Police officers and the community they served have honored fallen officers since the earliest days of official police departments in the United States but it wasn’t until 1962 that a national commemoration was created. That year, President John F. Kennedy signed Public Law 87-726, establishing May 15 as Peace Officer’s Memorial Day and the week it falls in as National Police Week. Thirty years later, President William J. Clinton signed Public Law 103-322 which directed that the flag of the United States should be displayed at half-staff on May 15.
Cleveland Mayor Anthony J. Celebrezze signed Police Week into law in 1962 and the first Police Week commemoration in Cleveland occurred the following year. According to the Plain Dealer, a parade featuring the mounted unit, marching unit and motorcycle unit ended with a memorial service and wreath laying at Public Square honoring “Cleveland’s 51 policemen who lost their lives in the line of duty.” The widows of Cleveland’s fallen officers were honored guests at the event. Other guests included local dignitaries, politicians and “the upper echelon of the police department will be out in full uniform.” Mayor Celebrezze spoke, Lieutenant William E. Halloran Jr. (president of the Cleveland Fraternal Order of Police Lodge) delivered the eulogy, Chief Frank W. Story read the names of the honored dead and FOP Chaplain Anthony W. Coyne offered a prayer.
The department invited the public to open houses at the 2nd, 3rd and 5th District headquarters. “Visitors will be able to study fingerprints and “mug” shots of criminals, inspect the confiscated gun collection and watch bullet-comparison tests. Also scheduled for exhibitions will be the motorcycle men who comprise the Halloran Raiders traffic unit, the nationally famous mounted troops and the police communications center.”
Since then, Cleveland Police Week events have expanded to include a memorial service, parade, candlelight vigil, police patch collectors gathering, and Tattoo. Volunteers organized by the Greater Cleveland Peace Officer Memorial Society travel throughout the region and place markers at the graves of Officers commemorated on the memorial wall. Most of the activities are organized by the Cleveland Police Patrolman’s Association, Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #8 and the Greater Cleveland Peace Officers Memorial Society, who also provide meals and fellowship events for visiting Officers.
The FOP hosts the Cleveland Police Badge Case ceremony where Fallen Cleveland Police Officers are remembered and, when appropriate, recently Fallen Officer’s badges are placed in the case. After this ceremony, attending survivors and their families are invited to lunch at a nearby restaurant.
The Police Memorial Parade is heavy with tradition and symbolism. Nothing is more evident of the symbolism than the final piece of the parade, the riderless horse. The mount is draped in a black blanket and wears an empty saddle with boots placed backward in the stirrups. The horse without rider symbolizes the final ride of a fallen officer, looking back at his troops, and his family, one last time.