Tomorrow, thousands, no, tens of thousands of us, will pay final respects to Lakewood police Sgt. Mark Renninger and officers Tina Griswold, Greg Richards and Ronald Owens.
A week ago Sunday night – was it really that long ago? – law enforcement officers from throughout the region brought their four comrades’ bodies to the Pierce County medical examiner.
The procession must have taken 20 minutes to pass under the flag hung over Pacific Avenue from two fire truck ladders. Not quite 10 hours after Maurice Clemmons gunned down the Lakewood police officers, their brothers and sisters mustered with stoic discipline to escort them from where they fell at the Forza Coffee Co. in Parkland to the medical examiner’s office in Tacoma’s Lincoln District.
All along the way, ordinary people gathered by the roadside. Their emotions could not have been more raw, or more pure. Genuine as the feeling was, faced with such perfect protocol, there was uncertainty about the best way to show respect. Is it presumptuous for a civilian to salute? To place one’s hand over one’s heart? Should one remove one’s hat? Hold a flag? Wave it?
It was the thought that counted, said Lt. Rodney Rochon, a member of the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office Honor Guard. Rochon is a member of the State Law Enforcement Line of Duty Death Team and is in Pierce County taking some of the logistical pressure off local officers. “When an officer dies in line of duty, this team comes in and brings with it the expertise to put together the ceremony, help with the protocol and assist with escorting the family,” Rochon said.
The formality of the occasion, the focus on planning, on getting everything right, has its place in the first steps of the grieving process.
On Sunday night, so did just showing up. “Your mere presence says a lot,” Rochon said. “That goes a long way, saying thank you, you are appreciated. We go about our daily work and don’t often hear that. When it comes to something like this, we do appreciate how we are appreciated by the community.”
Even so, he was pleased to outline the etiquette of a procession for those who want to show proper respect in the proper manner.
“It’s like when the American flag passes by,” he said. “As the vehicles with the caskets go by, you stand with your hand over your heart. Honors are rendered to the fallen officers and the families of the fallen officers equally.”
The hearses carrying the officers, and the vehicles carrying their families, will travel at the head of the procession with Lakewood motorcycle police escorting them. Behind them will be representatives of other agencies, from Boston to Florida, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, California, British Columbia and points in between. The motorcade will be at least three miles long and will travel at between 15 and 20 miles per hour. The public, Rochon said, will have ample opportunity, and leeway, to express respect and thanks to the officers in it.
Dress warmly, Rochon said, and bring a folding chair with a blanket if you like.
Feel free to wave to, and thank, officers as they pass. “Either waving or holding a flag is perfectly acceptable,” he said. “The waving of the flag is a symbol of the flag being on a pole in the breeze. Our flag is a very fine-looking flag when it is waving in a breeze.”
Signs, too, are welcome, provided they are in good taste, positive and supportive and don’t block others’ views.
“You have an entire agency here, and officers who work for that agency are feeling pain,” Rochon said. “If they were to see a sign that says ‘We love you. We miss you. We support you,’ it will go a long way toward helping them get a grip on the situation and move on.”
That will be the hard part, once the ceremonies are done, once the protocol has served its purpose, once there is time to feel the pain without distraction.
“You have to move on,” Rochon said. “We don’t forget, but tomorrow still comes.”
Kathleen Merryman: 253-597-8677