The American flag flew at half-staff just a few feet from wreaths to commemorate the three Lawrence police officers killed in the line of duty.
The officers and firefighters stood in their dress uniforms. With a dozen city officials, retired officers and chaplains standing by, they also honored the 163 law enforcement officers who died in the line of duty in 2011, according to the U.S. Department of Justice and National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.
“This is a day to remember those who have made the ultimate sacrifice,” City Commissioner Hugh Carter said, “as well as their families.”
After the annual ceremony outside the Lawrence Police Department’s Investigations and Training Center, 4820 Bob Billings Parkway, Police Chief Tarik Khatib said the national numbers are a concern. For one, deaths of officers are trending back up after moving down from about 190 deaths in 2000 to near 150 in the mid-2000s, he said.
Also, more of the officer deaths in 2011 involved shootings vs. traffic accidents.
“Now we’re seeing the larger percentage is firearms-related calls and assaults on officers,” Khatib said. “That is a statistic that we can’t overlook, and we really need to examine why that is.”
It’s an annual ceremony as part of National Police Week, and Douglas County Sheriff’s officers, Lawrence-Douglas County Fire Medical workers and Kansas University Police officers also participated.
Of the three Lawrence officers who have died in the line of duty, the last one occurred in April 24, 1931, when Melvin Howe was shot and killed after making a vehicle stop on a robbery suspect.
The two others were Allen Moore, who died of a gunshot wound from his own weapon May 22, 1901, at the Union Pacific train depot in North Lawrence, and Wilson Pringle, who was shot Oct. 11, 1909, investigating a robbery. The city also honored Lawrence firefighter Mark Blair who died in a 1986 arson fire.
Khatib said although it had been 81 years since a Lawrence police officer died in the line of duty, the department has had many officers who suffered career-ending injuries.
Officer Jonathan Evinger was forced into medical retirement because of an eye injury he suffered after he was struck by a suspect in a February 2011 traffic stop.
As for the national increase in officers’ deaths, Khatib said researchers have looked into whether departments are more short-staffed because of budget cuts.
“In the recent economic situation, it’s very good that we make sure we’re efficient as a community, as a city, as a state, as a county. There are lots of different entities that are under budget pressures to be more efficient. That’s just the reality,” Khatib said. “We need to make sure that in our pursuit of efficiency that we don’t cross some line that sacrifices the ultimate safety of the community.”
As part of the ceremony, officers also traveled to cemeteries to place wreaths on the graves of Moore, Pringle and Howe.