I spent much of the past week in Washington DC for National Police Week, attending the various ceremonies honoring the law enforcement officers to have died in the last year and many years past.
It was my seventh time attending the ceremonies.
I've said for years now that 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.
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.
I'm often surprised to learn of officers who have never attended. I'm equally surprised when during the week I come upon someone there for the very first time.
Here is a brief summary of events—some of which I did not attend this year, but have been present for in years past—for those of you who could not be there this week.
This little travelogue is my testimony that visiting DC for Police Week is a MUST for every cop in America, as well as every civilian police supporter like yours truly.
Walking the Wall
I was on the ground in DC for four days, and visited the Police Memorial Wall nine times. The power of the place is difficult to describe. You see families huddled together, making "rubbings" of their lost loved one's name on strips of paper provided by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (NLEOMF). You see individuals sitting quietly by themselves, lost and alone in distant thought.
It's fascinating to see how it changes over time as new mementos are left by family and friends of officers who were killed in the line of duty over the years. People leave all sorts of things on the 300-foot wall that encircles a reflecting pool above the Judiciary Square Metro station. Patrol car doors adorned with images and inscriptions, duty boots, candles, Rosary beads, and just about anything else you can imagine appear on the wall over the weeklong event.
Neither words nor pictures can adequately do justice to the powerful energy emanating from this place. You truly have to be there to understand it.
The Police Museum
Immediately across the street from the Police Memorial stand two large glass structures. They don't appear to have much inside other than a couple of metal detectors and some security staff manning them. However, these structures are the portal to the most impressive collection of artifacts from American policing history I've ever seen.
Many police department lobbies have their own version of a police museum, with old badges, revolvers, and other items from the agency's past on display in a glass case near the front desk. It's actually rare these days to go into a police station and not see such an installation.
Imagine your agency's collection amplified by a thousand—ten thousand—percent.
The Unity Tour
I didn't make it this year, but in years past I've been able to be present for the arrival of the Police Unity Tour. Watching a couple thousand cops on bikes roll past the Memorial as they complete their four-day ride from New Jersey is an impressive thing to behold.
The primary purpose of the ride is to raise awareness of line-of-duty deaths, but the Tour also raises millions of dollars to support the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.
Over the years the ride has raised almost $23 million.
Blue Help Dinner
As I've previously mentioned, I am on the Board of Directors of BlueH.E.L.P., an organization that tracks police officer suicides while simultaneously seeking to prevent such tragedies from occurring. According to our research, at least 158 officers died by suicide in 2018.
Police officers who die by suicide are not considered duty deaths by many organizations. We at BlueH.E.L.P. want to change that, and for the first time in our brief history brought the discussion of police suicide to the gathering at Police Week. We flew in more than 40 families and put them up at a nice hotel about five blocks from the Police Memorial.
We held a quiet ceremony at the wall where families placed pictures of their departed loved ones.
We then had a fantastic supper during which several speakers shared their stories and musicians performed moving songs of sorrow.
These families deserve our respect and support and all too often—even at events like Police Week—they are cast aside. This has to end.
A Pint at Kelly's
Pivoting somewhat radically, another "must" is a visit (or more than one) for a pint of Guinness (or more than one) at Kelly's Irish Times, an iconic pub a few blocks from the Police Memorial Wall.
Kelly's is a "cop bar" through and through, and during Police Week it is jam packed with cops from all over the world. Thousands of agency patches line just about every available surface of the walls not already adorned with old photos of Washington landmarks, politicians, sports stars, and other interesting relics.
During daylight hours it's reasonably quiet and relatively family friendly, but as the sun passes beneath the horizon across from the Potomac River, the comradery gets a little more boisterous.
If you go for lunch or supper, I recommend the Guinness Stew. If you're there at around 2200 hours, be prepared to sing along to Don McLean's American Pie and/or Neal Diamond's Sweet Caroline. If you're there at closing time, you might have a hard time hailing a cab as the patrons pour out onto the sidewalk en masse.
The Candlelight Vigil
Due to travel constraints, I didn't make it to the Candlelight Vigil on the National Mall this year, but I've attended six other years and can attest to the fact that it's one of the most incredible experiences a police officer or a civilian police supporter can have during Police Week.
The sheer vastness of the gathering is astounding. And when all of those candles are lit, one by one as the attendees spread that flame from one end of the National Mall to the other, the sense of mourning is equaled by the feeling of universal love felt for everyone present.
Too Much to List
There are myriad more reasons that every officer should make the trip to visit DC for this week in May at least one time in their career. The service on the Western steps of the Capitol building this year featured a visit from the President of the United States as well as other dignitaries. If you collect patches or challenge coins, bring a big bag of your own to swap.
For families and friends, the Concerns of Police Survivors (C.O.P.S.) hosts the National Police Survivors' Conference at the Hilton Alexandria Mark Center across the river.
Head over to Tent City in Southeast DC, near to where the Washington Nationals play their home games. There are vendors selling cool SWAG and the bar at the center of the place is alive with LEOs sharing laughs and love.
And of course, there is everything else DC has to offer every other week of the year—from the monuments to the museums to the menu items at some of the top restaurants in America.
Trust me on this one.