By Elizabeth Barber
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Thousands of police officers in dress blue uniforms gathered in the rain outside a Queens church on Wednesday for the funeral of slain New York Patrolman Randolph Holder, who was remembered as a principled man drawn to law enforcement work despite its dangers.
The service for 33-year-old Holder, held at the Greater Allen A.M.E. Cathedral, was the fourth funeral for a slain New York City officer in the past 12 months. Holder was fatally shot in the head while pursuing a robbery suspect last week in the city's East Harlem neighborhood.
"All of New York City is in pain," Mayor Bill de Blasio said at the service, which drew law enforcement officers from around the nation. "The city lost a remarkable man."
Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, who became emotional while speaking about the slain officer, posthumously promoted him to the rank of detective during the service.
Holder, who came to the United States 12 years ago from his native Guiana, was drawn to policing because he wanted to keep people safe, Bratton said.
"When you're willing to risk everything, sometimes it will cost you everything," Bratton said. "This job was certainly his calling."
Holder's family and Guyanese community leaders who spoke at the service said he was as a selfless man who enjoyed making people laugh, playing soccer and DJing at family parties.
Thousands of officers packed the streets around the church and waited for hours in the pouring rain to see the arrival and departure of Holder's body.
Bagpipes played, drummers sounded a solemn beat and a sea of blue-capped officers saluted Holder's body as it was carried into the church in a gold casket.
"It's an honor just to be invited, just to come down and share the moment with my colleagues," said Sergeant Paul Jennings, 42.
Tyrone Howard, the 30-year-old suspect in the murder, was indicted by a grand jury on Tuesday, according to prosecutors. He is scheduled to be in court on Nov. 24 on charges of murder and robbery.
His defense lawyer said Howard has denied the allegations.
The Rev. Al Sharpton, a prominent civil rights leader and critic of police treatment of minorities, on Tuesday canceled plans to eulogize Holder, saying he was concerned that his presence would prove to be more divisive than unifying.
Holder was a third-generation police officer. His grandfather and father served as officers in Guyana. Holder's body will be flown to Guyana for burial after Wednesday's service.
News that Howard had avoided prison for selling crack cocaine by participating in a drug diversion program drew sharp criticism last week from city officials. De Blasio on Friday proposed changes to state law that he said would ensure dangerous criminals remain behind bars.
Advocates for the diversion program, which offers treatment as an alternative to incarceration for drug addicts, have warned against making major policy changes based on one incident.
(Reporting by Elizabeth Barber; Writing by Laila Kearney; Editing by Toni Reinhold, Eric Beech and Lisa Shumaker)