WEST CHESTER — National Law Enforcement Week annually includes somber remembrances of fallen heroes. In Chester County, Lodge 11 of the Fraternal Order of Police hosts its own Law Enforcement Memorial Service, a tribute to nine members of Chester County law enforcement who lost their lives from 1887 to 1988.
This year’s recent county observance added a national perspective and local pride to the proceeding through two of its speakers: Chester County Sheriff Carolyn "Bunny" Welsh and state FOP President Les Neri.
“I think having Sheriff Welsh serving as second vice president with the National Sheriffs' Association and Les Neri, retired from the Tredyffrin Police Department, as second vice president of the national FOP demonstrates the quality of our law enforcement professionals here in Chester County,” said Steve Plaugher, president of Chester County FOP Lodge No. 11. “Both are highly respected and dedicated to serving their membership.”
Several days before speaking at the Chester County memorial, Welsh and Neri interacted in Harrisburg during the state’s ceremony. Days later, both traveled to Washington D.C. Welsh read the names of last year’s fallen officers during the tribute at the National Mall; the following day, Neri handed out medals of supreme sacrifice to the families of the fallen.
Both Neri and Welsh agree that having national ties benefits their local constituents in many ways – from learning about new initiatives to making valuable connections.
“I try to bring the training, expertise and knowledge I gain back home, and I know Bunny does the same thing,” Neri said.
Welsh called the benefits from hundreds of connections that she and Neri have made across the country immeasurable.
“Having contacts with local, state and national law enforcement agencies is paramount to cooperation and communication on every level,” Welsh said. “It benefits both the agencies and the citizens.”
Neri retired as a detective from the Tredyffrin Township Police Department in 2008 after more than 26 years of service. He went on to serve as the president of Chester County Lodge No. 11 from 1995 to 1998, becoming the Pennsylvania Lodge financial secretary and then its vice president. He has been the state Lodge president since 2008, and the national second vice president since 2015.
Welsh, who will leave office in January 2020, became Chester County’s first female sheriff in January 2000. The first woman to be elected president of a graduating class at the National Sheriffs Institute in Colorado, Welsh became the first female to be elected president of the Pennsylvania Sheriffs Association in July 2009. In January 2011, she was elected to the board of the National Sheriffs Association, rising in the ranks to her current position as second vice president.
“I never forget where I came from,” said Neri, pointing out that he always attends the monthly Lodge 11 meetings.
Neri said that sometimes when problems surface elsewhere in the country, they can become “early warning beacons” for Chester County, enabling a proactive, preventive approach.
Welsh said she agreed.
“It is a true honor and privilege for both of us to have been elected and have the confidence and support of our peers in the FOP and the NSA,” Welsh said. “I am proud to stand with Les in representing Pennsylvania and Chester County.”