife Ella and one son, Joseph Jr.
Articles from the Washington Post – transcribed by Dave Richardson, MPD/Ret.
THE PERFORMANCE OF DUTY DEATH OF RESERVE OFFICER JOSEPH POZELL ON MAY 17, 2005, AND AN EARLIER ARTICLE WHICH WAS WRITTEN COMMENDING HIS PERFORMANCE OF DUTY.
WASHINGTON POST ARTICLE DATED NOVEMBER 28, 2004, PAGE C5
At Home in the Middle of Wisconsin and M; Volunteer for Traffic Duty Brings Order to the Corner
During the day, Joseph Pozell has a fairly quiet job: He manages a cemetery in Georgetown.
But as the evening rush hour beckons, Pozell takes on a new identity in a very noisy place: He becomes a traffic officer at one of Georgetown’s busiest intersections — the neighborhood hub, M Street and Wisconsin Avenue NW.
The 58-year-old activist volunteers his time as a reserve officer for the D.C. police department, one of about 190 reserve officers who help police with a variety of tasks. For a couple of hours most week nights, Pozell can be found blowing his whistle, hollering directions and motioning drivers, cyclists and pedestrians to stop, slow down and, sometimes, speed up.
“A lot of us who live here in Georgetown complain about traffic,” said Pozell, who has lived in the neighborhood since 1971, is married and has a 26-year-old son. “I wanted to do something that wasn’t being done. It’s just a good way to do something for the community that I love.”
Pozell began directing traffic in December, when an underground utilities project on M Street created even greater snarls on the busy roadway. Although he is not paid for the work, Pozell said he felt compelled to step in because traffic is such an issue in the neighborhood of narrow, cramped streets. The work is an extension of his community involvement. In the past, Pozell has helped form committees to help reduce panhandling and control crowds of revelers who descend upon the area on Halloween.
Wearing his bright green police vest, along with gloves that have reflectors on the palms and fingers, Pozell commands the attention of pedestrians, cyclists, drivers and others trying to get through the crowds.
Ron Amon, a bicyclist from Northern Virginia, said his rides in the area have gotten smoother with Pozell at the helm.
“He makes me more aware. You know when to stop, and you know when to go,” Amon said. “This man’s discretion, to me, is worth all the value in the world.”
Pozell has a routine that is familiar to the regulars. A long blast on the whistle tells motorists to stop, and two short blows tell them to get moving, said Pozell, who learned the tricks of the traffic trade in his studies as a reserve officer. Three short whistles are for pedestrians: That means stop.
“I try to do it as low as possible, but if someone doesn’t listen, I have to give them a loud blast,” he said.
On a recent evening, it seemed as though everyone was looking at Pozell for instruction.
At 5:18, a woman driving a silver Lexus with Maryland tags was trying to beat a red light. The driver started to turn right onto Wisconsin, but Pozell whistled and motioned. She stopped in her tracks and backed up, out of the crosswalk, to allow pedestrians to cross the street.
At 5:55, when a taxi driver turning left onto M Street inched into another lane, Pozell called out, “Sir, stay on your side of the line!”
Not everyone follows directions. Pozell said the worst offenders are pedestrians who are so busy on their cell phones that they step off the sidewalks and walk into traffic without looking.
When a young man ran across M Street — against the traffic signal — Pozell gave him a stern warning. The man had a rather feeble explanation. “I just had a bad day and I didn’t feel like stopping,” he said.
Minutes later, when a man driving a gray Toyota Corolla with D.C. tags lurched into the crosswalk on Wisconsin, with a cellular phone to his ear, Pozell reacted quickly.
Pozell can — and does — write citations. But in this case, he issued a warning. “I’m not going to write you a ticket,” Pozell told the driver, who claimed to be unaware that he had done anything wrong. “I’m just going to tell you what the law is.”
Pozell’s efforts have drawn praise from police and people on the street.
“It certainly relieves the police officers that work in that area to respond to other incidents, knowing that Joe has that intersection under control,” said Robert Contee, commander of the 2nd Police District. He called Pozell a “tremendous asset.”
Larry Olds, 45, walks with a cane and wears braces on his legs because of hip and knee problems. He said he likes having Pozell around when he needs to cross the street.
“He’s the best in the world,” Olds said. “He’s real nice. He’s real friendly. He’s just about the best traffic cop I’ve ever seen. He gets everything in order.”
WASHINGTON POST ARTICLE DATED MAY 15, 2005, PAGE C13
Officer Struck in Georgetown; SUV Hit Volunteer Directing Traffic at Wisconsin and M
A popular traffic officer who works one of the busiest intersections in Georgetown was struck by a sport-utility vehicle yesterday and rushed to George Washington University Hospital in critical condition, a D.C. police spokesman said.
The officer was identified by friends as Joseph Pozell, 59, a reserve officer who manages the Oak Hill Cemetery and lives on the grounds with his wife, Ella.
Pozell was directing traffic about 4 p.m. when a 19-year old Virginia woman driving a Honda CR-V ran into him, Sgt. Joe Gentile said. Gentile said the D.C. police major crash unit is investigating the accident. The driver was not identified.
Michael Palermo, manager of the Papa-Razzi restaurant and bar, said he saw the accident. Palermo was walking to Georgetown Tobacco to buy cigarettes when he stopped at a crosswalk at M Street and Wisconsin Avenue. A gray Honda sped up Wisconsin to make a left on M Street, he said.
Pozell, standing on M Street and facing pedestrians in front of the Banana Republic clothing store, “had blown the whistle” and turned as he always did — on one foot, like a dancer — so he could see traffic coming from the other direction, Palermo said.
“The impact was unbelievable,” Palermo said. “The woman hit him head-on. . . . I don’t know how she missed seeing him. He was standing in the middle of the street.”
After Pozell was struck, Palermo said, the young woman began screaming and crying. He said he rushed to get someone to call the police and then went to Pozell’s side. “I said, ‘Joe, Joe,’ and there was no response,” Palermo said.
Pozell is well-known in Georgetown. He has lived in the neighborhood for 34 years and has been an unpaid reserve officer for the police department for three years.
He began helping pedestrians and motorists navigate the traffic- choked intersection in Georgetown nearly 18 months ago. In November, he said he began directing traffic because it was “a good way to do something for the community.”
John Gill, president of Oak Hill Cemetery, said Pozell has been the cemetery’s superintendent for 20 years and celebrated his birthday last week.
“Everybody in Georgetown knows him,” said Robert Novel, owner of O Salon, where Pozell got his hair cut on his birthday.
Novel said motorists drive too fast along M Street, Wisconsin Avenue and the narrow side streets in Georgetown, which usually are clogged.
Yesterday was no different. After the accident, many blocks on M Street leading into Georgetown were cordoned off with yellow police tape. Cars, trolleys and trucks were forced to travel slowly along K Street, which was gridlocked.
Novel and Palermo stood in front of Papa-Razzi, just feet away from Pozell’s blue Chevrolet Blazer, talking about how cars normally whiz by.
“Speeding in Georgetown is unbelievable,” Novel said. “This whole intersection is definitely an accident waiting to happen.”
“It happened today,” Palermo said, lowering his head.
PARTIAL WASHINGTON POST ARTICLE DATED MAY 16, 2005, PAGE B3
METRO IN BRIEF
Friends and associates of Joseph Pozell, a volunteer traffic officer critically injured Saturday by a sport-utility vehicle while on duty at one of the city’s busiest intersections, will hold a candlelight vigil for him tonight in Georgetown, police Sgt. Joe Gentile said.
D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey is expected to attend the vigil at 7:30 p.m. at the intersection of 30th and R streets, near Pozell’s home.
Pozell, 59, who was directing traffic at Wisconsin Avenue and M Street NW, was struck Saturday afternoon by a Honda CR-V driven by a Virginia woman, who has not been identified. He remained at George Washington University Hospital in
critical condition yesterday, Gentile said.
Officers were still investigating the incident yesterday. No charges have been filed, Gentile said.
WASHINGTON POST ARTICLE DATED MAY 17, 2005, PAGE B4
Outpouring of Love for Officer Hit in Georgetown
He was the maestro of traffic, waving his hands with purpose and grace. The cars that rumbled through the intersection of M and Wisconsin were the “musical notes.”
Joseph Pozell, a volunteer D.C. police traffic officer, played “a symphony out there,” close friend Ed Solomon told hundreds of people who gathered last night at a candlelight vigil in a Georgetown park to honor Pozell, who suffered a severe head injury Saturday after being struck by a car while on duty.
Pozell, 59, a beloved figure in the Georgetown community, remained in grave condition last night at George Washington University Hospital.
Police said earlier yesterday that no charges will be filed against the driver of a sport-utility vehicle that hit Pozell, calling the incident a “tragic accident.”
Last night, the scene at Montrose Park looked almost like a Norman Rockwell painting, a slice of old-time Americana: officers in uniforms, adults in suits and blue jeans, a mayor, a police chief, a couple of children with baseball mitts. The park is adjacent to Oak Hill Cemetery on R Street NW, where Pozell is manager and where he lives with his wife, Ella.
One by one, speakers stepped up to the microphone and spoke with adulation about a man known for turning on one foot, like a dancer, at his usual traffic-cop spot at Wisconsin and M streets, and for keeping motorists and pedestrians in line with hand gestures and sharp blasts of his whistle.
“Joe always wanted to be part of something special,” said D.C. police Capt. Patrick Burke, a friend. “He was so excited to put on that uniform” and direct traffic, he added.
Pozell was even willing, Burke added with a smile, to give up Friday night martinis and Tanqueray and tonics to do the work.
“Joe loved it,” he said. “How many people can chase a dream at Joe’s age?”
At one point during the vigil, D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey presented Pozell’s wife with a “blue shield medal,” which honors officers injured in the line of duty, and kissed her on the cheek.
On a few occasions, people hoisted their candles in the air in honor of Pozell, a 34-year resident of Georgetown.
Pozell’s son Joseph, 26, told the crowd that he was a bit dumbfounded when his father called about five years ago to say he was going to be a volunteer officer.
“You’re 54 years old and you can’t hear,” he told his father.
Three years ago, Pozell became a reserve officer, a designation that later allowed him to direct traffic.
“He did not care if you had money or you were a bum covered in trash,” Joseph Pozell said. “He was totally unselfish. He didn’t care what happened as long as other people were safe and happy.”
A day before the accident, Pozell ran in a road race to benefit families of officers killed in the line of duty.
The next day, police said, he apparently did not see a Honda CR- V that was turning onto westbound M Street from Wisconsin Avenue about 3:40 p.m. He walked into it and was knocked to the ground, his head hitting the pavement, police said.
The driver of the CR-V, identified by police as Julia R. Matthews, 19, of the 1300 block of Lancia Drive in McLean, had a green light, police said.
Matthews told investigators that she didn’t see Pozell until the collision, police said.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with Officer Pozell and his family,” Matthews’s father, Robert, said last night.
“The findings in the police report and other press accounts speak for themselves,” Robert Matthews said. “All the public’s attention should be focused on Officer Pozell and his family.”
In a lighter moment last night, D.C. Council member Jack Evans (D- Ward 2) recalled jogging past Pozell at Wisconsin and M about a half-hour before Saturday’s accident. Evans said Pozell joked: “Slow down!”
WASHINGTON POST ARTICLE DATED MAY 18, 2005, PAGE B1
Traffic Officer Hit in Georgetown Dies; Tireless Volunteer Was Directing Vehicles at Wisconsin and M
Joseph Pozell, the volunteer traffic officer who was struck by a sport-utility vehicle Saturday in Georgetown, died last night at George Washington University Hospital, D.C. police said.
Pozell, 59, a well-known figure in the Georgetown area, had been in grave condition since being struck while directing traffic at Wisconsin Avenue and M Street NW.
He died at 9:47 p.m. with his wife, Ella, his son, Joseph Jr., and other relatives at his bedside.
“Joe put up one heck of a fight,” said Ed Solomon, a close friend who was at the hospital last night. “It will take a long time to recover from this.”
Sgt. Brett Parson of the police department’s family support unit, who served as a family spokesman, said Pozell had been on life support, but his “heart just gave out.”
Parson said family members asked him to “express their undying gratitude and appreciation” for the support and prayers of the community and for the efforts of Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey and his department to provide aid and comfort.
Parson said officials are planning a “full police funeral for a line-of-duty death,” to be held at Washington National Cathedral. A date has not been set.
For many years, Pozell had been superintendent of the historic Oak Hill Cemetery on R Street NW, where he and his wife lived in quarters on the grounds.
A candlelight vigil held for him at nightfall Monday, at a park near the cemetery, drew the mayor and other officials in addition to many police officers and community residents.
They recognized him as the embodiment of public spiritedness, a man concerned with helping others, who saw work that needed to be done and decided to do it himself.
In his case, it was the job of directing the frenzied, tangled flow of automobiles and pedestrians at Wisconsin and M, one of the busiest intersections in the metropolitan area.
By all accounts, Pozell was an artist at his task, spinning and whirling, waving his arms and issuing blasts from his whistle to impose order at the chaotic crossing.
He was struck about 3:40 p.m. when he apparently stepped into the path of a Honda CR-V that was turning west onto M Street from Wisconsin Avenue. He was struck with great force, and his head hit the pavement.
Police called the death an accident and said the 19-year-old McLean woman who was driving the vehicle had a green light.
In interviews and in remarks at the vigils, formal and informal, police and others pointed to him as someone who could not do enough to contribute to the community in which he lived and to the welfare of his fellow residents.
For a long time he had been a civilian volunteer with the police department, frequently answering telephones or performing other such tasks that freed uniformed personnel for street duties.
But police Capt. Patrick Burke said Pozell “always wanted to do more and more.” He became a reserve officer three years ago, which permitted him to direct traffic, and subsequently took command for long stretches at Wisconsin and M.
WASHINGTON POST ARTICLE DATED MAY 18, 2005, PAGE A16
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
Honoring One of D.C.’s Finest
It was just a question of time before Joseph Pozell, an outstanding traffic officer, would get hurt at the corner of Wisconsin Avenue and M Street in Georgetown [Metro, May 15]. I often stood in awe of how this officer directed traffic with clockwork precision at that dangerous intersection. I also didn’t think it was safe there.
Why did the D.C. Police leave Mr. Pozell out there alone most of the time? The complexity of the intersection, with its heavy foot traffic, would seem to require two officers at all times. If we can have two officers at 14th and K streets NW during rush hour, which seems to be a less-dangerous intersection, something should have been done about the Georgetown intersection a long time ago.
People like Joseph Pozell are rare in this city and should be treasured. I hope this accident is a wake-up call to his superiors.
A. MAARTEN SINGELENBERT
WASHINGTON POST ARTICLE DATED MAY 21, 2005, PAGE A18
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
The Moving Gifts of Officer Joseph Pozell
A memory of Police Reserve Officer Joseph Pozell, who died this week after being hit by a sport-utility vehicle in Georgetown [Metro, May 18]:
Many people were mesmerized by Officer Pozell’s traffic- directing ballet in Georgetown, but what I liked to watch was his enforcement of the law.
During one evening rush hour, an elderly woman (I point this out only to indicate that no one was exempt) was determined to turn right onto westbound M Street NW from the center lane. Officer Pozell blew his whistle and motioned her to continue southbound on Wisconsin. She remained in the center lane, right turn signal blinking.
Officer Pozell rapped on her window and again motioned her ahead, and she canceled her turn signal and moved ahead slightly, only to attempt a right turn after he turned his back. He whirled around and yelled — now with legs spread and hands on hips:
“What part of this don’t you understand?”
She threw up her arms and proceeded down Wisconsin, as Officer Pozell patted the back of her car. “Good girl,” he said cheerily.
BRIAN NOYES, Arlington
My first deployment as a member of the emergency Volunteer Traffic Corps was to direct pedestrian traffic headed to the Mall for the dedication of the National World War II Memorial. I was teamed with Joseph Pozell.
The day was magnificent, the atmosphere joyous. At 8 a.m., when Joe Pozell and I were dropped at our busy corner, streams of people already were crossing to the Mall at every change of the light.
Earlier that morning, when the assignments were announced, Officer Pozell had cast a grim look at the white-haired lady assigned to him, but he was polite. I knew little about traffic control, I told him, and I would follow his directions. He seemed relieved. I understood later that good traffic control was important to him.
Like me, Officer Pozell was a volunteer. His erect bearing, assertive whistle, white-gloved and expressive hands, and firm and distinct gestures made him a joy to watch. I knew I had been accepted when he yelled, “Lewis, move that taxi out of the intersection.”
Joe and I got the people safely across the street, eased the confused out-of-state drivers around the corners and stood aside for the thundering Harleys. I wouldn’t have missed that day working with him for the world.
MARTHA WELLS LEWIS
WASHINGTON POST ARTICLE DATED MAY 24, 2005, PAGE B1
D.C. Officer Honored as Symbol of the City; At Funeral, Leaders Hail Longtime Service of Volunteer, Georgetown Fixture
Before about 1,500 mourners and to the sonorous toll of the Washington National Cathedral’s massive Bourdon bell, an ordinary citizen who became a treasured community activist was given a stately funeral yesterday.
Dozens of police department flags from across the region snapped in the wind, paying tribute to Joseph Pozell, a volunteer officer who was struck by a sport-utility vehicle while directing traffic. The brass taps on hundreds of police shoes click-clacked down the church’s aisle, and full police honors accompanied his body from the cathedral, down Wisconsin Avenue NW and to a gravesite at Oak Hill Cemetery, where Pozell worked and lived as superintendent for 20 years.
Along the way, firetrucks formed a hook-and-ladder archway at M Street and Wisconsin Avenue, where Pozell had presided over rush hours since December 2003. Hundreds of residents, shop owners and office workers stood at silent attention, several waving at the hearse as Pozell passed one last time through the Georgetown intersection, which was unusually quiet and laced with flower bouquets.
Shirley Pettis, a tourist from Minnesota, was visiting the cathedral with her family when they happened upon the color guard, the ocean of police dress blues, the motorcade and the mayor. Like dozens of other stunned visitors, they were convinced it was the funeral of a world leader. So, they asked cathedral tour guide Betty Eaton to explain.
“It was for Joe. The police officer at M and Wisconsin,” Eaton said. “He was the first reserve officer to die in the line of duty here. . . . He was such a fixture in Georgetown. Everyone knows Joe.”
Pettis nodded and began to understand. “You can really tell people loved him,” she said.
Inside the cathedral, Mayor Anthony A. Williams described the 59- year-old Pozell as a symbol of a great city, someone who volunteered his time to help “form order out of chaos” and who “helped hold this city together.” The mayor interrupted a six-day trip to the West Coast and returned briefly to Washington for the funeral.
“God bless you, my friend. Thank you for your service, thank you for what you’ve done for this city,” Williams said.
A volunteer in the Georgetown community for the past few decades, Pozell decided to become a reserve officer after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. As an unpaid reservist, he took on the responsibility of taming traffic at one of the “tougher intersections” in the city, said D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey, among the many speakers at the funeral.
He studied the craft of directing traffic and did it so artfully that passersby, tourists and even busy professionals often stopped to watch Pozell twirl, wave and whistle in a routine that Ramsey called “a thing of beauty.”
The accident occurred May 14, a Saturday, after Pozell backed into the path of an SUV passing through the intersection. He died three days later. No charges were filed against the driver, a 19- year-old woman from McLean.
Ramsey, who visited Pozell’s bedside during the hospital vigil, said he will retire the officer’s badge number. Pozell was the first reservist to join the 110 D.C. police officers who have died in the line of duty.
The chief told Pozell’s wife, son and other relatives that the police family will always be there for them. Before returning to his seat at the cathedral, Ramsey stopped at the coffin draped in ivory damask and placed his hand on it for a long, quiet moment.
Those not in uniform remembered that Pozell had helped others even when he wasn’t wearing the yellow safety vest of a traffic officer.
Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) said that after his wife died in 2003 and was buried with her family in the Midwest, Pozell dedicated a bench at Oak Hill Cemetery to her, giving Evans and his children a place for quiet reflection.
“I’m sure most people here have stories like this,” Evans said. “These stories make up the life of Joe Pozell.”
Pozell’s wife, Ella, said she was overwhelmed by the outpouring of support and sympathy for her family.
For the past week, people have been asking her what they can do for her and their 26-year-old son, Joseph. In her remarks at the funeral, she finally made a request.
She asked people to look around them, to look for anyone they believe may be in need. “If it’s within your capacity to help them, you must,” she said. “This is what Joe did, almost daily.”
WASHINGTON POST ARTICLE DATED JUNE 6, 2005, PAGE A18
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
Helmets Can Save Lives
While the tributes and memorials to Joseph Pozell were fitting for a much-loved individual [“D.C. Officer Honored as Symbol of the City; At Funeral, Leaders Hail Longtime Service of Volunteer, Georgetown Fixture,” Metro, May 24], an additional action by the city government, the D.C. Police Department or the community would provide a living legacy.
Officer Pozell might have survived his accident if he had been wearing a protective helmet, much like those worn by D.C. motorcycle officers. News reports seemed to suggest that he received massive injuries when his head hit the pavement. A helmet might not have saved his life, but officers who are in dangerous situations while directing traffic deserve this added protection.
Maybe a small sticker with Officer Pozell’s retired badge number on each helmet would help us all remember his service.
JOHN M. HUBER