Five years after the arrival of the Mormon pioneers, Utah suffered the loss of its first police officer to die in the line of duty. Salt Lake County Deputy Sheriff Rodney Badger drowned while attempting to rescue an immigrant family stranded in the middle of the Weber River.
Badger’s death in 1853 soon became a footnote in Utah history as other officers swelled the ranks of the fallen. On October 18, 1858, Salt Lake City Officer William Cooke became the first Utah officer lost to homicide when he was mortally wounded during a jailbreak.
More than 145 police officers have lost their lives while in the performance of their sworn duties to the state of Utah. The solemn roll call includes town marshals, county deputies, city officers, highway patrol troopers, and night watchmen, as well as female, Native Americans, African-American, and officers from other states who responded to calls for assistance. Early efforts to honor Utah’s fallen officers were sketchy. The first police memorials were confined to individual departments or communities who
wished to preserve their officers’ memories. More than a century would pass before a concerted effort was made to bring Utah’s forgotten sons together in a single memorial.
Consequently, many of their memories dimmed and were lost to history. Today, Utahns are familiar with the names of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. But few have ever heard of Grand County Sheriff Jesse Tyler and Deputy Samuel Jenkins, shot to death in 1900 by members of the Wild Bunch.
In 1988, Utah Peace Officers Standards & Training Director Rich Townsend initiated the first state police memorial. The preceding year had been a brutal period for Utah law enforcement, resulting in the deaths of seven officers, including Murray Officer Jackson Elmer, Department of Corrections Lt. Fred House, and Emery County Deputy Wade Hansen.
Townsend received permission from the State Capitol to construct a memorial on the front lawn at the top of State Street. However, Utah Governor Norm Bangerter felt that an exterior location for the memorial was too remote and fell short of the honor the fallen deserved. He directed that the memorial be placed in the Capitol Rotunda. The memorial was subsequently reduced in size and placed on a wall
near the governor’s office.
Townsend’s original call for names of fallen officers resulted in a list of approximately 40 names, far fewer than the actual number. Deputy Badger and Officer Cooke were not listed among them, having already been forgotten by the communities they served.
Since the beginning of the Rotunda memorial, the Utah Peace Officers Association has conducted an annual service in May to honor fallen officers from the past, and add the names of the most recent. In 1990, Wasatch County Deputy Blake Wright, killed by a fire in the mountains above Midway, became the first officer to be added to the completed Rotunda memorial.
The list of the fallen has grown. Since 1994, historical research conducted on behalf of the Utah Peace Officers Association and the Utah Law Enforcement Memorial resulted in the discovery of more than 40 fallen officers who had been forgotten.
New tragedies also struck the Utah law enforcement community, occurring on an average of every 12 months. Some departments suffered particularly hard. In a 22-month period between 1992 and 1994, the Utah Highway Patrol lost 1% of its sworn officers to accidents and homicide. The same loss ratio
occurring to the California Highway Patrol would have resulted in the deaths of more than 300 officers in the same period.
The rate of officers killed in the line of duty has increased since 2000. Today, a Utah police officer dies
on an average of every eight months. One of the most recent is Uintah County Detective Kevin S. Orr, fatally injured November 22, 2006, when the helicopter he was riding in struck a power line during a search and rescue operation, and plunged into the Green River.
Unfortunately, by then there was no longer a police memorial at the State Capitol upon which to add his name.
The New Memorial
In 2004, construction on the State Capitol necessitated the removal of the memorial from the Rotunda. It was further determined that the Rotunda would be returned to its natural state, and that no memorials would be allowed there.
The Capitol Preservation Board allocated a prominent location just outside the western doors of the Capitol as the location of the new Utah Law Enforcement Memorial.
Using $50,000 in start-up funds from the Utah Peace Officers Association, a committee was formed for the purposes of raising funds and overseeing the construction of the new memorial. The Utah Law Enforcement Memorial Committee, Inc., is a 501(c)(3) corporation consisting of a seven-member voting board and an auxiliary board for support purposes.
More than $1.2 million was eventually raised, including donated labor, materials and consulting. After a fund-raising and construction period of nearly two years, the new Utah Law Enforcement Memorial was dedicated September 6, 2008.
Today, the memorial serves as a place of solace for the families and friends of officers who died in the performance of their duties to the State of Utah.