Sergeant Beth Posel joined River Falls Police Department (RFPD) as a patrol officer in 2008 after working as a community service officer at Woodbury Police Department and dispatcher at St. Croix County Dispatch.
“My stepdad was a cop,” Posel said. “There was one summer day when I was a kid that he was going to a police funeral with a group from his PD, and there was no one to stay home with me, so he took me along. I saw the deep camaraderie the officers had with each other and the support from the public. It was like they were all feeling that loss together. I remember that moment so clearly, and that’s when I knew I wanted to have a law enforcement career.”
Posel’s stepdad also served on the Minnesota state honor guard, a ceremonial unit comprised of sworn police officers. She grew up watching him stand at attention alongside his comrades at law enforcement funerals in Minnesota and the Midwest, and even large national events like National Police Week in Washington, D.C. “Even when I was young, it made me think about the importance of the ceremonial elements of police funerals," Posel said. "Fallen officers have made the ultimate sacrifice, and honor guard allows us to pay our respects in a way that really honors that.”
Posel has been a member of the RFPD Honor Guard since its inception in 2017. RFPD Honor Guard members often make appearances at community parades and events, like River Falls Days and the community’s annual Memorial Day parade, but the unit’s primary role is to provide funeral honors for fallen law enforcement officers. Posel is joined on the unit by Officer Steve Thomas, Officer Bryan Jensen, and Sergeant Kevin Moore, who founded the group.
Honor guard members may perform several assignments at law enforcement funerals, including door guard, casket watch, and color guard during the procession to the cemetery. Each role serves as an important way to pay respect to the fallen.
On Saturday, April 15, the RFPD Honor Guard attended its first formal funeral service for two fallen officers in Chetek, Wisconsin. “We had participated in funerals individually or with one or two of us representing RFPD, but never as a full team,” Posel explained. “I’ve been to a lot of police funerals over my 15-year career, and I had never seen anything like the Chetek funeral.”
One week prior, on Saturday, April 8, Chetek police officer Emily Breidenbach and Cameron police officer Hunter Scheel were killed during a traffic stop in Cameron, Wisconsin. About 2,000 people attended the visitation and funeral in Chetek on April 15, with hundreds of residents lining the streets downtown for the procession.
Less than a month later, on May 6, St. Croix County Deputy Kaitie Leising was killed while responding to a call of a possible drunk driver near Glenwood City, Wisconsin.
“It’s surreal, not just that we had another law enforcement funeral in this area so soon, but that it happened in our front yard,” Posel said. “Kaitie worked with a lot of our officers here – especially our newer officers, since she was on night shift. She was one of us.”
At Deputy Leising’s funeral, Posel and the RFPD Honor Guard performed casket watch, a duty in which an honor guard member or officer stands on each side of the casket in a formal position, head bowed. “From the moment an officer is killed in the line of duty, that officer is never left without a partner,” Posel said. “From when Kaitie was shot until the funeral, she had officers by her side. We don’t leave a fallen officer behind.”
Having been at RFPD for 15 years, Posel has close working relationships with the officers at St. Croix County. In addition to responding to calls together while on patrol, she also works alongside them as a negotiator on the county’s Emergency Response Unit. “They’re our law enforcement family,” Posel said. “I’ve seen them in really scary, dangerous, hard situations, and to see them breaking down and grieving is something I just wished I could protect them from. We always know it could be one of us, but when it happens, you can’t really be prepared for it.”
According to Posel, seeing the public support on the day of the funeral provided some healing. “When we were doing the procession afterwards, the turnout was insane like it was in Chetek,” she said. “We covered a long distance on the back roads from Hudson to Baldwin, and there was not an intersection that wasn’t covered with fire trucks, tow trucks, flags, people saluting, hands over their hearts. For me, living in the area and being from the area, these weren’t strangers. They’re my neighbors. The support at the past funerals has been amazing, but it just resonated even more knowing that it was coming from the people that we serve every day.”
Despite the emotional difficulty of performing the role, Posel is committed to remaining a member of Honor Guard. “It’s just important,” she said. “Losing an officer feels like a helpless situation. There’s nothing I can do to change it. I can’t fix it, I can’t go back in time and change anything, but what can I do? I can stand up here and honor them and show respect by the display of colors and casket watch, and making sure that officer is honored and not left alone. That’s what makes it worth doing.”