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Behind the Badge Take a moment to remember California's peace officers during their memorial week

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Lt. Chris Piombo

Posted: Monday, May 9, 2011 12:00 am | Updated: 6:20 am, Mon May 9, 2011.

It only takes a minute or two to gently place the small black ribbon across the front of my gold badge. I make sure the ebony band is straight and level as it cuts across the heart of my shield. I fasten it to my navy blue uniform and head out the door.

It's a simple act that never gets easier.

The black mourning band on a law enforcement officer's badge indicates another officer has lost their life in the line of duty. We keep the ribbon on our badges from the time we are notified of the officer's death until they are laid to rest.

We've usually never met the person, but their loss touches each and every one of us. They could have been a CHP officer on a car stop in the mountains, a police helicopter pilot in southern California, or a correctional officer at Folsom.

It doesn't matter who they were or where they were when they died. We are family, joined together by the badge we wear. The black band is our way of recognizing their sacrifice and paying our respects. It's a simple act that never gets easier.

Last week the California Peace Officer Memorial Ceremony was held at the state capitol in Sacramento. The names of the 11 California law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty in 2010 were added to the Peace Officer Memorial in Capitol Park.

The event is impressive. The fallen officers' names are written in a glass-encased honor roll in the east wing of the capitol building. Dozens of officers in their pressed dress uniforms stand in precise formation. High-ranking state officials give speeches. A trumpeter plays "Taps," and there is a 21-gun salute. The freshly engraved names, each a solemn reminder of the cost of keeping our society safe, are revealed.

I feel empathy for the poor soul whose job it is to place the new names next to those who have been on the monument for decades.

It's a simple act that never gets easier.

The memorial should also be the time we remember family members and fellow officers who were devastated by the loss.

We honor the young wife with tears streaming down her face trying to stay strong as the chief hands her a neatly folded American flag. And the parents who were awakened by a phone call in the middle of the night that informed them that their son or daughter died tragically while on duty. And the fellow officer who reverently places photos of his fallen comrade with his kids at Disneyland in a box as he cleans out his best friend's locker. And the young children sitting near the flag-draped casket as they scan the field of blue uniforms and wondering why they can't find their dad. We should remember them too.

It's a simple act that never gets easier.

This Wednesday, our officers will attend the San Joaquin County Peace Officers memorial ceremony at the Stockton Police Department. We will have a formal inspection in the back lot of the police department, then head out to place a wreath at LPD Officer Rick Cromwell's gravesite. I'm sure Rick still enjoys being the center of attention.

Members of the local law enforcement community will gather later that morning at Stockton P.D. to pay tribute to local officers who have lost their lives protecting the residents of our county and cities since the 1800s. The ceremony is complete with lines of officers at attention, honor guard details, rows of meticulously shined police motorcycles, and the reading of the names of the officers who died in the line of duty in San Joaquin County.

Often individuals who have nothing to do with law enforcement stop by and stand quietly at a distance to pay their respects. It's nice to see so many people taking time out of their day to remember those who left us way too soon.

The observance only takes a half-hour or so, but it carries a great deal of significance for those of us who knew some of the officers whose names are engraved on the memorial at SPD.

The event in Stockton, just like the one in Sacramento, will keep the names of the fallen heroes from passing quietly into history. But sadly we also realize one thing about the ceremony will never change.

It'll always be a simple act that never gets easier.

Any comments, questions or advice for Behind the Badge can be e-mailed to Jeanie Biskup at jbiskup@pd.lodi.gov; mailed to Lodi Police Department, 215 W. Elm St., Lodi, CA 95240; or asked by phone at 333-6864.

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