Gov. Jack Dalrymple credited North Dakota’s law enforcement community for keeping the state among the safest in the nation.

“They watch our streets and protect our neighborhoods,” the governor said. “And because of their dedication, we can go on with our daily lives.”

The state’s officers “deserve our deepest gratitude, respect and support,” he said.

Dalrymple spoke to a large gathering, which included law enforcement officers and their families, at the North Dakota Peace Officer Memorial program Wednesday at the North Dakota Capitol grounds. The annual ceremony honors officers from across the state who died in the line of duty.

The governor said the memorial outside the Judicial Wing of the Capitol is engraved with the names of 61 officers killed in the state since 1882, so that they always will be remembered for their service.

“They knew the risk and responded all the same. We will never forget their sacrifices or the sacrifices of the families they left behind,” he said.

North Dakota Supreme Court Chief Justice Gerald VandeWalle told the crowd of his experience being in Boston in the aftermath of the marathon bombing and on the day a suspect in the case was captured. He described the security presence in the community, as well as the cheering in the streets after boming suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was arrested.

“At the time, Governor,” VandeWalle said, turning to Dalrymple, “I thought, ‘How glad I am to live in North Dakota.’”

VandeWalle said he also attended the Boston Red Sox game the following day, where those injured in the bombing along with first responders and law enforcement officers were honored. He said it was such a moving tribute that the game that followed it was anti-climactic, leading him to leave at the seventh-inning stretch. The early departure meant he missed Neil Diamond’s surprise performance of “Sweet Caroline,” the chief justice told the crowd.

North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said the 61 names of North Dakotans killed in the line of duty are among the more than 20,000 names on the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, D.C.

“We pay tribute to them and never forget their sacrifice,” he said.

Stenehjem highlighted the case of Mercer County Sheriff’s Deputy Joseph Runions, who was shot while investigating a theft in 1941. Runions pretended to be dead, then crawled away to a farmstead and reported what had happened. He later died at a Bismarck hospital.

Runions and the other 60 officers were “just doing their jobs,” Stenehjem said. “We must never forget the price these brave officers paid.”

Burleigh County Sheriff Pat Heinert, who served as master of ceremonies, asked the crowd for a moment of silence for Bismarck Police Sgt. Steve Kenner and Burleigh County Sheriff’s Deputy Bryan Sleeper. The two officers’ names were added to the memorial last year. Kenner was shot and killed while responding to a domestic disturbance, and Sleeper died of a heart attack after assisting another officer in making an arrest.

Heinert also took a moment at the end of the ceremony to thank Milt Lennick, a former Bureau of Criminal Investigation agent who pushed for the memorial and annual service. Without “Uncle Milty,” as he called Lennick, the annual recognition for officers wouldn’t happen, Heinert said.

Reach Jenny Michael at 701-250-8225 or jenny.michael@bismarcktribune.com.