Area law enforcement salutes fallen brother
Numerous law enforcement agencies in Jefferson and Dodge counties sent officers to Milwaukee Wednesday to honor their fallen brother, Milwaukee Police Department Officer Matthew Rittner.
Rittner, 35, and a 17-year member of the department, was shot to death while executing a search warrant near 12th and Manitoba streets on the city’s south side Feb. 6. Rittner leaves behind a wife and young son.
To recognize Rittner for his service as a police officer, a massive outpouring of sympathy was shown Wednesday in Milwaukee in the form of ceremonies, and a funeral and procession by law enforcement officers from around the state and nation. Members of the public lined the procession’s route and took part in other aspects of the day.
Although the Watertown Police Department and some other area departments were unable to send officers to the ceremonies, Watertown Chief Robert Kaminski said his department offered its condolences to the Milwaukee Police Department and the family of Rittner.
“Milwaukee police Chief Alfonso Morales and I graduated from Milwaukee Tech High School together in 1988,” Kaminski said Wednesday afternoon, almost to the hour Rittner was being laid to rest in Milwaukee. “Certainly the Watertown Police Department extends its sympathies to the Milwaukee Police Department and the family of Officer Rittner.”
With his many years in law enforcement, Kaminski said he has attended many similar ceremonies for his fallen brethren.
“They are very somber (ceremonies),” he said of a police officer funeral. “You go to pay your respects to that officer and his family for the sacrifice of the officer and his family. It’s a moving experience to see a law enforcement funeral.”
The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office was well-equipped to take part in the funeral of Rittner. According to Capt. Paul Wallace, seven deputies were sent to Milwaukee as part of the sheriff’s office’s honor guard. Wallace described himself as “overseer and facilitator” of the honor guard, an organization recognized for its quality statewide.
“All seven who are attending (Rittner’s services), are members of the honor guard,” Wallace told the Daily Times Wednesday morning before his group departed. He added its members would be attired in their most formal dress and would directly assist the Milwaukee Police Department as part of the honor guard that would stand at the church ceremonies. “Then our honor guard leaves the church and goes ahead of the procession to the final place where more ceremonies will be, at the funeral home, and they will serve as the honor guard there.”
Wallace explained the Jefferson County honor guard is a member organization in the Wisconsin Honor Guard Association. One of Jefferson County’s honor guard members is, in fact, on the state’s honor guard board.
“The state got hold of us and our man is the officer in charge of the casket watch today,” Wallace said. “He will be one of two officers standing on each side of the casket. We work real closely with other agencies, especially when it’s close to home like this.”
The Jefferson County honor guard travels statewide and into northern Illinois when necessary for police funerals.
“It’s a show of respect for one of our fallen comrades,” Wallace said. “I have sent honor guard members up to northern Wisconsin for these things. It’s a brotherhood. It’s what we do.”
Much like Jefferson County, Dodge County Sheriff Dale Schmidt said his department’s honor guard, along with an additional officer, were traveling to the city to honor their fallen brother.
“The honor guard is developed to honor those who have fallen and for special events. That is its purpose,” Schmidt said. “We are all a brotherhood and when one falls, we are all in pain. We wear mourning bands -- there is one on my badge right now. Just because we have different patches on our uniforms doesn’t mean we aren’t all out there doing the same thing. We all look out for each other, because we are doing the same things.”
Schmidt personally traveled to Fond du Lac in 2015 for the ceremony memorializing 21-year-old Wisconsin State Trooper Trevor Casper, who was killed in the line of duty on his first day “flying solo” on the job. Schmidt said days like the one he spent in Fond du Lac can drain an officer physically and emotionally.
“It’s very difficult,” he said. “These officers are very young and they have their whole lives ahead of them. They go to work and someone takes their lives. (The killers) steal the officers from loved ones. They take parents from children and it’s very humbling.”
Schmidt said every officer who hears of an incident in which another is killed will contemplate that occurrence, perhaps see themselves in it and admire the bravery of the fallen officer.
“You think about the (assignments) they went out on. Trevor was shot and he still took down the subject. With his dying breath he protected the public,” Schmidt said. “It reminds us of our purpose, of why we do what we do. And it makes us think about our job and not become complacent. We make sure we do our job.”
Schmidt said his department’s thoughts and prayers go out to the Milwaukee Police Department and Rittner’s family.
“We stand with them in their mourning and grieving,” he said.
Kaminski concurred with Schmidt and other law enforcement leaders interviewed by the Daily Times regarding how premature officer deaths cause them to take stock of their own lives in the profession of policing in an increasingly dangerous and unpredictable society.
“I think anytime one of these incidents happens, you take time to reflect on the danger and harm that could come your way, as well,” Kaminski said.
The Johnson Creek Police Department sent two of its part-time officers to Milwaukee Wednesday. The pair was also representing the Jefferson Police Department.
Johnson Creek police Chief Gary Bleecker has been in law enforcement for 30 years and has attended his share of sad events, such as the one honoring Rittner.
“It’s a show of support for the officer slain, but also for the family and the officer’s department,” Bleecker said. “And you see a little bit of yourself in that fallen officer. It is a long day, certainly. But the show of support is what you are looking for there -- and to show the law enforcement community and public we care about our officers. We are one group and to show support is important.”
Although no one was available for more in-depth comment, a receptionist at the Juneau Police Department said one of its patrol officers would be representing the department Wednesday.
The Jefferson Police Department sent a half-dozen of its force to the ceremonies.
“Six officers have volunteered to go in today,” Capt. Dale Lutz told the Daily Times. “We are very proud of them.”
Lutz said one of the officers approached his superiors and said, “We want to do it.”
“Our officers felt there was a need to do it for the Milwaukee officer’s family, and our people who are going into the city are doing it on their own time and on days off,” Lutz said “It’s a sad day, but a good way to honor Officer Rittner.”
Although none of the Jefferson officers knew Rittner, Lutz said they felt a need to pay their respects. He said there is an almost unexplainable bond among law enforcement officers nationwide.
“An officer turnout like the one in Milwaukee would happen anywhere. We’ve done it in the past and will continue to do it,” he said. “It’s all happening the way it is because of the brotherhood of law enforcement officers. Anywhere you go in the U.S., anytime you stop in and talk to another officer, there is a relationship. It’s hard to explain. They don’t have to know your name. They just know a fellow officer is there with them.”
Lutz said the ceremony Wednesday would be about as emotional an event as a person could ever witness.
“You won’t see a dry eye there, and it’s hard to make a police officer cry in public,” he said. “There will be a lot of emotions. It was the ultimate sacrifice.”