Family, friends, fellow officers, city and state officials including the governor and lieutenant governor gathered Wednesday afternoon for a ceremony dedicating the Kenai Police Department building to the memory of Kenai Police Officer John Patrick Watson, who was killed in the line of duty Christmas Day last year.
A light rain came down as the crowd stood while Miss Alaska, Christina Reasner of Sterling, sang the national anthem to open the ceremony, which was held on the strip of lawn outside the police department. After a brief invocation, Kenai Mayor John Williams introduced and welcomed Gov. Frank Murkowski.
Murkowski noted the presence of many of Watson's fellow officers at the ceremony. He said the public knows of the dedication it takes to perform the duties of an officer of the law, and that it seemed appropriate to not only honor Watson at the ceremony, but also all of the state's law enforcement officers.
"We're aware of the sacrifice that comes with the commitment John made," Murkowski said. "It's fitting we pay tribute to John and all the peace officers ... . They're truly Alaska's heroes."
The governor said he considers law enforcement a priority, despite a tight state budget.
He said the state is hiring 20 additional troopers and nine more prosecutors "to put the bad guys away."
Murkowski said his administration will continue to be "tough on crime and tough on criminals."
The governor wondered aloud how many members of the community might have suffered crimes against them had Watson not been on duty. He closed his comments by addressing Kathy Watson, John's widow.
"Kathy, I wish you comfort and peace in the memories of your husband," he said.
Lt. Gov. Loren Leman, who spoke at a memorial held for Watson at Kenai Central High School in December, said Watson is the only officer who has died in the line of duty on the Kenai Peninsula.
Leman said he didn't know Watson personally, but has come to know something of him through the stories he's been told by Watson's friends and relatives.
"From your stories, you tell me he was a humble and generous man," Leman said.
Kenai Fire Chief Scott Walden said the conflicts between police and fire departments that exist in other parts of the country don't exist in Kenai due to the good nature and professionalism of Kenai police officers, exemplified by Watson.
"He didn't have time for dissension or animosity," Walden said.
Chuck Kopp, chief of the Kenai Police Department, said Watson's dedication greatly contributed to the security of the community. Kopp compared a community without security to the salmon returning to the Kenai River.
"Without it we'd be gasping in desperation, much like the fish down at the mouth of the Kenai River," Kopp said.
Watson began serving as an officer in the Kenai Police Department in 1985. The date of the dedication ceremony was chosen to coincide with the 19th anniversary of Watson's first day of service, Kopp said.
A memorial plaque in honor of Watson has been hung in the hallway of the department. The metal plaque features a portrait in relief of officer Watson and reads: "John Patrick Watson, (K-11), Senior Patrol Officer, Kenai Police Department. Served July 22, 1985 Dec. 25, 2003. Killed in the line of duty Christmas Day 2003. He served with honor, integrity and valor. He will not be forgotten. Dedicated July 22, 2004."
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