Kathy Watson, wife of fallen Kenai Police Officer John Watson, is escorted by Kenai Sgt. Gus Sandahl, left, and Randy Kornfield as she places a rose beneath the flags at the Soldotna Police Department on Wednesday. The Law Enforcement Memorial Service was held to honor the 42 Alaska officers who lost their lives in the line of duty since statehood.
Photo by Layton Ehmke
Law enforcement officers gathered Wednesday for a memorial service in remembrance of fellow Alaska officers who have lost their lives in the line of duty. The ceremony commemorated 42 officers who have died since Alaska's statehood, especially the last name added to the list in 2003 Kenai Police Department Officer John Watson.
Watson, who served 18 years with KPD, was shot and killed Christmas Day 2003. He was 43. The memorial service transpired as jury selection for the David Forster murder trial was under way. Forster is charged with Watson's murder.
The trial is expected to begin Monday. Kenai Police Chief Chuck Kopp offered thoughts on the parallel events.
"Having this trial move forward is something we have been looking forward to for closure," Kopp said. "Anytime an officer's life is taken from him in a violent manner, it is an attack on society. We recognize the sacrifices of those officers and their families to protect our state and the Kenai Peninsula."
Officers representing various arms of law enforcement in Alaska placed red roses beneath the nation's and state's flags at the Soldotna Police Department as the names of those deceased were read. Watson's widow, Kathy Watson, placed a rose in commemoration of her husband.
Trooper Capt. Tom Bowman said the ceremony was especially relevant in that he has personally known three-fourths of the fallen officers.
"It's just a weird feeling to have known them," he said. "Look at the stack of roses and think of it as a stack of those bodies they represent. That's a lot, and they all died so they could help someone else to keep someone else from getting hurt."
Bowman said the job of law enforcers has changed through the years as people become desensitized through violence in television and video games, and it plays a part in the societal attitude toward officers of the law.
"People used to be more law-abiding, now, they argue, fight and run and as we have seen today, some of it winds up in death," he said. "It's a hardening of the human spirit and disregard for human life."
Kopp agreed to the heightened danger in the line of duty.
"The workload is heavier," he said. "Every instance offers something you may not expect, but could come up in any day. It's challenging."
Kopp added that one continuing goal is to encourage young people to consider law enforcement as a career, thus imperative to honor those who gave their lives in duty and recognize it as an honorable profession.
"If we fail, we won't attract men and women to stand in the gap of good and evil, order and chaos," he said. "We want to affirm they paid the ultimate sacrifice for a great cause, because everything we do assumes we live in a safe society. It's the men and women in uniform that allow us to not turn our homes into fortresses."
At the ceremony, Kopp said he noted a change in the the way crime is dealt with, but what has not changed is the professionalism in how officers do their sometimes life-threatening jobs. He said he sees a renewed hope that the 42 officers who lost their lives protecting the innocent were not a sacrifice in vain.
"The officers who have fallen would want us to continue to serve," Kopp said. "It is only by the grace of God there are no new names to add."
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