by Mark Hertzberg
Director of Photography
Journal Times (Racine, WI)
February 9, 2001

Sometimes we cover stories with tears in our eyes. That's the way it was for me when police officerJulia Burney retired today. I've been writing columns for the paper for the last year, in addition to my responsibilities as our Director of Photography. My column about Julia, photos I've taken of her through the years, and the photos I took today are below.

In the movies, angels fly.

Racine's angel, Julia Mae Burney, drives a police squad car.

Racine's angel knows her community inside and out, arguably better than any other cop.

Julia Mae is turning in her badge and her gun this week, but she's not turning away from her work. She had a tough start in life, both as a youngster, and as a young single mother.  Her work is ministering to people, and her pulpit will soon move from a car with flashing red and blue lights on the roof to a building at 800 Villa Street that is filled with books. She is trading her ticket books for Golden Books.

I have taken many photos of Julia Mae over the years.

Some show a tough, no-nonsense cop. There's one of her arresting a bloodied woman who had stabbed her father, just before Christmas a few years ago. There's one of her with another officer, both of them crouched near a fence that had been spray painted with gang graffiti, guns drawn, after a drive-by shooting at the funeral for a murder victim.

Julia Mae is also a hugger. I photographed her hugging and comforting an old friend just a month ago as her friend's home burned early one morning. There is one photo though, that particularly sticks in my mind. It  was taken in 1996, a bloody summer, with bullets flying constantly. Several young men died that summer, and one day there was a series of prayer vigils for the victims.  Julia Mae went to one vigil, where more than 30 shots had been fired in a drive-by homicide. She hugged and held the victim's mother, and I took a picture that I keep thinking of whenever I think of her
Julia Mae worries about the children of her community. She worries about these kids who seem mired in a rut, destined to a life of unhappiness and tragedy. She sees books as a way out for them.

Books are something that a child can hold and use to learn, to dream, to imagine, to laugh, to cry, to grow with. Books are something that don't flicker on a TV or computer screen. Books have pages that a child can turn without having to click a computer mouse.

Julia Mae wanted to get books in the hands of the children and she dreamed of a reading center for the program. And so the Cops 'N' Kids reading program was born. She got the building on Villa Street, and labor was donated to renovate it.  Books were donated, too, by the case load.

Vanessa Oliver, her oldest child, is now a Racine police officer. Two cops. Mother and daughter. We did a story about them a year ago. We sent the story to the Associated Press and something magic happened. People across the country read the story and saw the photo of Julia Mae and Vanessa, and they responded to it.

Someone at the Today show saw the story, and invited Julia Mae to come to New York to discuss Cops 'N' Kids. Thanks, but no thanks, she said. She invited them to come to Racine if they were that interested in the program. They came to Racine.

Then Oprah Winfrey called, and invited Julia to Chicago to tape a segment of her show, and to receive a contribution for the reading program. Julia Mae was also one of the finalists for Parade magazine's police officer of the year a few months ago.

We did a story when the Today show crew came to Racine. Months later Julia Mae showed me a clipping of the story that she keeps in her squad car. My photo for that story shows a little girl holding books she had been given by Julia Mae, her arm reaching out to this special cop.  Julia Mae told me recently that she looks at that photo every day, touching that little girl's face, thinking of that little girl and how much those books meant to her.

A month ago Julia Mae hugged her friend at a fire. When I stopped to talk to her as I was leaving the fire scene she quickly reached out, zipped up my coat, and pulled my collar around my neck.

Last week Julia Mae was called to another fire, this one in which a baby died. She was directing traffic at West Sixth Street and Memorial Drive when she called headquarters, and asked to be relieved of her assignment. She had learned of the anguish of the baby's family, people whom she knew, and told the dispatcher she felt she could help them more by going to the house to comfort them than by directing traffic. Another officer was sent to direct traffic, and Julia Mae comforted the family.

Julia Mae is moving her headquarters just a few blocks from the police station at 7th and Center to her reading center at 8th and Villa. Her mission is the same. Godspeed, Julia Mae Burney.

Mark Hertzberg

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