Although the Law Enforcement Memorial Run from Philadelphia to Washington D.C. was canceled due to COVID-19 restrictions, it didn’t stop local officers from participating in a commemoration of their own.
Members of the Kokomo Police Department and Howard County Sheriff’s Department pledged to do some mileage during National Police Week 2020, beginning Sunday, May 10. Although the national run is 150 miles, the local county, city, and state officers collectively completed a total of 227.5 miles to honor their fallen brothers and sisters who made the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty.
“In general, this is nationally recognized as law enforcement memorial week, police week, and we want to make sure we take time to recognize those who have died in the line of duty and given the ultimate sacrifice and service to their communities in the line of duty,” said KPD Capt. Tonda Cockrell.
Officers including KPD Officer Bruce Rood, HCSD Deputy E.Z. Zimmerman, and ISP Trooper Kyle Miller finished the last two miles downtown of the local leg of the run on Thursday, May 14, starting at the jail building and finishing at city hall.
Typically, local officers raise funds to attend the national run each year; however due to the cancelation, any funds previously raised were donated to Copz 4 Kidz, according to Cockrell.
According to ISP Lieut. Col. Matt Bilkey, all police officers have been touched by the loss of another sworn officer, and even though he could not attend the ceremony held in Washington D.C. this year, he still felt it was important to honor the families of Indiana’s fallen officers.
“For me, it’s a good way to remember my friend David Rich, Indiana State Police, that was killed in the line of duty. Also, locally, when Carl Koontz was killed, it was a way to remember his family. For my department, with the loss of Bo Stephan, it was a way to remember and pay tribute to the Stephan family,” Bilkey said.
Bilkey, along with Rood who regularly attends the national run, described the experience as a “long, hard, physically demanding couple days” but also a “very emotional couple days” with several stops along the way where memorial services were conducted. However, Bilkey said there was great camaraderie that came out of the experience between other officers around the country.
On Thursday evening, the departments had a private vigil in lieu of the candlelight vigil performed nationally to honor local fallen officers HCSD Deputy Carl Koontz and ISP Trooper Peter “Bo” Stephan and their families.
“Our officers are obviously going to be social distancing, stay with their vehicles, but we want to make sure they knew how much we appreciate their sons and their sons’ service to our community,” Cockrell said.
On Friday, the KPD and HCSD held their memorial service, but due to the restrictions of COVID-19, the ceremony was closed to the public, which included a private laying of wreaths on local fallen officers’ gravesites, including KPD Patrolman George “Al” Berryman.
Additionally, Hawg Heaven held a fish fry on Friday evening with all money raised being donated to Copz 4 Kidz.
National Law Enforcement Week concluded Saturday, May 16, and Bilkey said he appreciated the community participating as much as they could and recognizing the lives and services of Indiana’s fallen officers.
“I just appreciate everybody paying attention this week. I’ve seen in our community a lot of blue lights out that were noticeable to remember National Law Enforcement Week,” Bilkey said. “I would [also] like everybody to remember that this is hard on those families that were supposed to be out there this week, and with COVID-19, it’s more difficult that they were not able to go out and participate in that national event.”