I was at a police funeral late last week — I’ve lost count as to how many I’ve been to during the last 27 years, but it seems the past five years there have been more than usual. Each officer’s funeral is one more than any of us ever want to have to attend. Last week was no different. The agencies were there with as many officers as could be spared. The motorcycle escort rode by but not before the low hum of its collective engines could be heard from the distance, growing louder into a steady growl of displeasure that once again it has come to this. The pipes and drums followed, the marchers proud and stoic in perfect somber unison to the slow percussive cadence of the large bass drums. A lone officer led a rider-less horse, boots backward in the stirrups. The hearse arrived, honor guard ready at the doors of the church, as a sea of law enforcement stretching a half mile along the road stood at attention in salute to a fallen brother. The February cold could be felt rising up from the pavement running in along the bones and settling in the soul. It was cold and dark in the hearts of many for loss is a desert at night.
The officer this day was Police Officer John Falcone of the City of Poughkeepsie Police Department, posthumously promoted to Detective and awarded a department Medal of Honor. Detective Falcone died February 18 on an unseasonably warm winter’s day doing what he always did — protecting and serving the public. He would go from aiding a disoriented old man who thought his home was being burglarized, sitting with him until a family member would arrive, to making the ultimate sacrifice in stopping a killer from causing more harm. The killer, whose name does not even deserve mention in the same breath as that of Detective Falcone, had shot his wife in their vehicle, took his three year old child and began to make his way through the streets of Poughkeepsie until encountering Detective Falcone and other responding city officers. Tragedy had one more stop to make by the Poughkeepsie train station that afternoon and Detective Falcone sadly ended his watch.
Earlier in the day I had been on the phone with PoliceOne Editor Doug Wyllie discussing an article idea he had for me. I had one other article ready for him regarding the recent number of police officer murders. We spoke of the increase in violence against our nation’s officers and I recounted a recent case my former unit was investigating in which a 17-year-old female car thief tried to run down officers with a stolen vehicle. After being shot three times she had to be TASERed because she continued to struggle with the officers. That incident occurred a few miles south of Poughkeepsie the prior Tuesday.
It was only an hour later I heard the news of Detective Falcone’s shooting and sent Doug an email advising of the shooting which occurred a mere two miles from my home. At that point Detective Falcone was reportedly still alive. A few hours later I would receive the news from a State Police colleague that he had passed. The beautiful 60 degree day of that Friday turned into a chilled and extremely windy late evening and early Saturday morning in the Hudson Valley. As I lay in bed that night listening to the winds whip around the house I could only conjure an image of nature voicing its disgust with the day’s outcome.
I did not know Detective Falcone but the news of his death hit me and my wife as if I had. The men and women of the City of Poughkeepsie Police Department are a fine group of dedicated law enforcement professionals. Chief Ron Knapp has stood at the helm of this agency for more years than I can remember. He too is the consummate professional and a true ambassador of interagency cooperation. I had worked with members of this department on many occasions, socialized with them at different functions and sought their assistance with cases. I also knew of those on my former job who were close to Detective Falcone — one colleague told me he had brought her children gifts on his return from a trip he made to Florida. That was all I needed to know of him, the character he bore, and the compassion he brought to his profession. He was a brother on the job who for eighteen years served his community with distinction.
Though retired now, I am still connected to the job and so I stood in mourning along with the rest of the State Police detail among the thousands of other officers and glanced over to the crowd gathered by the church. They were all there, the old timers who retired 10, 20, and 30 years earlier, their retirement shields with mourning bands across the front pinned to their jackets. I saw two with canes, hobbled from injuries received on the job — one officer whose every movement caused a grimace but his face evidenced the fact he would not be anywhere else but here at this moment. Within the ranks where I stood were another retired Trooper and his brave wife. He had to retire early because a gunman nearly took off his right arm with a 30-30 rifle prior to killing another Trooper in a savage firefight in a home.
His wife knowing all too well the razor-thin line she skirted toward becoming a police widow. There was another former colleague standing next to me who as a Mobile Response Team supervisor had to work through a two year period where six of his officers were shot, two of them fatally. The ranks were close and tight, the bond between everyone unspoken but unbreakable. Our reality this day was that similar assemblies had taken place — or would be taking place — across the country. From Tuesday February 15 to Monday February 21 there were three law enforcement officers killed by gunfire in the United States and one shot and killed in Mexico. As the honor guard carried Detective Falcone’s flag draped coffin to the hearse and gently placed it within, a phalanx of helicopters in missing man formation flew overhead. Shortly thereafter as the hearse pulled away led by a contingent of bagpipers a cloud cast its momentary shadow and a soft cool wind swept over the assembly.
I could not help but once again conjure up an image, this time of Detective Falcone giving his brother and sisters in law enforcement a final goodbye to say, “Be well and stay safe.”