Law enforcement is a dangerous profession and while on-duty deaths in Santa Monica are rare, local officers have maintained a decades long tradition to honor fallen officers statewide.

For the past 26 years, Santa Monica officers have organized an annual memorial caravan from Los Angeles to Sacramento in May to allow officers from L.A. area departments to pay their respects to those that died that year.

The Southern California Peace Officer Memorial Caravan began with a few Santa Monica officers who felt it was their responsibility, duty and privilege to participate in the statewide memorial service in Sacramento. Their participation was sanctioned by the department and upon their return; they realized Southern California was poorly represented at the State Capital ceremony. The following year, they reached out to neighboring departments, who also sent officers and each year the caravan grew in size. This year Santa Monica sent 11 officers as part of a 100 plus contingent representing the broader region.

Detective Lloyd Gladden has overseen the project for the past six years and said that for him, the event is an opportunity to explicitly acknowledge the weight of the job.

“Every officer knows the inherent danger in what we do, you know it in the back of your mind but you don’t want to be paranoid,” Gladden said. “But when you see this first hand, the families, the department, the friends, it really clicks in that what we do can be really, really dangerous and cost you your life.”

He said having that realization while surrounded by a brotherhood of fellow officers is a profound experience and the knowledge that the brotherhood will be there in a worst case scenario provides emotional and mental support for officers on their day to day jobs.

Gladden said officers who make the trip do so off-duty and he said priority is given to those who have not made the trip before.

The memorial itself is a statue located on I Street that opened in a 1988 dedication ceremony. The memorial service includes a vigil, speech, procession and gathering at the memorial site. Activities are also organized for the families of the recognized officers

The event is organized by the California Peace Officers’ Memorial foundation, a nonprofit organization that develops and improves services for survivors while promoting public awareness of peace officers.

This year’s event recognized San Jose officer Michael J. Johnson, Bakersfield officer David Joseph Nelson, Hayward Sergeant Scott Paul Lunger and San Bernardino officer Bryce E. Hanes.

While the service is conducted annually to recognize those officers killed in the last year, officer deaths that were previously overlooked or only recently discovered are also included. This year Long Beach officer William H. Waggoner, who died in 1954, was also part of the ceremony.

Gladden said the camaraderie building is important for officers and everyone at the event bonds over their shared experience.

“I don’t know if anyone knows what we feel when we lose an officer but this helps with the awareness,” he said. “I may not personally know an officer from San Bernardino but I know what he does.”

He said the transportation choice, a caravan of marked police vehicles, provides an opportunity to raise awareness amongst the general public. Sometimes other drivers just see the parade of vehicles, but sometimes they actually approach officers because they see out of area cars and there’s an opportunity to have a conversation about the memorial and the lost officers.

“It shows the public what we’re doing,” he said. “The fact that we’re taking time out to honor everyone that made the ultimate sacrifice.”

Matthew Hall

Matthew Hall has a Masters Degree in International Journalism from City University in London and has been Editor-in-Chief of SMDP since 2014. Prior to working at SMDP he managed a chain of weekly papers...