Patrol Officer Walter B. Harris is honored with ceremony

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Monetta Harris was a few days shy of her 7th birthday in 1946 when the unthinkable happened – her father, a Princeton Borough police officer, was shot and killed.

Patrol Officer Walter B. Harris was off-duty on Feb. 2 that year when he learned of a disturbance at the Charcoal Inn, which was a men’s social club on John Street. He went to the club and found three armed men who were threatening patrons.

Harris confronted the men, and was shot twice by one of the men. He died of the gunshot wounds later.

“I was crushed.  They woke us up in the middle of the night to tell us,” Harris said, referring to herself and her sister, Florence Harris Broadway.

“I couldn’t believe it. I was very close to my dad. His sacrifice has not gone unnoticed,” Harris said of her father, who was one of the first black police officers in the Princeton Borough Police Department.

In fact, Patrol Officer Harris’s sacrifice has not gone unnoticed. There is a monument honoring him on the plaza outside the Witherspoon Hall municipal building at 400 Witherspoon St.

This past Monday morning, Feb. 4, a ceremony was held to acknowledge Harris’s sacrifice. Patrol Officer Christopher King, who plays the bagpipes, set the tone for the annual ceremony.

As Patrol Officer King played the bagpipes, the Princeton Police Department’s color guard marched out onto the plaza. Several police officers, including some of the eight newly sworn-in police officers, stood to one side.

Mayor Liz Lempert told the small group of spectators, which included Harris’s daughter, Monetta Harris, and grandsons Eric Broadway and Curt Broadway, that his sacrifice has not been forgotten.

“The Police Department is a family, and we are here to appreciate and honor the men and women who serve. We are thankful for the sacrifices they make every day,” Mayor Lempert said.

A proclamation was read in Harris’s honor, noting that he was caring and honest man. His name is included in the National Law Enforcement Memorial in Washington, D.C., along with the names of other police officers who have died in the line of duty.

The flags outside Witherspoon Hall flew at half-mast, and police officers wore a black mourning band across their badges. A wreath was placed in front of the granite memorial to Harris.

After the brief ceremony, grandson Eric Broadway said the ceremony was “beautiful.” It is great to have the support and recognition of the broad service and of the risks that police officers face every day, he said.

Grandson Curt Broadway agreed, and said it is a “great tribute” to his grandfather in an incident that would otherwise be lost to history. Princeton was a small town in the 1940s, and shootings were rare, he said.