A block-long honor guard from agencies nationwide salutes police survivors arriving for the candlelight vigil during Police Week in Washington DC.
For those officers who make the trip, National Police Week in D.C. each May brings home the law enforcement family's shared sacrifice. Officers, deputies, troopers, corrections officers, family survivors, and blue-line supporters say they gain a greater awareness of the annual price paid to keep America's communities safe.
Events such as a candlelight vigil, unity bicycle ride, and luncheon for officers of the month pay homage to the names of almost 19,000 men and women on the pair of 304-foot marble walls of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial.
"It brings everything into perspective, and it brings everyone together in the brotherhood and sisterhood," said Trooper Brandon LaBar of the Pennsylvania State Police.
This year, more than 20,000 officers, police survivors, dignitaries, and invited guests joined in the candlelight vigil, which included the reading of 334 names of officers who have been added to the memorial walls, including 116 who ended their watch in 2009. The pre-2009 line-of-duty deaths were discovered by the research of local officers.
This year's vigil began with the story of a fallen officer being told by Craig W. Floyd, chairman and CEO of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (NLEOMF). Floyd spoke about John Coor-Pender of the Wayne County (N.C.) Sheriff's Office, who was killed in 1816 while escorting a prisoner.
Floyd read off a litany of statistics to prove that the law enforcement profession remains extremely hazardous. In addition to the 116 line-of-duty deaths, 16,000 officers were injured. Floyd added that there was a 23 percent increase in officer deaths by gunfire in 2009.
"One law enforcement officer dies in the line of duty in this country every 53 hours," he said. "America's law enforcement has never been more challenged or more vital."
Floyd introduced the crowd to young Cody Lasater whose father Larry Lasater was a Pittsburg, Calif., officer who was killed before Cody was born. Watching Cody and his mother react to the mention of their loved one and his sacrifice was enough to bring a tear to the eyes of many of the veteran cops in the audience.
The pain felt by loved ones who lose officers to the hazards of the job was also the theme of an emotional speech by Jennifer Thacker, president of Concerns of Police Survivors. Thacker talked about the "painful absence" experienced by survivors, and said the people who gathered for the vigil were there to shine light on the "dark path" of the survivors' grief.
Thacker's presentation was followed by the candlelight ceremony and the reading of the names of the officers whose names had just been engraved into the memorial walls. Each name rang out loudly and clearly as the wind whipped across the memorial plaza and the crowd sat and contemplated the sacrifice of each officer.
A day earlier, some 1,100 officers donned bicycle gear and peddled 320 miles from East Hanover, N.J., as part of the Police Unity Tour.
During the ride, Lakewood (Wash.) PD Sgt. Mark Eakes carried more than just a memory of fellow Sgt. Mark Renninger. Eakes wore the fallen officer's chronograph sport watch-with its black rubberized bezel and white face-around his wrist.
"I couldn't help looking down at the watch [during the ride]," Eakes said after arriving at the memorial. "The ride is a great way for us to remember those officers."
Eakes and Lakewood officers John Fraser, Charles Porche, and Michelle Hector added pictures of Renninger, Tina Griswold, Ronald Owens, and Greg Richards-the four officers ambushed at a Seattle-area coffeehouse in November-to their bicycles and shared their stories with fellow LEOs during the ride.
Prior to the ride, Fraser learned how to ride a six-speed. Porche set up a blog to post updates along the route. The officers spoke about their fallen comrades with pride and emotion coloring their voices.
"Tina always took care of me," Hector said. "She always told me what to look out for. She always had my back."
To honor officers selected as "living legends," the NLEOMF also hosted a luncheon for the 16 Officers of the Month from 2009. POLICE Magazine captured the stories of nine officers from seven months that can be viewed in the Video section of PoliceMag.com.
The NLEOMF also selected Target as the recipient of the memorial fund's Distinguished Service Award for 2010. The "Target & Blue" initiative provides law enforcement with investigative tools such as the company's video forensic labs to help solve violent crimes.