A Focal Point for the Thin Blue Line : Memorial for fallen officers is off capital's beaten path. But thousands seek it out as a powerful tribute.


In this city of monuments, museums, galleries and historical points of power, it is not a destination for most sightseers, but a year and a half after its opening, the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial has emerged as a rallying point for the police community. It is attracting officers and their families from around the country.

Surrounded by two 304-foot circular blue-gray marble walls engraved with the names of more than 12,900 officers killed in the line of duty, the park and 80-foot reflecting pool are a serene setting in the middle of busy Judiciary Square.

There is no exact count of the number of visitors, but thousands of police officers and families of slain officers have come to the memorial to pay tribute to fallen comrades and loved ones.

Typical of those who visit is Syracuse police officer James Jackowski.

"Seeing this sent a chill down my back . . . . A friend of mine got killed three years ago in October," the 23-year veteran recalled, his voice choking. "(He) was an undercover drug officer. I was with him on the drug detail the night he was killed."

"It feels very inspirational and is very private for me," said Warren McKimmie, who works in a nearby court building and comes to the memorial alone every lunch hour to remember two slain officers he knew: his great uncle and the man who took his sister to the junior prom.

"It brings me in touch with how so many people can lose their lives. There is so much violence, yet (the memorial) brings so much peace," he said.

Although the $11-million police memorial receives far fewer visitors than the 1.7 million people who annually visit the Vietnam Memorial, a comparison is unavoidable.

"Survivors (of slain police officers) get the same reaction as when Vietnam veterans go to see their wall," said Paula Gentile, program director of the national organization Concerns of Police Survivors. "It is also overwhelming for the general public to see the names of so many law enforcement officers on the wall."

"I don't think that there is any question that this is the primary point of interest now for the police community," said Craig Floyd, executive director of the private foundation that built the memorial.

Sam Cabral, secretary-treasurer of the International Union of Police Assns., said: "It is good for officers to know that somewhere in the U.S. they are being respected. Someone is paying attention to those who give their lives."

The memorial's location in Judiciary Square puts it a little north of the city's most popular attractions, such as the Capitol, the White House and the Smithsonian Institution.

"Being away from the core of monuments, we have to work a little harder to make people aware and get them over to see the memorial," Floyd said. But he said he hopes efforts to change the name of the subway stop in front of the memorial to include the memorial's name will help draw more tourists.

For officers and the families of slain officers, however, the location is less important than what the memorial represents.

"It is a different type of memorial than (the others) we have here in Washington," visitor Lee Young said. "It is something very special to us."

In the Line of Duty

The names of more than 12,900 officers who died in the line of duty are listed on the memorial, right, including:

* Dallas officer J.D. Tippit, shot by Lee Harvey Oswald after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.

* Robert Forsyth, the first officer killed in the line of duty, fatally shot in 1794.

* Mary T. Davis, the first female officer to die in the line of duty, beaten to death in 1924.

* Night Marshall Dotson (Pop) Sutton, the oldest officer killed, struck by a car at age 81.

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