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Despite theft, flag still flies

After the Petaluma Police Officer's Association heard that the American flag atop Dairymen's Feed Supply had been stolen again — this time cut along the seams — and that Dairymen's president Arnie Riebli had decided to no longer fly the symbol the department's men and women have come to appreciate since it was first raised after the Sept. 11 attacks 11 years ago, they decided to act.

"I remember being a cop here when 9/11 happened," said Police Officer Association President Paul Gilman. "I saw a lot of flags start to fly around town, but Dairymen's was one of the only ones that stayed up long after the attacks were over. We like seeing that flag flying and it's a shame that because of criminals, Mr. Riebli was thinking about taking it down."

According to Dairymen's head of maintenance John Brito, who has worked for the grain co-op for nine years, last week's theft marks the tenth time the iconic Petaluma flag has been stolen since he has been employed with the company. This time, Brito said he had just hung a brand new flag the day before on the city's tallest structure that was built in 1937 and is located off East Washington and Lakeville Streets.

"The flag was one day old," Brito said. "I came in the next day to find it stolen again and it just made me and everyone here really upset. We want to be able to fly our flag without it being vandalized."

Because of the constant thefts and vandalism occurring at the top of the 108-foot-high building, Riebli consulted his insurance company and decided that the threat of someone falling to their death while trying to steal the flag was too big of a risk for the company to assume.

After Dairymen's recent decision to remove the flag permanently, right before the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, Petaluma officers decided to step in. The POA purchased a new $400 flag and helped hoist it in a ceremony held Tuesday morning.

"I hate that Mr. Riebli contemplated not flying the flag because this keeps happening," said Gilman. "There wasn't much for us to think about. We just had to get it done."

Brito said that Dairymen's is thrilled for the support from local officers, but regrets that the company will take it down for good after this weekend.

"I don't like having to buy a new one every few months," said Brito. "We'll put it up at half mast for the Sept. 11 attacks, and I will keep it up through the weekend. But after that, it will come down indefinitely."

(Contact Janelle Wetzstein at janelle.wetzstein@arguscourier.com)


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