Memorial services for law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty are steeped in tradition and ritual.
Many of the customs are taken from the military. Police agencies began after the Civil War, with many veterans donning their army uniforms to serve and protect their communities.
Here is a rundown of the some of the rituals carried out when an officer killed in the line of duty is honored.
Casket watch: Fellow officers guard the slain officer’s body 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The watch begins as soon as possible after the officer is killed and continues until the officer is buried.
Procession of emergency vehicles: This is a celebration of life in the form of a parade honoring the lost life. Processions once included only police vehicles, but now are made up of other emergency vehicles as well.
The badge: A police agency’s badge represents the community it covers and the agency’s history. When an officer is killed, fellow law enforcement officers place black mourning bands across their badges.
Folding of the flag: On the American flag, the blue represents courage, the red represents the blood that’s been shed and the white represents honor.
A flag drapes the casket of the fallen officer with the blue field and stars placed over the officer’s left shoulder. The flag is folded near the end of the service, usually 13 times. When folded, the red and white stripes are on the inside with the blue field on the outside.
The blue on the outside symbolizes the officer who sacrificed himself in the name of honor.
A 21-gun or 21-bell salute: This tradition is taken from the military. In the military, the number of times a gun is fired signifies the slain soldier’s rank. All law enforcement officers get 21.
The riderless horse: This symbolizes a soldier has fallen in the line of duty.
End of watch: During the ceremony, a last radio call is played with the officer’s badge number called out. It is meant to signify that the officer is gone but will not be forgotten.
The thin blue line: This represents the line of police officers who separate good from evil. It’s thin because of the ratio of officers to the public they protect and serve.
Police departments, which are anchored in urban settings, typically have blue uniforms. Sheriff’s departments, which cover rural areas, typically wear green or tan uniforms.
When an officer is killed, there’s often an image that has a black background with a thin blue line going through the middle. The black is for mourning; the blue line represents the officers.
Stacia Glenn: 253-597-8653