The Metrolpolitan Police Department held its second annual Best of the Badge Ceremony on Friday to spotlight officers who saved lives and risked their own in the line of duty.
The ceremony at the Red Rock Resort’s ballroom was put on by the Friends of Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Foundation.
Men and women in formal wear and police uniforms crowded the hall around the Red Rock ballroom. Comic-book style displays and superhero-themed artwork lined the corridor. A picture with fallen officers Igor Soldo, Alyn Beck and David VanBuskirk as popular superheroes sported a blue first-place ribbon.
At 6:45 p.m., a server called the 500 attendees into the ballroom for a formal dinner. A couple dozen officers lined up on either side of the stage, and, as the ceremony started, the officers crowded onto the stage while Metro’s resident poet, Lt. Harry Fagel, recited a piece about being a cop.
“The true superhero doesn’t wear a cape at all but a badge,” Fagel shouted, his image magnified on two huge screens flanking the stage.
Clark County Sheriff Doug Gillespie thanked the community for supporting Metro throughout the past year as the organization lost three officers in the line of duty.
“You will notice three empty chairs,” he said, gesturing to the places reserved for Soldo, Beck and VanBuskirk.
He introduced the honor guard who played drums and bagpipes while presenting the flag. The pledge of allegiance was sung by the St. James Gospel Choir.
Metro posthumously honored search and rescue officer David VanBuskirk with the Lifesaving Award. VanBuskirk saved the life of a hiker before losing his own in July 2013. VanBuskirk was months away from becoming a sergeant, Gillespie said, and he showed a video of one of VanBuskirk’s interviews for the promotion — shot the week before he died.
In the video, VanBuskirk said he wanted to be a sergeant so he could pass on the training he received to other officers.
“He called it a circle that he wanted to complete,” Gillespie said.
Gillespie described Metro’s new tradition of reserving a call sign for fallen officers and presented VanBuskirk’s family with the award.
Soldo and Beck were gunned down in June while having lunch at CiCi’s Pizza in the east valley. They were the first two victims in a shooting rampage that left a third man dead at a nearby Wal-Mart. The shooters, Jerad and Amanda Miller, died in an apparent suicide pact.
Twelve groups of officers received medals of commendation such as the Purple Heart, Medal of Honor and Metro’s highest honor, the Medal of Valor. All the awards were approved by Metro’s commendations committee between August 2013 and April 2014.
“Many of the stories will probably surprise a lot of people because they will see how often our officers are in harm’s way while trying to save lives. The Best of the Badge ceremony gives these officers the credit they deserve,” Gillespie said.
Officer Frank Harris was awarded the Purple Heart. He was locked in a struggle with a fleeing burglar when he was shot in the leg. His back-up, officer Matthew Kovacich, was able to stop the suspect. Harris would later tell investigators that it looked like Superman had arrived.
Officer Brian Jackson, who was shot in the head after an ambush inside a dark house, and officer Darren McCray, who was attacked inside the lobby of Clark County Detention Center by a man wielding a bat, were also given Purple Heart awards.
While proceeds from the event normally go to pay for unfunded officer equipment, training and community outreach, the money generated this year will be donated to the families of the fallen officers.
Contact Wesley Juhl at firstname.lastname@example.org and 702-383-0381. Find him on Twitter: @WesJuhl.