In 1962, President Kennedy proclaimed May 15 as National Peace Officers Memorial Day and the calendar week in which May 15 falls as National Police Week.
The names of 362 officers who died last year were added to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in our Nation's Capital this year. Of the names being added, 234 died of COVID-19. The second leading cause of death was gunfire (45 officers) followed by automobile crash (19), and vehicular assault (13). Other causes of death included 9/11 related illness and medical emergencies such as heart attack.
Other officers names added to the wall are being recognized for their line-of-duty deaths in previous years but whose sacrifices have been lost to history until NLEOMF researchers uncovered their stories.
This week, we mourn all of those losses.
A Confluence of Emotions
Police Week is at once exhausting and exhilarating—it is as inspiring as it is tiring. During this one extraordinary week you will experience every imaginable emotion.
During the course of the week, friends, family members, and fellow officer gather to remember the fallen, paying their own individual homage to those who gave their lives in the line of duty.
In one moment you might be laughing with a group of cops from all points on the compass rose, and then mere moments later crying with one guy or gal who is overwhelmed with grief at the loss of a friend in the line of duty.
Few events are as powerful as National Police Week—in fact, I cannot think of anything like it—with weeklong visits to Judiciary Square as the cyclists in the Police Unity Tour arrive from their long bike trek, sitting and praying by the memorial wall as people find the names of their loved ones etched into the stone, and spending social time with cops from across the country at Tent City.
Last night was the annual Candlelight Vigil. Normally hald on the National Mall, this year the event was held in the "virtual space." Names of the fallen were read aloud as people across the country logged on to YouTube to watch the cermonies.
Tomorrow is the Annual National Peace Officers' Memorial Service, presented by the Grand Lodge Fraternal Order of Police and the Grand Lodge Fraternal Order of Police Auxiliary. Many who have attended Police Week will tell you that the Candlelight Vigil is their highlight—for me it's the Memorial Service. This event will also be held online. In-person events may take place in the fall, but that is yet to be determined.
Meanwhile, Elsewhere in America
It's difficult to get a solid handle on how many people attend Police Week events in Washington DC every year—estimates range between 25,000 and 50,000 depending on the year and the source of the information. A great many more people participate in annual memorial services, wreath-laying ceremonies, and even law-enforcement appreciation parades all over the United States.
Alabama Governor Kay Ivey will be among the many state dignitaries to participate in the Alabama Law Enforcement Memorial Ceremony tomorrow at Centennial Memorial Park in the small Appalachian City of Aniston.
Officers with the Green Bay (WI) Police Department were joined by cops from around the region as well as the citizens they serve in a blood drive at a local blood bank yesterday afternoon.
Due to concerns over further spread of COVID-19, in Columbia (TN) the department's annual memorial ceremony was held "remotely" with a pre-recorded video beamed to people via social media on Monday evening.
In the bucolic town of Fort Bragg (CA)—which overlooks the Pacific Ocean about 250 miles south of the Oregon border—the planned events include a memorial service, a blessing of badges, a candlelight presentation, and a moment of silence for the fallen. The events were underwritten and supported by local business and community groups, including a towing service, a fishing company, a real estate agent, and members of the local Rotary Club.
In Bismarck (ND), windows on two floors of the State Capitol Building were illuminated with a Thin Blue Line several nights during the course of the week. A memorial service featuring a roll call of fallen North Dakota officer was held Yesterday afternoon.
Countless other cities and towns held similar pro-police events throughout the week—a refreshing change of pace amid the constant drumbeat of anti-police rhetoric that seems to have gripped the headlines for so long.
LEO Duty Deaths Continue
It's important to take stock of the tragic loss of life—both individually and in sum—that led to nearly 400 names being added to the memorial wall this year.
But as we approach the half-way point in the 2021 calendar year we must also recognize that too many law enforcement officers continue to be killed in the line of duty.
At the time of this writing, there have been 125 line-of-duty law enforcement deaths in America in just the first 133 days of the year 2021—just short of roughly one LODD per day.
The vast majority of those tragedies are from the COVID-19 pandemic, but it is troubling to also note that the second-leading cause of death among police officers in the United States is gunfire.
A total of 23 LEOs have been shot to death thus far in 2021. Four officers have been killed by gunfire just this week—the very week that so many Americans gather to honor law enforcement.
Officers have been killed by subjects resisting arrest as well as those who lay in wait during planned ambush attacks. Officers have been killed in vehicular assault and automobile collisions.
Where is the outrage?
Oh, right, I forgot. The overwhelming majority of Americans support their police, but they are largely a silent majority.
They surreptitiously pay the lunch tab of the coppers seated at a table on the other side of the restaurant. They take time off work to stand alongside the planned funeral procession route, holding handwritten signs and blue line flags to show their support. They are the citizen-warrior-protectors who race to help an officer in a violent struggle. They show up at the police station to volunteer alongside first responders searching the woods for a missing at-risk person, and then once the search is done, they quietly fade back into the woodwork from whence they came.
Sir Robert Peel—largely considered to be the father of modern policing—famously said, "The Police are the Public. The Public are the Police."
Lesser known but equally true are Peel's additional comments.
"The Police are paid to give full time attention to duties that are incumbent upon every citizen in the interest of community welfare and existence."