The three-volley shots of a 21-gun salute sounded Wednesday as six fallen officers were honored during Santa Maria Police Department’s annual Peace Officers’ Memorial.
Attended by more than 150 people, the ceremony — which was held in the parking lot of the Santa Maria Police Department — included a procession of motorcycles and law enforcement vehicles, horses from the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s mounted unit and champion bagpiper Fred Payne, dressed in a kilt and black coat.
Celebrated annually since 1962, National Peace Officers’ Memorial Day honors law enforcement personnel who died on duty. Nationally, there were 93 peace officers who died during their service in 2017 — six of them from agencies in California.
In addition to the Santa Maria Police Department, officers from Guadalupe Police and Lompoc Police departments, as well as the California Highway Patrol, were present for Wednesday’s event.
Accompanied by bagpipes, Santa Maria Police Chief Phil Hansen read the names of the six officers who died during 2017. As Hansen read each officer’s name one by one, a member of the Santa Maria Police Explorers program marched toward the stage and placed white lilies inside vases next to each officer's photo. Each of the Police Explorers then circled around the stage and marched back to join the other Explorers.
The fallen law enforcement personnel honored were: Officer Keith Boyer, of the Whittier Police Department; Officer Lucas Chellew, of CHP-South Sacramento; Deputy Jason Garner, of the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Office; Deputy Robert Rumfelt, of the Lake County Sheriff’s Office; Deputy Robert French, of the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office; and Officer Andrew Camilleri Sr., of CHP-Hayward. In addition, a photo was placed on stage to honor Sunnyvale K-9 Jax of the Department of Public Safety.
After Hansen read the names of the fallen officers, a seven-member firing team of the Santa Maria Honor Guard performed a 21-gun salute followed immediately by a performance of taps by bugler Larry Caro.
Santa Maria Police Cmdr. Marc Schneider — a 25-year veteran of the department — gave the keynote address.
“In a world filled with events and situations that can cause grief, anxiety and fear, one may ask, ‘Why would anyone choose to be a law enforcement officer?’” Schneider said. “I believe that law enforcement is not a choice, but rather, a calling.”
Law enforcement officers are drawn to their calling out of a willingness to protect and serve their communities, Schneider said.
“This same willingness often exposes them to heartache, loss and violence,” Schneider said. “But they’re expected to be efficient yet compassionate, sympathetic yet impartial. At the same time, they’re expected to be courageous in the face of danger, harsh — and even violent, at times, in their own defense and the defense of others. All the while cognizant of the fact that every step they take will be subject to scrutiny that is, at times, relentless.”
Mayor Alice Patino gave a proclamation recognizing Wednesday as Peace Officers’ Memorial Day in Santa Maria.
“I am so honored to be here and represent the city of Santa Maria — we are a city that definitely values our law enforcement,” Patino said. “Of all the promises America offers, none is more precious or elusive than the right to be free from crime.”
Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said the Sheriff’s Office — which assisted with the traditional riderless horse part of Wednesday’s ceremony — was proud to honor the peace officers that lost their lives in the course of their work.
“All of us are pleased to recognize and be grateful for the tremendous sacrifice that’s been made on behalf of communities across the country where law enforcement officers have been killed in the line of duty,” Brown said.
Santa Maria Lt. Russell Mengel, who served as master of ceremony, said the ceremony was about celebrating those who uphold the rule of law.
“As we come to the conclusion today of the formal ceremony, we take a moment to realize there will be dark moments in our nation's history when individuals — police officers — will be called upon to make the ultimate sacrifice,” Mengel said. “Service and sacrifice is what this profession is about — to protect our communities from those that would prey upon others.”