Bill Drinnin had five years under his belt as a Westminster PD officer when the former Marine was selected to represent the agency at the California Peace Officers’ Memorial in Sacramento in May 2005.
The year before, on Jan. 29, veteran WPD Motor Office Steve Phillips was killed in an on-duty traffic collision. Drinnin, who today is a traffic sergeant, went to the state capitol the following year to honor Phillips and other fallen officers whose names were added to the memorial.
That trip proved to be a key turning point for the WPD, which at the time had no formal honor guard. Instead, the agency would ask for volunteers to serve as honor guards for funeral and special events.
“We used to piecemeal it together,” Drinnin recalls. “Whenever the need came up for it, (WPD officials) would just like grab some guys and be like, ‘Hey, we need someone to do a funeral or attend this event.’”
Now, the WPD has a formal honor guard that not only keeps very busy, but also is one of the most unique in the country.
Police honor guard uniforms historically are navy or black in color. The WPD’s honor guard wears the same uniform as the U.S. Marines, with its distinctive white trousers.
Drinnin and Commander Kevin MacCormick, who together run the WPD’s honor guard, say the WPD is the only police agency in the state whose honor guard wears white trousers.
“I believe we may be the only one in the country,” says Drinnin.
“It’s funny,” MacCormick says. “We’ll be in elevators at hotels, or at events, and chiefs of police or captains, they’ll be like, ‘How the hell do you guys keep those (pants) so clean?’ And we’re like, ‘We don’t sit down.’”
Says Drinnin: “I’ve had people call me from other states and they’re like, ‘Hey, I don’t know where you guys got your uniforms. I googled ‘honor guard uniforms’ and your guys’ pictures are just blowing up.’”
Sure, the WPD’s honor guard uniform may look super cool.
But Drinnin and MacCormick and other members of the WPD honor guard – Inv. Jim Delk, Officer Kees Davis, Cpl. Jeremy Fletcher, Officer Rachel Jackson, Officer Roland Perez, and Det. Jarad Kent — take their job super seriously.
After all, in addition to special ceremonies, as honor guards, they mostly serve to show their respects not only to fallen officers, but also their loved ones, colleagues, and friends.
“The first time I saw a real formal honor guard,” says MacCormick, who started at the WPD the same year Drinnin did, in 2000, “I was blown away with the way they looked and what they did to pay tribute to these folks.
“Whenever I talk about this kind of stuff,” adds MacCormick, one of the few members of the WPD honor guard with no military background, “it always gets me choked up.”
When Drinnin returned from Sacramento in May 2005, he informed WPD top brass that he wanted to form an honor guard.
His bosses were all in.
“There’s nothing more than I could ask of our department,” Drinnin says. “Everything that we’ve ever asked for, they’ve given us: money, time, transportation, and our uniforms.”
Tapping into his Marine Corps connections, Drinnin – who served for eight years, from 1992 to 2000 – contacted Camp Pendleton to purchase the uniforms.
“You can’t just order them off the Internet,” Drinnin says.
It can take several months for a new WPD honor guard to get his or her uniform, since Marines take priority. From head to toe, the uniforms cost around $1,500, Drinnin says.
Drinnin and MacCormick also had a special honor guard badge made for the uniforms – another rarity in law enforcement.
For the two veteran WPD officers, who are close friends and whose careers at the WPD have taken similar paths, serving as honor guards is a huge privilege and honor.
The WPD honor guard, along with those at the Irvine PD, Huntington Beach PD, and the Santa Ana PD, are the only four PD agencies in the state that are part of the formal ceremony in Sacramento every year, held around Peace Officers Memorial Day in May.
“He’ll tell you the same thing,” Drinnin says of MacCormick. “The same passion that we had the first time that we went up there (to Sacramento) only increases every year. That’s how significant this is to us. And that’s why we’ve been on the team since the inception of it.”
The WPD honor guard flew to Dallas in 2016 to honor five officers who were killed (another nine were injured). They attended three funerals in two days.
And they were in Palm Springs for the memorial services for two Palm Springs PD officers who were ambushed and killed in October 2017.
“We were taking a break,” MacCormick recalls of the Palm Springs trip. “We were in the lobby relaxing, and a guy walks up to us in a black suit and he goes, ‘Hey, how you doing?’ And we’re like, ‘Pretty good.’ It was the father of the female officer (Leslie Zerebny) who as killed.
“He a retired CHP. We both snap up and put our covers (hats) on. He just wanted to thank us.”
Drinnin and MacCormack get text alerts whenever an officer nationwide gets killed or injured in the line of duty. Then they suss out if at least two honor guards can go to represent the WPD.
“We’ll send somebody if we can get approval and funding,” Drinnin says.
The WPD honor guard has been to New York. Louisiana. All over the country.
“When people get on this team, they get on it for the right reasons,” Drinnin says. “They don’t get on it because the uniform looks cool. They could care less about the uniform. That’s just a fringe benefit.
“The reason they get on the team is for the right reasons: because they’ve developed or acquired the same passion that we have.
“We have extremely low turnover on our team,” Drinnin continues. “When we have openings on the team, very few people will put in for it. Not because they don’t like it. It’s an acquired taste. It’s a passion that the average person just doesn’t really have.
“You can’t instill that in somebody. You cant go up to someone and say, ‘You know, you need to have the same kind of passion that I have to be on this team.’ They either have it or they don’t.”
Drinnin, who is married with two adult children, a son and a daughter, and MacCormick, who is married with three adult daughters, say they like to bring young officers to law enforcement funerals.
“It’s part of our career, it’s part of our profession, and they need to experience it,” Drinnin says. “They need to see that when I’m yelling at them because they’re doing something silly on the street, that they’re not being safe, that the lady that we’re handing a flag to could be your mom. That could be your wife, your girlfriend, your daughter.”
Says MacCormick: “When you look into their eyes, it does something to you.”
Adds Drinnin: “It’s kind of hard to put into words how you feel about (serving as an honor guard). He (MacCormack) and I have talked about it several times over the years, that we aspire to promote and do other things within our department.
“But the one constant, the one common denominator that we did not want to let go of is this. We don’t care what happens throughout the course of our careers. This just means that much to us.”