Slain D.C. police officer Robert K. Best was buried yesterday in a ceremony that honored him as hero and marked his profession, in the words of Deputy Police Chief James Kelly, as one "that faces an enemy which is often indistinguishable from the general population."
The services included a funeral procession that streched for miles, winding past the 7th District police precinct in Southeast Washington where Best had been assigned since joining the force a year ago last week. The services ended at a cemetery in suburban Maryland with Taps and a fired salute.
The unmarked police cruiser in which Best rode the night he was killed was parked in front of the police precinct and draped with black silk. The American flag that covered his casket was presented to his parents. Best, 24, was not married.
Law enforcement officials representing 25 area jurisdictions, including officers from Delaware, Philadelphia and the military, sat solemnly, some in tears, as Best was eulogized inside the Covenant Baptist Church, located several blocks from the 7th District station.
Rev. H. Wesley Wiley, pastor of the church, offered a prayer for those "with heavy hearts and sorrowing souls," but expressed hope that their tears cleared their vision.
"A man of the law has fallen because we live in a world that does not regard the law," Mr. Wiley told the 1,200 mourners. "But we know the law is God, who will turn a listening ear to our cries."
Kelly, commander of the 7th District, outlined Best's brief career and rated his performance as "impressive and dedicated to perfection." While Police Chief Maurice T. Turner and other ranking members of the department looked on, Kelly recalled the look on his men's faces last Tuesday morning when he entered the emergency room of the Greater Southeast Community Hospital, where Best was pronounced dead.
"I was reminded of Sir Winston Churchill and the words he spoke after his men had fought back the Nazi blitzkreig during World War II, 'Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few,' " Kelly said. These days, Kelly added, the enemy often cannot be distinguished from the general population, and is "armed and determined to carry out their evil."
Best was shot to death Tuesday morning, one day after completing his rookie year, during a struggle with a suspected automobile thief. It was the second time this year that a D.C. police officer had been shot and killed in the line of duty. On Sept. 14, officer Donald G. Lunning, 31, an 11-year veteran, was shot fatally in the chest during a struggle with a man whom he believed was driving a stolen car.
Best and his partner, Officer William Haupt, had chased a car that they believed had been stolen, into Prince George's County. There, the car skidded into a stop sign at Branch Avenue and Curtis Drive in Suitland. Two men jumped from the wrecked car and ran. Best pursued one of them behind a building, and was shot to death.
The man who had shot him, Vincent Alexander Dark, 27, of the 2100 block of Douglas Road SE, then fired at other officers who had joined the chase and was killed when police returned fire.
At yesterday's services the D.C. police choir, named the "Ambassadors of Goodwill," sang songs in tribute to their fallen collegue.
"In times of trouble, whom shall I fear," they sang. "The Lord is the strength of my life, whom shall I fear. Wait on the Lord, and be of good courage and He shall strengthen my heart."
Police officials said that Best's name will be inscribed on the department's scroll of heroes for making the "supreme sacrifice."