Special Topics Contributor for Officer.com, originally posted on Thursday, April 30, 2009
I've penned a few articles urging the real cops among us to be part of Police Week in D.C. each May. I continue to cling to that belief. Yes, it's a time of honor, respect, recharge, fellowship, and part of the debt of gratitude that we owe to the cops and their families who have endured the greatest of all sacrifices.
Yet, I understand that there are circumstances in a person's life that prevent them from being there. My daughter's college graduation a few years back is an example. There are dozens of valid reasons and this year we've added the burden of a soured economy to the list.
Last year, following one of my articles, I received an email that chided me for attempting to make non-participants feel guilty. The writer reminded me that there are acts and observances in places other than D.C. which give honor to the fallen. He was right.
Reflecting on that, I suppose my backside really gets chafed by cops who let Police Memorial Day (it's May 15th every year) come and go with nary a thought or moment of consideration about its deeper meaning. Ours, being a para-military organization is steeped in honor, tradition, duty, and other core values that are articulated in our Oath. Remembering and honoring the fallen is intrinsically part of being a cop.
SO, WHAT IS MY POINT?
There are two points that I'd like to drive home in this writing.
First, one cop can do his duty and pay his respects on his own. And, he needn't travel anywhere to accomplish the mission.
Second, we need to remember those who died - not on duty - but while devoting their lives to the good fight and supporting those who wage that eternal war.
WHAT CAN ONE GUY DO?
- If you cannot be in D.C. there are some things you can do right where you are to fulfill that responsibility to The Brotherhood.
- A single candlestick in your window (electric style) with a lone blue bulb is a silent reminder that speaks volumes. I have had one in my window year around for about ten years. When a neighbor asks its meaning, I explain it them and ask them to keep the fallen officers in their thoughts and prayers.
- May 15th is the day that Congress set aside every year as Police Memorial Day to honor and remember the over 18,000 who have given their lives protecting our way of life. It is a good day to wear a Mourning Band on your badge. When asked why by fellow officers, you have an opportunity to tell The Story.
- We cannot tell The Story too often. Please remember that.
- For the first time ever: the Candlelight Vigil (held on May 13th each year), will be streamed to the internet by Officer.com. You can sign up to receive the feed by clicking on this link.
- You could print out the Police Week announcement from the web. Among other things, it indicates that flags are to be flown at half-staff on Friday, May 15th (0nline Police Week resources). Make sure the responsible people in your department and community know what is expected on that day.
- Drop a dime to the pastor or event planner at your church. Let them know of this time of remembrance and ask to be included or shared with the congregation during that time.
- The media is always a touchy subject. I realize that some agencies have very strict rules about how contact is made and by whom. Do what you can to let the local media know about this sacred time and ask them to share it with their readers. You can bet the folks in Oakland, CA and Pittsburgh, PA will want to know and participate. These horrible losses have once again raised public awareness and concern for its protectors.
- Every situation is different. Agencies that have experienced an LODD often have created a memorial and even have a service in their honor. If yours is one that does, make sure you are there.
- In a prior agency, we had lost three officers in a single incident at a local motel. They were trying to execute a warrant for passing a bad check. All three were killed on that one call. I tried on each shift to drive through the parking lot of that motel and pause for a moment to pay my respects for those who died there.
- Maybe you have an officer who was laid to rest in a cemetery within your city's boundaries. Possibly you could stop at the grave site. Give that officer a salute for a job well done and indicator that you will not forget.
- Many states have a statewide memorial service for its fallen officers. This May, the state of Nebraska will dedicate its newly constructed memorial at Grand Island. If you can't make it to D.C., possibly you can make it to a closer location in your home state. Do your best.
- If your agency or another in the immediate area has lost someone, consider this: Contact the family of the fallen officer. Go by in person. Send a card. Make a telephone call. Send a potted plant. Do something. Many times the family left behind can be struggling, wondering if anyone remembers or cares. Let them know that you do.
- If you know a working officer who lost a co-worker or worse, a partner, in an LODD: reach out. Let them know you're there with support. It doesn’t matter how long ago it happened. Offer to buy the first beer. Suggest you catch lunch together. Invite them to a game or to go fishing. We cops are supposed to be tough, unfeeling, and hard as rocks. That is a hoax. The pain of losing a co-worker or partner can be overwhelming and last for a very long time. Do not let a brother suffer alone.
- Do you have an FNG (fabulous new guy) or two in your agency right now? Maybe some that are still in the FTO program? You might even have an academy within arm's reach. Share The Story with them. You might be the first person who has taken the time to share the tradition and all of its meaning with them. Send them an email with a link to the NLEOMF website. (It's available below)
- We often hear the older guys complaining that the younger ones just don't get it. It is up to us - and only us - to change that. You can start with the current recruit class at the academy. The job does not belong to someone else. No; the job is ours, personally. If you want to know who has responsibility for the future of quality policing, go look in the mirror.
WHAT ELSE CAN I DO?
Suggest a moment of silence. It will be about 9:00PM on Wednesday, May 13th when the Final Roll Call of officers will be read. It takes a half an hour or more. This year 387 names will be read; 131 of them were deaths that happened just last year; the remainder is from the annals of history, but no less important. Maybe you can ask for a moment of radio silence in observance of those officers.Consider having members of your crew assemble somewhere quiet where you might even offer a prayer in remembrance.
Yes, there are things that you can do to show your respect. I am sure that there are many more, but maybe these will trigger an idea or two for you.
WHO WAS MICHAEL WEBB?Webb was a chief in Vinta Park, Missouri. He died a few weeks ago. No; not in a dramatic gun fight. Chief Webb succumbed to pancreatic cancer. Neither pretty nor drama filled.
Chief Webb was a long-standing supporter and advocate of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial and Museum. He worked tirelessly to further its lofty goals. And, according to those who surrounded him, he worked on solving open cases until the day of his death - just as he had done for his entire career.
Now it is unlikely that there will be a movie made about Chief Webb. We probably won't see a monument named in his honor in Washington D.C.What we will have is a better world, and a better life as cops as the result of Chief Webb and the thousands of other dedicated coppers who have devoted their lives to fighting the good fight and supporting others who do the same. He worked for you and for me. He did his best. He tried his hardest. He was never satisfied nor did he rest on his laurels. He knew things could always be better and was willing to put his sweat and life on the line to earn it - for all of us.
REMEMBERINGWe need to remember and be thankful for them all. Each of them gave everything to make ours a better world and a better life. Though each life ended in its own way, we must remember the engraving on The Wall: It is Not How These Officers Died That Made Them Heroes… Rather, It Is How They Lived.
Amen.I can only hope that one day, I might be able to achieve just a fraction of what these warriors have accomplished.
Will you join me?The Memorial needs financial support from all of us. Think of it like chipping in your share of the beer bill at the end of the shift. You can throw is your $5 (or more) by visiting my NLEOMF web page.
Jim Donahue is a native of the Midwest, getting his education at Michigan State University. He is a certified police officer in Florida and veteran police trainer with over twelve years of instructional experience. His training focuses on safe tactics for officers using in-car computers. In the process of delivering that instruction he’s logged over 12,000 hours of patrol time (equates to more than five years) “riding shotgun.”During his years in Michigan law enforcement, Jim worked with U.S. Customs & Immigration at the Detroit/Canada border in the year following the attacks of 9/11. He has also worked as a reserve patrolman on the streets of a suburban Detroit community.
Jim has been named an Ambassador for the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund in Washington, D.C.Jim is a competitive bodybuilder, with six contests to his credit.