Yesterday concluded National Police Week. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many of the traditional ceremonies and events were canceled or modified.
Police Week is a time for us to recognize officers who gave the ultimate sacrifice. In 1962, President Kennedy proclaimed May 15 as National Peace Officers Memorial Day and the calendar week May 15 falls as National Police Week. National Police Week pays special recognition to those law enforcement officers who have lost their lives in the line of duty for the safety and protection of others.
This year, Interim Commander Reed and I participated in a procession in Duluth. Over 100 squad cars from over 30 departments from around our region, including some from the Twin Cities, created a rolling ceremony on Park Point. The cavalcade of vehicles started by passing through an Honor Guard lining both sides of Canal Park and a large flag held high above by the Duluth Fire Department's ladder trucks. Bagpipers played "Amazing Grace."
The Aerial Lift Bridge was illuminated with blue lights. The U.S. Coast Guard and Minnesota DNR lit up the bay with their water patrol boats. The cars continued down Park Point, where they turned around and came back to Canal Park. The bridge operator gave a "sailor's salute" with a sounding of the bridge horn.
During the event, retired police officer and now police chaplain, Jon Haataja, read the names of all 254 police officers who have been killed in the line of duty in Minnesota since 1887 when our state was created.
As we drove down Park Point, the streets were lined with people waving, holding flags and signs, thanking us for our service. It could just be me, but I have always had a challenging time acknowledging and responding to their words and gestures of appreciation.
Maybe because it is not the norm we're used to on the job. Perhaps it is because it often only happens when we are mourning the death of one of our officers. I do not know, but it brings out an uncommon sense of emotion in me.
Speaking of emotions, as we continued the drive down Park Point, the names of fallen officers continued to come across our police radio from oldest to the latest deaths. Suddenly the names took on an increased sense of realness to me. The names were known to me. I was able to put a face, a person, a relationship, a memory and a loss to that name.
- Robert "Beefy" Lawson, one of my grandfather's deputies from the Itasca County Sheriff's Office, who was murdered.
- Officers Ryan and Jones from the St. Paul Police Department. Theirs were the first law enforcement funerals I attended representing the Hibbing Community College law enforcement program.
- Erv Clemons from the Carlton County Sheriff’s Office, who was murdered when I was in college.
- "Big" Scott Rogers from Clay County, a Moorhead police officer. When I was a police explorer, I rode with him and many others at MPD.
- Gary Wilson from the Duluth Police Department. Some of his coworkers still work at DPD.
- Joe Bergeron from the Maplewood Police Department.
- Scott Patrick from Mendota Heights
- Melissa Schmidt from the Minneapolis Police Department.
- Tim Bowe and Ted Foss from Minnesota State Patrol.
- Joe Gomm from the Department of Corrections.
- Chris Dewey from Mahnomen County Sheriff's Office.
- Brian Klinefelter from the St. Joseph’s Police Department.
- Steve Sandberg from the Aitkin County Sheriff's Office.
- Eugene Wynn from the Minnesota DNR.
All these deaths have changed my life and affected who I am today. Sadly, I know there will be more. As the names continued over the radio, feelings swirled through my head as I continued to drive, wave and say thank you to people lining the streets. I could not help but feel humbled and hoped that through my wave — the small gesture that it was — we would connect.
I hoped they'd see us for who we are: public servants with human emotions who feel pain and are not immortal. At times we confront danger, defy the odds and disregard our safety for the safety of others and the good our of communities.
As the procession concluded, the squads left in every direction back to their communities. I went feeling humbled, with an increased sense of worth and motivation to serve. I was reminded of how much trust and faith people put on our profession, and the support our communities give their police officers.
I want to thank Duluth Police Chief Mike Tusken for the invitation and our thanks to everyone who coordinated the event. I want to thank everyone in our community who have sent messages of support and gratitude during Police Week. We will continue to do our best to serve you with the honor and integrity that comes with wearing the badge.
Derek Randall is interim chief of the Cloquet Police Department.
Editor's note: Randall was named one of three finalists for Cloquet Police Chief this week.