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Wheeling Police Department’s Law Enforcement Memorial Ceremony Pays Tribute to Fallen Officers

Wheeling Police Lt. Josh Sanders and Chief Shawn Schwertfeger, from left, pay tribute to the nine fallen members of the Wheeling Police Department who — over the course of more than a century of the department's history — gave their lives in the line of duty. (Photo by Eric Ayres)

WHEELING — Members of the Wheeling Police Department helped kick off National Police Week in distinguished fashion Tuesday during the department’s eighth annual Law Enforcement Memorial Ceremony.

With members of the command staff and Honor Guard in full formal dress uniforms, Wheeling Police officials welcomed the public to WesBanco Arena’s sprawling lobby area to celebrate the service and commemorate the sacrifice made by nine members of the department who gave their lives in the line of duty since the late 1800s.

This fall will mark 50 years since the last Wheeling police officer — Patrolman James Reiter Bailey — died serving the city on Oct. 11, 1971. Prior to that, it has been another 40 years since the force lost a member while serving the community.

Yet the bond among police officers runs deep, and the ceremony also honored men and women in blue across the country who have lost their lives in the line of duty, a dangerous profession which to this day carries a heavy toll.

“On average, there is one officer killed in the line of duty somewhere in the United States of America every 57 hours,” Philip Stahl, public information officer for the Wheeling Police Department, said. “Last year, 361 officers died in the line of duty. Additionally, 22 of our canine partners lost their lives helping their handlers. So far this year, as of May 10, the number of officers killed in the line of duty is up to 119.”

W.Va. Sen. Ryan Weld, R-Brooke, served as the keynote speaker for the Wheeling Police Department's eighth annual Law Enforcement Memorial on Monday at WesBanco Arena, kicking off National Police Week. (Photo by Eric Ayres)

Officials noted that it was not how these officers died that made them heroes, it was how they lived and how they served their communities.

“Their loss should serve as a very stark reminder to each of us the risk that these men and women who protect us take each time they go on duty,” Wheeling Mayor Glenn Elliott said.

The mayor said those in law enforcement today face even more challenges, as many in the public expect them to not only perform police work, but also step into the role of social workers, drug intervention specialists, educators and even parents when circumstances call for it.

“It seems to me that if we truly want to honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in law enforcement, that it’s on us to do all that we can to ensure the brothers and sisters who wear blue today are not asked to do the impossible,” Elliott said.

Wheeling Police Chief Shawn Schwertfeger read the names of the nine fallen officers who served West Virginia’s oldest active police department. A toll of a bell rang out with the reading of each name, with the “end of watch” for each dating back to 1868. Despite the fact that the majority of the memorialized officers died in the early 1900s, a number of their descendants were on hand — some from as far away as Sarasota, Florida — and stood in their honor during the ceremony, as they do each year.

A wreath in memory of the police officers who gave the ultimate sacrifice was displayed Monday at WesBanco Arena, where descendants and relatives of fallen Wheeling Police officers joined the members of the public and local law enforcement community in their honor. (Photo by Eric Ayres)

“This is an important ceremony,” the chief said. “When we started this in May of 2013 at our very first one, I spoke of two words: service and sacrifice. Today, those two words echo louder today than ever before.”

State Sen. Ryan Weld, R-Brooke, a former prosecutor and a U.S. Air Force veteran, was Monday’s keynote speaker, who said he was eager to show his gratitude to law enforcement officers during the memorial event for another reason — because his younger brother, Corey, grew up to become a police officer.

“He was always the captain of any team that he’s been on, and now that leadership took on a whole new meaning when he — just like all of you in this room — stepped up to shoulder that responsibility,” Weld said. “Whether you know it or not, you all are the leaders of the community in which you serve.”

Weld noted that in the current social and political climate, it is a very difficult time to be a police officer.

“All of your interactions with the public are unfairly placed under a microscope and become the subject of ridicule by armchair quarterbacks who have never had to make a split-second decision before in their lives,” he said. “It’s patently unfair to judge the actions of so many based upon the actions of so few.

Members of the Wheeling Police Department Honor Guard prepare to fire a 21-gun salute outside WesBanco Arena near Heritage Port on Monday during the eighth annual Law Enforcement Memorial Ceremony. (Photo by Eric Ayres)

“Attempting to shame and ridicule an entire profession based upon the actions of someone who failed to follow their training and moral compass is not who we are as Americans.”

The ceremony included a 21-gun salute and playing of “Taps” delivered outside of the arena near Heritage Port, invocation and benediction by Pastor Chris Figaretti and musical selections delivered by Sgt. Ricky Manning of the Allegheny County Sheriff’s Office. Monday’ ceremony, originally scheduled to be held at Heritage Port, moved into WesBanco Arena due to the rising waters of the Ohio River.

Officials asked everyone to continue showing their support for the men and women in law enforcement. National Police Week continues through Saturday, when National Peace Officer Memorial Day is observed.

Supporters of the mend and women in blue gathered Tuesday inside WesBanco Arena's lobby for the annual Law Enforcement Memorial Ceremony held by the Wheeling Police Department. (Photo by Eric Ayres)

Sgt. Ricky Manning of the Allegheny County Sheriff's Office performed patriotic music selections during the Wheeling Police Department's eighth annual Law Enforcement Memorial Ceremony Monday at WesBanco Arena. (Photo by Eric Ayres)

Wheeling Police chief Shawn Schwertfeger addresses the crowd Monday at WesBanco Arena during the eighth annual Law Enforcement Memorial Ceremony. (Photo by Eric Ayres)

Wheeling Mayor Glenn Elliott addresses the crowd Monday at WesBanco Arena during the eighth annual Law Enforcement Memorial Ceremony. (Photo by Eric Ayres)

W.Va. Sen. Ryan Weld, R-Brooke, served as the keynote speaker for the Wheeling Police Department's eighth annual Law Enforcement Memorial on Monday at WesBanco Arena, kicking off National Police Week. (Photo by Eric Ayres)

Sgt. Ricky Manning of the Allegheny County Sheriff's Office performed patriotic music selections during the Wheeling Police Department's eighth annual Law Enforcement Memorial Ceremony Monday at WesBanco Arena. (Photo by Eric Ayres)

Members of the Wheeling Police Department Honor Guard were on hand at WesBanco Arena on Monday during the eighth annual Law Enforcement Memorial Ceremony. (Photo by Eric Ayres)

Wheeling Police chief Shawn Schwertfeger addresses the crowd Monday at WesBanco Arena during the eighth annual Law Enforcement Memorial Ceremony. (Photo by Eric Ayres)

Sgt. Ricky Manning of the Allegheny County Sheriff's Office performed patriotic music selections during the Wheeling Police Department's eighth annual Law Enforcement Memorial Ceremony Monday at WesBanco Arena. (Photo by Eric Ayres)

In the long history of the Wheeling Police Department, a total of nine officers died in the line of duty. They were honored for the service Monday during the annual Law Enforcement Memorial Ceremony at WesBanco Arena. (Photo by Eric Ayres)

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