Steve Whalen gets new mural after defacement

Artist Morris Howard works on the new Steve Whalen memorial mural in southeast Dayton on Friday. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF
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Artist Morris Howard works on the new Steve Whalen memorial mural in southeast Dayton on Friday. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF

Memorial honors Dayton police officer who was slain in 1991.

A mural honoring a slain Dayton police officer that was defaced last year is being replaced with colorful new artwork that supporters hope celebrates his legacy and sparks meaningful conversations about community engagement and community-police relations.

“Steve Whalen was community policing before the Department of Justice called a program community policing,” said Rebecca Gaytko, special projects administrator with the Dayton Police Department who has helped with the mural. “He was a steward of the community in which he worked and served.”

Jason Antonick, Rebecca Gaytko, Shirley Tucker and Morris Howard work on the new Steve Whalen memorial mural on Friday. The original mural was defaced last year. Whalen, a Dayton police officer, was killed while in the line of duty in 1991. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF
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Jason Antonick, Rebecca Gaytko, Shirley Tucker and Morris Howard work on the new Steve Whalen memorial mural on Friday. The original mural was defaced last year. Whalen, a Dayton police officer, was killed while in the line of duty in 1991. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF

Efforts to design a new Steve Whalen memorial mural began shortly after the original one was defaced with graffiti in mid-2020 by a teen who was apprehended at the scene, said Jason Antonick, a member of the Steve Whalen memorial committee and chair of the mural project.

The vandalism took place during the height of civil unrest and racial justice protests following George Floyd’s death at the hands of police, but officials say they do not believe the teen suspect’s motivations were political.

Whalen was killed in the line of duty in 1991, and the original mural was completed in 2014, which contained his image and befitting words, including “love,” “support,” and “community.”

Whalen was fatally shot at the age of 38, after serving 15 years on the police force.

Dayton Police Officer William Steven Whalen. Dayton Police Officer William Steven Whalen was killed in the line of duty in 1991. DAYTON POLICE HISTORY FOUNDATION
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Dayton Police Officer William Steven Whalen. Dayton Police Officer William Steven Whalen was killed in the line of duty in 1991. DAYTON POLICE HISTORY FOUNDATION

But after Whalen’s image was vandalized last year, the entire 250-foot mural was painted over in white.

The mural is on the side of a retaining wall located along the east side of Steve Whalen Boulevard, which roughly separates the Twin Towers and Linden Heights neighborhoods.

The Walnut Hills neighborhood is just south of the roadway.

Artist Morris Howard works on the new Steve Whalen memorial mural on Friday. CORNEILUS FROLIK / STAFF
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Artist Morris Howard works on the new Steve Whalen memorial mural on Friday. CORNEILUS FROLIK / STAFF

The Steve Whalen memorial committee gathered input from surrounding neighborhoods, community stakeholders and people who knew the officer to find out what they wanted to see represented in the artwork, Antonick said.

Neighbors wanted to recognize the large and growing immigrant communities in nearby neighborhoods, Antonick said, and the mural shows police interacting with kids and and community members and includes a few scenes and landmarks, like St. Mary’s Church.

“We wanted to have a sense of place, and call out the different neighborhoods,” Antonick said. “And we wanted to be sure to have things related to Steve Whalen.”

The mural also depicts Cornerstone Baptist Temple, where Whalen volunteered, as well as Camaros and Corvettes, which were a couple of his favorite types of automobiles.

Whalen was a big car guy.

Jason Antonick and others use a projector to sketch some of the images for the new Steve Whalen mural in August. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF
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Jason Antonick and others use a projector to sketch some of the images for the new Steve Whalen mural in August. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF

The mural contains “Easter eggs” that people who knew Whalen will immediately recognize as special tributes to his interests and passions, said Gaytko.

“It’s still part of a community collage that is reflective of the community,” she said.

Community policing is extremely important today, Gaytko said, and officer Whalen was the epitome of that approach to law enforcement.

In addition to drawing attention to Whalen’s sacrifice, the mural hopefully will serve as a conversation-starter about the relationships between police and the community, she said.

The Steve Whalen memorial mural is located on the east side of Steve Whalen Boulevard, just north of Highland Park, near where Tacoma Street dead ends. CONTRIBUTED
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The Steve Whalen memorial mural is located on the east side of Steve Whalen Boulevard, just north of Highland Park, near where Tacoma Street dead ends. CONTRIBUTED

The new mural has more scenes, people and color than the original artwork, and painting began in early September and should wrap up next month.

The mural cost about $12,000, and donors include the Dayton police union and multiple local organizations.

Volunteers on the project include about 10 youth artists from the HAALO (Helping Adolescents Achieve Long-term Objectives) program through the Montgomery County juvenile court system.