Concerns of Police Survivors (C.O.P.S.) welcomes with open arms those who have suffered the tragedy of a loved one or coworker dying in the line of duty. The organization offers support through specific programs tailored to meet the needs of everyone from children to in-laws to fellow officers as well as staying connected with informal phone calls and e-mails year-round.
C.O.P.S. programs for survivors include the National Police Survivors' Conference held each May during National Police Week; scholarships; peer-support at the national, state, and local levels; "C.O.P.S. Kids" counseling reimbursement program; the "C.O.P.S. Kids" Summer Camp; "C.O.P.S. Teens" Outward Bound experience for young adults; special retreats for spouses, parents, siblings, adult children, in-laws, and co-workers; trial and parole support; and other assistance programs.
By all accounts this network of people who understand what it is to experience this trauma make a positive impact on survivors' lives. But it can take some convincing to get survivors to attend the free retreats and other programs C.O.P.S. provides. No one wants to need to join this club, but it's wonderful to have when it's needed.
Siblings and Coworkers
Zoe Stahl waited six years after the death of her brother to attend a Concerns of Police Survivors siblings retreat. She didn't think she was ready until then. Now she regrets not having done it sooner.
"I felt like after six years of living with a certain level of depression and anxiety, it was lifted that weekend," she says. "They were able to give me my life back, to find that happiness within myself. It opened the door for me to be a better wife and a better mom, just by being a happier person."
Zoe's brother, Officer Andrew Esparza of the Irving (Texas) Police Department, was 26 when he died from injuries sustained in an automobile accident while responding to assist another officer. It was raining and his car hydroplaned and hit a lightpost. Esparza's death devastated his family. At the time, Zoe was engaged to Andrew's partner and close friend, Brian Stahl.
Now, after attending C.O.P.S. retreats, both Zoe and Brian can't say enough about how much the organization's support has helped them. "I think people need to understand, it's not going to just affect one aspect of your life. It's going to benefit everything that you do, because it's going to heal you," says Zoe. "It took our marriage to a different level."
And although he was originally a reluctant participant, Zoe's husband has benefited not just in his marriage and home life, but also by sharing his experience with fellow officers at a C.O.P.S. coworkers retreat. "When you sit with 100 cops and 90 are crying, I never expected to see that or be OK with it, but I was," says Brian. "It was such a nice release, a way to deal with and talk about everything that we go through. I realized there are at least 100 other guys going through what I am working the streets."
Brian has now talked to officers at the Irving Police Department about how much the C.O.P.S. retreats have helped him, and at least one officer who also knew Esparza will be attending the next coworkers retreat with him. "I would definitely encourage any survivor to at least give it a try," he says. "The bond you form is nothing like it: instant and comforting. And the retreat itself is fun. You get to be active and interact with people. It's really great."
Zoe and Brian are both thankful for the ways C.O.P.S. has improved their lives. The couple recently attended another siblings retreat and Zoe plans to help give back by attending a future Police Week in Washington D.C. as a C.O.P.S. volunteer.
Children of All Ages
Jim Deckert was 13 when his father died in the line of duty in 1957, long before Concerns of Police Survivors existed. He heard about C.O.P.S. when his father was added to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial wall in 2011. When asked if he'd ever been to a survivor retreat for adult children, he said, "No. I don’t think of myself as an adult child. I'm 71."
He didn't think he would benefit from attending a program after so many years, but it changed not only his life, but the life of his entire family.
Deckert's father, Eugene James Deckert, was an officer with the Teaneck (N.J.) Police Department for 30 years. He was getting ready to retire when he died of a heart attack at the age of 51 after an exceedingly strenuous shift. Deckert's family had just moved 50 miles away, and this distance made getting support from his dad's department and even their friends difficult.
"It was my brother and I and my mom. And we didn't talk about my father. That was my mother's way of coping," says Deckert. "I look back on it now and it's really sad when I see these families coping with all this support [from C.O.P.S.]. It's uplifting, but I feel like I missed out on something."
After sharing his story with other survivors at an adult children retreat in 2012, Deckert finally got to complete his grieving process and start to heal. He also felt that sharing his experience helped other adult children attending the retreat recognize how lucky they are to have such a network of support.
"I've just come away with this feeling of family," Deckert says. "I can contact these people any time and they understand. It helped me just by relating my story, which has been under the surface for all these years."
Once Deckert started talking about his dad at the retreat, all of his wonderful memories of the man started coming back, and he started to share stories he hadn't told since he was a boy. Now he and his family feel like Deckert's father is a part of their lives, even so many years after his death.
"I think everybody in this situation who doesn't take advantage of what C.O.P.S. has to offer is making a mistake because it's very healing," Deckert says. "This organization is filling this void that these people shouldn't have to fall into. That's where my family was. Now every year on my dad's end of watch we get a card from them," says Deckert. "It's pretty great. Nobody forgets. That's the whole thing, that nobody forgot."
Funding the Cause
Concerns of Police Survivors is a nonprofit, and there is no cost for people to attend its programs. Therefore, C.O.P.S. relies on fundraising efforts and donations from individuals and corporations to provide their services to survivors. Over the years, Streamlight has contributed more than $1 million to support C.O.P.S. programs and activities. In recognition of this and of employees' volunteer work, Streamlight was recently inducted into the C.O.P.S. Hall of Fame as a major corporate sponsor.
"Streamlight began sponsoring C.O.P.S. 15 years ago out of a deep commitment to the law enforcement community," says Ray Sharrah, president and chief executive officer of Streamlight. "Supporting C.O.P.S. is a real win/win for all concerned—the corporations that get involved, survivors, the law enforcement community, and the public they serve," says Sharrah. "It is truly a meaningful and enriching relationship for Streamlight."
For more information about Concerns of Police Survivors and its programs visit www.nationalcops.org.