16th Annual Emerald Society & Pipeband March

They started showing up at the corner of New Jersey Avenue and F Street, NW, even before the designated assembly time of 4:30 pm, and began the process of readying their instruments. Law enforcement pipe and drum corps from across the United States – Jersey City, Detroit, Prince George’s County (MD) and New York State Corrections, among them – were in DC once again.

The sound of bagpipes is a constant throughout National Police Week – at formal events and ceremonies, as well as outside the Irish bars off Capitol Hill and in the Penn Quarter neighborhood. But Thursday was really the day for bagpipes. The 14th Annual Emerald Society & Pipeband March stepped off at 6 pm for the short procession to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Judiciary Square, where there were speeches, remembrances and more bagpipe music.

The Lake County (IN) Pipe and Drum Band was the host unit for this year’s event, and Senator Evan Bayh and Sheriff Roy Dominguez spoke during the ceremony. “Let us not wait until another 9/11 … let us not wait until memorial services such as this one … to say ‘thank you’ to our law enforcement officers,” Senator Bayh remarked.

While bagpipes can be traced back to the Middle East several centuries before the birth of Christ, it was in Ireland and Scotland that the instrument became popular. It was used to signal a death and escort the fallen to the final resting place. During the 14th century, bagpipes could be found in nearly every Irish and Scotch village.

Their strong association with law enforcement in this country developed as Irish-Americans came to play a larger and larger role in American policing. During the 19th and early 20th centuries, law enforcement agencies in the United States were looking to fill their growing ranks, and it was often the Irish who stepped forward. One of the enduring traditions they helped bring to the profession was bagpipe music.

On Thursday at the Memorial, through music and fellowship, hundreds remembered all law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty, in particular our brothers and sisters of Gaelic descent.