Dozens of people in small, spread-out groups watched solemnly Wednesday as a procession of hundreds of police executives passed by.
The procession was led by officials from police departments across the United States and abroad, who carried banners and wore full-dress uniforms in honor of the nation's fallen officers
The march started the final day of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives' training conference and exhibition in Lexington. The conference has drawn about 1,000 officials and their family members from as far as Africa, the Caribbean, Canada and England.
The 35th annual NOBLE conference is historic in several ways, officials have said — it was the first time the gathering had been held in Lexington and the biggest conference ever hosted by the Lexington police department.
During the past five days, officials attended leadership workshops and training events specific to job assignments, such as cold-case homicides, homeland security and forensic investigation.
The conference also included the 10th annual NOBLE Youth Leadership Conference, whose participants included youths from Lexington and throughout the country. The youth conference focused on how best to position oneself for success. Participants visited the University of Kentucky campus and heard from actor Harry Lennix.
The officers in the procession — with about 100 NOBLE Youth in tow — marched about a mile, from LaSalle Drive, down Hollow Creek to Russell Cave Road, then to Consolidated Baptist Church, where the organization heard a faith-based service honoring fallen officers, specifically 23 current or retired members of NOBLE who have died during the past year.
The group listened to a spirited sermon from the Rev. Richard Gaines.
The pastor framed his sermon in terms officers were familiar with, telling them about the importance of calling for "divine backup."
"I dare say many of you have had to put out a call here and there for some backup. Maybe you were facing a dangerous confrontation," Gaines said. "It looked like a peaceful situation, but at the drop of a hat, circumstances changed.
"When I think about the life of a Christian, it's like that. All of us need some help of a divine variety every now and then."
The officers cheered the Lexington pastor — some standing with hands raised above their heads or held over their hearts — as he spoke.
The service was a fitting end for a police conference, attendees said, because in many ways police work is about faith: faith that officers will return home safely every day, and faith that police are making a difference.
"Faith is always first. When we go out in the street every day, I pray to be safe and pray that my officers are safe," said Lt. Karl Robbins of the Milwaukee Police Department.
After the service, the officers took photos and chatted while waiting for buses to take them to their last full day of events.
As they spoke, they praised the quality of Lexington's hospitality, the local scenery and the training. Holding the conference in a smaller city than usual gave it a sense of intimacy, they said, and many said they hoped to return.
"The conference here just rated with every other conference we had," said Deputy Inspector Kim Royster of the New York City Police Department. "People just came out and showed their love for Lexington."