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Back to Archives | Back to May 2004 Contents 

Police Week

By John J. Skinner, Chief of Police, and Timothy L. Wolfe, Lieutenant, Manassas, Virginia

Forty-two years ago, President John F. Kennedy signed Public Law 87-54, passed by a Joint Resolution of the 87th Congress of the United States of America, designating May 15 as Peace Officers Memorial Day in honor of federal, state, and municipal peace officers who have been killed or disabled in the line of duty. The calendar week of each year during which May 15 occurs is Police Week, and throughout the United States police departments conduct community activities during this week and hold a memorial services on May 15.

National Observance
During this week law enforcement officers from around the world converge on the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, D.C., for the events honoring their brothers and sisters who paid the ultimate sacrifice. Hundreds of ceremonial honor guard units in full dress uniform displaying their respective state and departmental flags are part of the memorial services. The sounds of marches and the always moving "Amazing Grace" echo through the stone and glass buildings and national monuments near the law enforcement memorial as police pipe-and-drum bands from agencies such as New York City, Chicago, and Ontario, Canada, play. Mounted police officers and hundreds of motorcycle officers line the streets in front of the U.S. Capitol for the annual memorial service.

Police Week also features many activities for the families and children of officers killed in the line duty, as well as events for the officers attending the memorial service.

The Ninth Annual Law Ride, May 9: Police motorcycle officers and thousands of officers and citizens on their personal motorcycles meet at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C., to begin a spectacular ride in tribute to the slain officers. Riders on motorcycles of every type participate in this ride, and many display the flags of their countries, states, and agencies as well as memorial flags. The procession leaves the stadium at 11:00 a.m. and proceeds to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial. For more information, please visit

The 10th Annual Blue Mass, May 10: A church service is held at noon at the St. Patrick's Catholic Church. Family members and officers attend the mass; upon arrival they are greeted by the sight of ceremonial honor guards posted outside of the church, and flags blowing in the May breeze. Motor officers from departments around the country escort family members of slain officers to the church for this service.

The Police Unity Tour Arrival Ceremony, May 12: When the Police Unity Tour was first organized in 1997, it was only an idea to raise funds by bicycling from New Jersey to Washington, D.C., for the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (NLEOMF). It is now an annual event. Riders in the unity tour are active or retired sworn law enforcement officers. Each rider raises a minimum of $1,500 and since 1997 the Police Unity Tour has raised over $900,000 for NLEOMF. For more information, visit

The 16th Annual Candlelight Vigil, May 13: The annual candlelight vigil is held at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial site at Judiciary Square. Hundreds of police officers, honor guard teams, and their family and friends surround the granite walls and stages at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial.

Family members of slain officers are escorted into the memorial site by a police motorcade. As the families step from their buses, they are greeted by a cordon of honor guard teams, escorted into the memorial site, and seated.

At night falls, a guest speaker (often the attorney general of the United States) addresses the families, officers, and guests.

Candles are distributed to everyone in attendance, and at a precise time the candles are lit in memory of the slain heroes. With thousands of candles lighted, the audience is reminded that as in the first memorial service, the lighting of a single beam of light-a blue laser-represents the thin blue line. The scene is powerful; imagine thousands of flickering candles held by officers and family members and a single blue beam of light stretching into the night sky, reminding everyone of the sacrifice that all officers and their families may need to make for others.

A significant part of the candlelight vigil is the reading of the new names added to the granite walls of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial. Family members, departmental members, and dignitaries read the names. Wreaths are laid and family and friends of the slain officer place departmental patches around the memorial walls.

The Steve Young Honor Guard Competition, May 14: The Fraternal Order of Police National Memorial Committee hosts the Second Annual Steve Young Honor Guard Competition where teams demonstrate their discipline and professional prowess in friendly competition in performance categories that range from the inspection drill to the posting of the colors. This event offers the challenge of intense high-quality competition and also provides a forum for the exchange of ideas and building friendships between honor guard teams. The competition is named in honor of Steve Young, past national president of the Fraternal Order of Police who died January 9, 2003, of cancer while serving his term of office. Visit to learn more.

The Ninth Annual Emerald Society and Pipe Band March and Service, May 14: In the evening, pipe bands and honor guard units will march through the streets of Washington, D.C., in a memorial parade that ends at the center of National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial.

Annual National Peace
Officers Memorial Day Service

The annual service is held on the front lawn of the U.S. Capitol. Motorcycle officers lead the motorcade of buses carrying survivors to the Capitol. Police officers and honor guard members establish an honor cordon through which the families of slain officers walk to be seated on the front lawn of the Capitol.

Thousands of officers, supporters, and family members have joined the survivors in this service to recognize the sacrifice made for their community. The president of the United States is usually the speaker at this service.

Upon the conclusion of the service, officers, family members, and survivors return to the memorial site, where the formal wreath-laying ceremony is placed at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial. Two officers are chosen by lottery to stand vigil for 15-minute intervals, one on either side of the wreath, an honor for any police officer or honor guard member.

The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial is a powerful symbol for the families of slain officers, their comrades, and their friends. More than 12,000 names have been etched in the memorial walls, allowing others to pay respect to those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in service of their community. "We should remember the way they lived," goes the best statement on the death of these brave officers, "not how they died."

COPS logo
Concerns of Police Survivors
Concerns of Police Survivors is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. Concerns of Police Survivors Inc., also know as COPS, is a nationwide nonprofit organization that helps rebuild the lives of survivors of law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty. Its programs include an annual survivors conference and weekend grief getaways for spouses, parents, siblings, adult children, and in-laws of fallen officers.

COPS was organized in 1984 with 110 members. Today, COPS' membership exceeds 12,000 families. Since 1990, COPS has received a yearly $150,000 grant from the Bureau of Justice Assistance, in the U.S. Department of Justice, to help surviving families cope with the trauma of line-of-duty death. Additional funding is obtained through special grants, fundraising activities, and individual charitable donations.

COPS has expanded its area of concern beyond the survivor issues. Experience has taught that the law enforcement agencies must be trained to handle surviving families. For most departments, losing an officer in a line-of-duty death is not common.

For that reason, COPS has developed a national training program for law enforcement agencies and officers on dealing with grief, developing general orders on officer death, promoting critical incident debriefing teams, and promoting the awareness of the effects of law enforcement officer deaths. COPS provides peer support at the national, state, and local levels, and it has organized chapters that function in several states at the grassroots level. It has publications, scholarships, outward-bound programs, retreats, and assistance programs for survivors. For more information about COPS visit

The Eternal Flame
"This eternal flame is not Akron's flame," said Chief Michael T. Matulavich at the dedication service of the eternal flame as part of the Akron, Ohio, Police Department's memorial. "It is to honor every law enforcement officer who has lost their life across this country."

The memorial monument and eternal flame of the Akron Police Department, like many other departments' memorials, serve as a constant reminder that commitment to public safety can come at a high price. Since 1963 Akron has held memorial services to remember the 20 officers of the Akron Police Department who made the ultimate sacrifice.

The origin of the Akron police memorial occurred in 1997 when the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 7 and the Akron police administration had a vision to honor fallen officers and their families with a lasting symbol of appreciation for their sacrifice. The theme of the memorial is that we will never forget those who gave their lives in service to the citizens of Akron.

Because the officers died in service to the community, FOP Lodge 7 and the police administration felt it important to involve the community in making this vision become a reality. Fundraising efforts included the sale of a specially commissioned Road Champs cruiser and generous donations from a broad spectrum of the community. The memorial became a reality on May 13, 1997, when more than 1,000 people witnessed its dedication.

In September 2000 Chief Matulavich encouraged incorporating an eternal flame within the Akron monument. The FOP Lodge 7 embraced this idea and a fund raising campaign began. The entire cost of the project was funded through several corporate donations. By July 2002 the addition of the eternal flame to the memorial was realized and officially lit. More than 2,000 people attended the dedication.

Just like the Akron memorial and eternal flame, communities across North America have built memorials to symbolize police officers that have made the supreme sacrifice for their communities.

For more information about how Akron built its memorial, call or write to Deputy Chief Craig Gilbride at the Akron Police Department.

Police Week Open House

The Cambridge, Massachusetts, Police Department has held its open house for the past 11 years and the event keeps growing. Originally, Cambridge held the open house during the last week in August and doors opened on Monday morning with a ribbon cutting and coffee. Visitors were allowed to walk through the department and visit the different offices and talk to officers and detectives. After several years the agency decided to have the open house during Police Week. Cambridge now offers senior classes on safety, rape aggression defense training, and child fingerprinting as well as the guided tours of the station. All rooms are open to the public except the evidence room and the lockup area. Coffee and refreshments are provided each morning for the public. Cambridge has noticed that often the same people come in on different days bringing additional family or friends to tour the facility. By creating a friendly atmosphere, the open house fosters a free exchange of information, and Cambridge has discovered that citizens attending the open house have provided information regarding illegal activity and the names of suspected drug dealers. On Wednesday during the open house Cambridge sponsors a luncheon for business leaders and community groups featuring award presentations to various people for work in the community.

Cambridge's motorcycle and bicycle units demonstrate their skills at riding. As part of the event, community youngsters can sit on motorcycles, and they love it. On Saturday Cambridge's open house features a picnic with hotdogs and hamburgers. The annual auction of found items such as bikes, computers, clothing, tools, and anything that came in during the past year that no one has claimed is also held on that day.

The citizens of Cambridge and its police department consider the open house to be a big success and look forward to it each year. For more information, call or write to Frank Pasquarello at the Cambridge, Massachusetts, Police Department.


From The Police Chief, vol. 71, no. 5, May 2004. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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