Officer of the Month for February 2003

Lieutenant Nelson J. Zoch

Houston (TX) Police Department

Washington, DC—The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (NLEOMF) has announced the selection of Lieutenant Nelson J. Zoch of the Houston (TX) Police Department (HPD) as its Officer of the Month for February 2003. Lieutenant Zoch is has served with the department’s Homicide Division for the past twenty five years.
Few who experienced life during the late 1960’s could readily forget what turbulent times they were. Little respect was paid to those in uniform and law enforcement officers were often targets of those protesting against social injustice and the war in Southeast Asia. From 1960 through 1967 more than 1,100 law enforcement officers were killed in the line of duty across our nation. However, in January 1968 Nelson Zoch’s chose a career in law enforcement and has spent the majority of his career putting killers behind bars.
Just six months after his graduating from the police academy, then Officer Zoch witnessed the horror the department and colleagues experience when a colleague is killed. On June 26, 1968 Officers Ben Gerhart and Bobby James were killed in Houston. Right then, Zoch set his sights on joining the department’s elite homicide division; his goal was to bring murderers and particularly “cop killers” to justice.
On October 28, 1972, one day after the murder of Houston Police Officer Jerry L. Spruill, Nelson Zoch was promoted to Detective and was assigned to the Spruill case. Although the investigation resulted in the arrest and conviction of a suspect in the case, thirty years later Lieutenant Zoch refuses to close the investigation as a second, yet unidentified suspect is still at large. This kind of tenacity and commitment are characteristics of his approach to the job. Zoch pinned on Lieutenant’s bars in 1977. Today, he supervises a squad of investigators responsible for the investigation of homicides, kidnappings, officer-involved shootings, child deaths, and other violent crimes. Over the course of his career, Lieutenant Zoch has completed 95 HPD Training Classes and has attained six TCLEOSE Certifications. By sharing his vast homicide investigative experience, Zoch has had a hand in helping train future HPD homicide detectives.
Since 1968 when Zoch joined the Houston Police Department, 43 of its officers have died in the line of duty. Assigned to many of these cases, the Lieutenant came to know the families of these men and women and sought to help them in any way he could. He soon learned that the survivors wanted the service and sacrifice of their loved one to be remembered and he began writing about the 96 extraordinary Houston police officers who have died in the line of duty dating back to 1882. Since 1998 Lieutenant Zoch has written a column entitled “Lest We Forget” published in the Badge & Gun, the Houston Police Officers’ Union newspaper. Each month, shortly after the paper is distributed, Lieutenant Zoch receives notes from the survivors thanking him for not letting their loved one be forgotten. Marcia Spruill Rochne, widow of Officer Jerry L. Spruill, wrote, “My son and I are, and will be forever grateful for the closure Lieutenant Zoch’s column has brought us.” Thus far, Lieutenant Zoch has written close to thirty articles. In doing so his research uncovered three families who never received the benefits due them; a situation he was able to rectify.
Lieutenant Zoch recently developed a plan to have the headstones of those officers from the HPD killed in the line of duty, to be so designated. Conducting extensive research, the Lieutenant proposed the idea to the 100 Club of Houston, who has generously agreed to finance this project. Following Lieutenant Zoch’s lead, the Houston Police Retired Officers Association now plans to have a small plaque affixed to the headstones of active or retired officers who died of natural causes.
When describing Lieutenant Zoch, Assistant Chief of the Tactical Support Command F. E. Yorek, states, “Nelson Zoch has distinguished himself throughout his career by one simple credo, he always does the right thing. Nelson has been instrumental in the investigation of most of the murders of police officers that have occurred in the past 25 years. In each case he has been diligent and seen to it that justice has been served. Lieutenant Zoch has served this department at a level that few ever ascend to.”
Police Unity Tour
The Police Unity Tour is the official sponsor of the Memorial Fund’s Officer of the Month Program.