This year's candlelight vigil during National Police Week paid homage to the law enforcement officers who lost their lives in the line of duty in 2011 and as far back as 1852.
Sunday's vigil opened with a remembrance of Gideon Manchester, a Fall River (Mass.) Police constable shot in the abdomen with a "six-shot revolving pistol" while attempting to arrest a burglary suspect on July 19, 1852.
"For more than 150 years, his life and death were never acknowledged," said Craig W. Floyd, chairman and CEO of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund. "The sacrifice he made for his family and community were forgotten."
Through the efforts of researchers, the names of Constable Manchester and 198 other officers who lost their lives prior to 2011 were added to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial this year. Of the 362 officers' names engraved on the national police memorial wall this year, 163 were from 2011.
Floyd highlighted three fallen officers from 2011 as examples of the terrible price our nation pays for public safety—Virginia Tech Police Officer Deriek W. Crouse, who was ambushed at a vehicle stop; Washington Corrections Officer Jayme Biendl, who was strangled by an inmate; and Fond du Lac (Wis.) Police Officer Craig Birkholz, who was shot by a barricaded suspect.
Fond du Lac Officer Ryan Williams, who was wounded in the same gun battle that claimed his friend's life in March 2011, attended the vigil.
Floyd underscored the hazards of police work at the Sunday event by mentioning that police fatalities have risen in the past several years—152 officers from 2010 and 116 from 2009 were added to the wall at the past two vigils.
"The Thin Blue Line has been diminished over the past few years," Floyd said. "Your service and sacrifice is highly valued. You may not hear the words 'thank you' enough, but your nation has built a memorial in your honor."
So far in 2012, police fatalities have fallen sharply. Forty officers have perished in the line of duty, a 40% drop compared to 2011. Also, firearms-related police deaths have fallen 55% in 2012, Floyd said.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Attorney General Eric Holder gave brief speeches to the sea of officers, survivors, and other dignitaries who filled Judiciary Square for the vigil.
"In both memory and spirit, they are still with us," Holder said of the fallen officers. "No words can ease the grief for each terrible loss we celebrate this evening. Yet I believe we can take some measure of comfort in the enduring impact each one of them has had. "
Napolitano said the candles "illuminate this sacred ground" and offered "our eternal gratitude, our blessings, and our respect."
The Police Unity Tour raised $1.65 million for the Memorial Fund, Floyd said.
By Paul Clinton