Good news for emergency responders as a new year approaches: no South Dakota officers have died on duty so far this year.
In 2011 three officers were killed. Ronald “RJ” Johnson was murdered during a Sioux Falls prison escape attempt in August. Four months later James McCandless and Nick Armstrong were killed while investigating a call in Rapid City.
Law Enforcement and their families know they have dangerous jobs, but it doesn't make losing someone easier. That's why Project Blue Light pledges to remember.
“We're looking for people to stop and think, maybe take that moment of silence and remember the officers that they remember probably in past history,” said Julie Burke-Bowen who originated the project in South Dakota.
In a solemn ceremony at the Empire Mall in Sioux Falls Tuesday, officers remembered their fallen colleagues. One-by-one they read the names of South Dakota’s officers killed in the line of duty.
“I know we recognize them at different times throughout the year. But the holidays can be difficult time for family and friends,” Sioux Falls Police Chief Doug Barthel said.
Families of some of the fallen were there too remembering Johnson, and Turner County Sheriff's Deputy Chad Mechels killed during a 2009 call.
“I know that they have pain. And if there's anything I can do for Mrs. Johnson, for the Mechels family, for the Armstrong family, for any of those families [I’ll do it,]” Burke-Bowen said.
“You never know what that next call might be. Frankly as a chief having an officer killed would be your worst nightmare,” Barthel said.
Line-of-duty deaths were down by 20 percent in 2012. This is the third year of project blue light in South Dakota. The blue tree is up through the Holiday season at the Empire Mall in Sioux Falls to remind shoppers of the sacrifices.