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National police memorial gives local officer time for reflection

St. Paul Police Sgt. Jeff Rothecker's recent trip to Washington D.C. was filled with bagpipes, candlelight vigils and listening to a speech by President George W. Bush.

The Cottage Grove resident attended the National Police Week memorial services in the nation's capital earlier this month.

Rothecker is the president of the local chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police, the organization that started National Police Week in the 1980s as a way to remember and recognize fallen police officers.

The National Police Week events started on Sunday, May 13 this year with a candlelight vigil at the National Police Memorial -- the first of many ceremonies, Rothecker said.

"One candle is lit and the flames are passed around throughout the whole crowd," he said.

Officers from all over the world attend the memorial services. Bagpipers from all over the country also attended -- bagpipes are often played at law enforcement funerals.

Rothecker said he met a female officer from Holland, six officers from Australia and officers from Italy, who were guarding the Italian Embassy in Washington D.C.

"None of their countries have anything like this," he said. "They heard about it and wanted to participate."

On Tuesday, May 15, the official National Peace Officer Day, Rothecker attended a ceremony at the Capitol.

Bush was the keynote speaker and other dignitaries attended the ceremony, including Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

The names of officers killed during the previous year are read out loud. Their surviving family and friends are invited to the ceremony and place red carnations in the shape of a star, the symbol for the Fraternal Order of Police, on the edge of the stage.

"We were there with 10 to 12,000 cops and survivors," Rothecker said.

No officers were killed from Minnesota this year, Rothecker said, which made the ceremony a little easier for him. But meeting the surviving families of fallen officers was difficult.

"There was an officer's daughter, about age 10, who dressed in the full uniform her dad used to wear," Rothecker said.

Rothecker said the National Police Week events are something that every police officer should attend.

"You're getting together with your brothers and sisters," he said. "They're doing the same job you are."

But the ceremonies themselves bring a lot of emotion, Rothecker said.

"It was highs and lows, all levels of emotions" he said. "You're talking to other officers who lost their friends. They're sharing memories. At one time you'll be laughing, and then you'll be crying."

One hundred officers from Minnesota attended the National Police Week events in Washington D.C.

Law enforcement agencies in Washington County celebrated with a ceremony at the Law Enforcement Center in Stillwater.

For Rothecker, law enforcement is a way of life.

His mother was a patrol officer and after serving in the military, he joined the St. Paul Police Department and has served there for 14 years.

Rothecker also serves on Cottage Grove's Public Safety, Health and Wellness Commission.

"I saw a lot of stuff moving from St. Paul to Cottage Grove," he said. "The same people I was looking for, I saw in Cottage Grove."

Being on the commission for the last five years has given Rothecker a chance to help Cottage Grove prepare for the upcoming problems many suburbs and small communities are dealing with, he said.

As for Washington D.C., Rothecker said he hopes to go to the ceremonies every year from now on.

"It's something I want to do," he said. "There is more I can do out there."