The nights in Juneau can be long, but Pastor Tari Stage-Harvey has experienced some that seem to last forever.
Stage-Harvey, who is married to Juneau Police Department Officer Kirt Stage-Harvey, was one of the speakers at JPD’s annual memorial ceremony Saturday in honor of those who have died in the line of duty. She spoke from experience as she described the toll that the job takes on an officer’s family.
“I know what it is to have a heart that beats a little bit faster as the night wears on,” Stage-Harvey said as she delivered the invocation. “I know what it is to have my heart race as sirens scream and wonder if everything is OK.”
Forty-nine Alaskans have fallen in the line of duty over the years, and Saturday’s annual memorial ceremony paid tribute to them. More than 70 people showed up at Twin Lakes Park for it. Janet Lown Lassiter, a retired JPD officer in attendance, said this ceremony has been a tradition since at least 1983 (she’s been to every one since then).
Four JPD officers have fallen in the line of duty, and this April marked the 40th anniversary of one of the biggest tragedies in the department’s history. On April 17, 1979, Patrol Officer Jimmy Earl Kennedy and Traffic Officer Richard J. Adair were shot and killed on the job.
They were responding to the report of a man shooting at a passing driver in the downtown area, according to a JPD release in April. Adair and Kennedy arrived on scene and the shooter, Louis Sorenson, shot and killed the two of them before turning the gun on himself.
This April, JPD coordinated with the Magee Police Department to put a flower arrangement on Kennedy’s grave in Magee, Mississippi. On Friday, JPD had a wreath-laying ceremony at Adair’s grave in Evergreen Cemetery. Police also laid a wreath on the grave of Donald Dull, a JPD officer who was accidentally shot and killed on the job in 1964.
The fourth JPD officer to die on duty was Karl William Reishus, who died on a fall during a training exercise in May 1992.
Those four departed JPD officers were honored Saturday, along with the other 45 Alaskans who died in the line of duty. Sarah Hieb, a former JPD officer and the administrative investigator for the Alaska Police Standards Council, moderated the memorial and read off the names of officers, troopers and other law enforcement officials who died on the job. For more than four minutes, attendees sat in silence as she read off the 49 names.
JPD Lt. Jeremy Weske also spoke, beckoning his fellow officers to come closer and listen to his words. He said that just about anyone who wears a badge has had a close call or a scary situation.
“For whatever reason, whether you call it divine intervention, karma, fate, luck or the crystals you keep carefully aligned under your pillow, the domino fell our way and we’re still here,” Weske said. “But what if it hadn’t?”
Weske said the stress of the job can be overwhelming. He encouraged people to, if they see an officer on the street, to ask the officer how they’re doing or tell them they’re thankful for their service. He said cops usually aren’t gifted conversationalists, but even if they can’t express themselves well, the compliment from a community member is treasured.
“Will you likely get a one-word answer? Yes,” Weske said, as attendees snickered. “Even so, we still appreciate it.”
• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.