Police Department commemorates fallen law enforcement
The American flag billowed high in the sky over Santa Barbara’s Police Station on Friday morning.
Emergency Medical Service providers from agencies all across the region, including law enforcement officers, dispatchers, fire first responders, ambulance providers and others gathered outside the Police Station on Friday to pay respects to first responders who paid the ultimate price in the line of duty, in honor of National Peace Officer Memorial Day and National Police Week.
Santa Barbara Police Chief Bernard Melekian shared a few remarks with the dozens gathered at the station, drawing a metaphor between policing and American troops in the Battle of the Bulge of World War II. He read a scenario about the soldiers of the 82nd airborne in full retreat under the advance of the German Army. He asked the crowd to picture an American tank fleeing down the road, leading the enemy directly to American forts ready to halt their advance.
Chief Melekian said, “Picture a young man, sunken eyes, a three-day beard, who raised his hand to stop the fleeing tanks, and asked, ‘Looking for a safe place?’ When they said, ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘Park your tank behind me, because this is as far as anyone is going.’”
That young man was “holding the line,” and the chief said, “Policing is about holding the line.”
The names of the six officers in Santa Barbara County who were killed in the line of duty over the years were read at the ceremony, with each name followed by a bell-tolling.
“We read these names to affirm the work of the profession that we have all chosen to serve,” Chief Melekian said.
He added that it was a solemn day, but referenced the National Law Enforcement Memorial in Washington, D.C. that reads, “It is not how they died that we remember, but how they lived.”
The chief also shared that the day prior, when officers were out washing the memorial outside the station, a woman who was waiting for her friend asked if she could help wash it. Her friend came out and proceeded to also help wash the memorial too.
“In this era of criticism of the police and where we sometimes wonder where we stand and what we are…I think that act of selflessness, taking the time out of whatever was her busy schedule, should be a reminder to us that our service we do every day, the sacrifice that these people make, the performance of our duties, is not unappreciated and it is not unnoticed,” Chief Melekian said.
Howie Giles, the Director of Volunteers for the Santa Barbara Police Department, attended the ceremony along with other volunteers.
He told the News-Press, “It’s just a great, moving moment for us to pay respect to the officers for what they do and those who have fallen. It’s a great moment to be here.”
Former Santa Barbara Fire Captain Tony Pighetti brought his service dog, Donuts, to the ceremony. He recently retired after 30 years serving the fire department, and now works as a regional coordinator for all aid agencies in the county, on top of volunteering for a nonprofit called At Ease, which provides free and confidential counseling to all first responders in Santa Barbara County.
“After 30 years in the fire service, I’ve got a real tight connection and respect for the law enforcement side,” Mr. Pighetti told the News-Press. “It’s definitely something I couldn’t have done myself, so i really appreciate all the work that they do and we’re just here to honor that.”
The former fire captain added that the ceremony was even more valuable now, after San Luis Obispo police officer Luca Benedetti was shot and killed earlier last week.
“Every police officer says to the law-abiding community, ‘Stand behind us. We will protect you. We will hold the line,’” Chief Melekian said. “Today, we are here to remember those who held the line at the ultimate cost of their lives.”
In a press release, Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said, “This week we and the people we protect and serve pause to remember the brave men and women of law enforcement who, throughout our nation’s history, have made the ultimate sacrifice in the defense of freedom, justice and the American way of life. May we always remember and honor them for their nobility, bravery and devotion to duty, and may we never forget that — as Americans — we are forever in their debt.”