President pledges support, promotes appreciation for law enforcement at memorial service
Led by a pipes and drums band, a long column of men, women, teens and children walked along a path flanked by state and local police, sheriffs and federal officers from much of the country. They stood at attention and smartly saluted the attendees as they passed. Some were escorted, some dressed in black, but all were the families, friends and colleagues connected in some way to the 394 law enforcers who died in the line of duty in 2016, as reported by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.
For more than an hour, the line continued, headed to the reserved seats on the lawn in front of the U.S. Capitol. The touching procession opened the 36th annual National Peace Officers Memorial Service on May 15, joined by thousands and keynoted by President Donald Trump. Vice President Mike Pence, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and members of Congress, along with Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and CBP Acting Commissioner Kevin McAleenan, were among the presiding officials.
President Trump called law enforcement officers the “thin blue line between civilization and chaos” and outlined the hazards they face. He pledged his administration’s support for the “tools and resources they need to do their jobs and come home safely to their families.”
Law enforcement officers, he said, put their lives at risk, rushing into danger under difficult conditions, often without thanks. “Words cannot express the depths of our gratitude, but I hope our actions will show you how deeply we care and how strongly we feel about protecting those who protect us.”
Police have gone through an era of defamation and vilification, he said, inspiring attacks and ambushes. The president pointed to the five Dallas police officers slain by a sniper in July 2016 and two Iowa officers ambushed and killed while sitting alone in their separate police cars in November of that year.
“It’s time to work with our cops, not against them; but to support them in making our streets safe, not to obstruct them,” said President Trump.
Vice President Pence called for a renewed outlook in recognizing the demands placed on law enforcement. “To make America great again we must restore the honor and respect law enforcement so deserves.”
The president’s address drew a sustained and rousing standing ovation. “I’ve never heard a speech like that,” offered one family member. “It was wonderful.”
Although a solemn service, hundreds of law enforcers, fire fighters and other first responders moving about the grounds added a dash of pageantry that underscored the event’s significance. They stood out in their flawless blue, olive green and brown formal uniforms resplendent with vivid department emblems, badges, belts and devices, some reflecting that day’s blazing sunlight.
Performances by the U.S. Border Patrol and Office of Field Operations honor guards and pipes and drums bands contributed to the grandeur. The combined honor guards also assisted the U.S. Capitol Police by providing security and managing entry checkpoints during the event, said Jonathan McElhaney, OFO’s national honor guard commander and pipes and drums program manager.
“I was blown away by all the families, the atmosphere,” remarked CBP Agriculture Specialist Susan Useman, attending the service for the first time.
“It’s powerful,” said Border Patrol Agent Kenneth Borror from the Laredo Sector in Texas in describing the event. “So many people directly lost a son or daughter. All the departments participate.”
Inspector Jason Parry, an officer with the Hampshire Constabulary in the United Kingdom—his third memorial service visit—came not only to remember the fallen but also to observe. He said similar recognitions take place in the UK but not to the extent of Washington, D.C.’s Police Week. “We can learn a lot from this event,” he said. “Here, it’s fantastic.”
The National Peace Officers’ Memorial Service is one of several Police Week events recognizing law enforcers killed in the line of duty. “The service, which began in 1962, is sponsored by the Grand Lodge Fraternal Order of Police. Police Week this year ran from May 14-20.”