Annual service pays tribute to officers, K-9s killed in line of duty

By Jessica Prokop, Columbian Courts Reporter

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The sound of fighter jets roared overhead, almost as on cue, as Cowlitz County Sheriff Mark Nelson sang, “And the rocket’s red glare,” during Thursday’s annual Law Enforcement Memorial Ceremony to honor local and state officers killed in the line of duty.

Eyes turned skyward as the F-15s’ deafening sound punctuated the national anthem, though they passed in time for the crowd to catch the song’s ending.

About 150 people, including those in the ceremony, gathered in the courtyard of the Clark County Public Service Center.

Clark County Sheriff Chuck Atkins said some staff had been called away to incidents that unfolded earlier that morning. There was a shooting in Vancouver’s Truman neighborhood, and an officer-involved shooting was reported shortly before the ceremony at PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center.

New Heights Church Pastor Bill Heck told the crowd there were likely mixed feelings at the solemn occasion, as those in attendance remembered the officers who have paid the ultimate sacrifice.

“I feel a sense of sadness and loss but also feel deep gratitude for those who have served,” he said. “We have folks who are serving in the line of duty now.”

Guest speaker Washington State Patrol Chief John Batiste told the crowd that he’s seen too many lives lost in his 41-year law enforcement career.

“Losing an officer is a shared responsibility, a shared loss,” Batiste said. Those in law enforcement are a family, he said, and when a member of that family is lost, the community hurts, too.

Already more than 50 communities across the United State this year have lost officers in the line of duty. Last year, 144 officers were killed, Batiste said, including one in the state of Washington — Officer R. Jake Gutierrez with the Tacoma Police Department was killed Nov. 30.

Incidents involving firearms were the leading cause of death for law enforcement officers, accounting for 64 deaths. And of those deaths, 21 officers were shot ambush-style. Domestic disturbance calls accounted for 14 officer fatalities.

Police K-9s killed while on the job were also recognized for their sacrifice.

There were 34 police K-9 deaths last year, including the March 9 death of police K-9 Reefer with the Chelan County Sheriff’s Office.

“We must never forget their sacrifice,” Batiste said of all the officers. “Remember officers on the front line, you are never alone.”

Batiste said the daily operations of law enforcement are “plain and simple” dangerous, and stressed the importance of their training and remaining “vigilant and steadfast.”

He urged the crowd to never forget to tell their loved ones what they mean to them. “Make room in your heart for others — the living,” Batiste said.

The ceremony also included the posting of colors by a multi-agency honor guard, roll call of fallen officers and police canines, a 21-gun salute and performances of “Amazing Grace” and taps. Flags were flown at half-staff in honor of Clark County council Chair Marc Boldt declaring May 18, 2017, Clark County Peace Officers Memorial Day.

“Blessed are the peacemakers,” said Chaplain Ken Turney during the benediction. “Go in courage. Go in safety and go in peace.”