Today is Police Officer Memorial Day.
Few people outside of law enforcement are aware this day of observance exists. This is one of the few days the flag of the United States is scheduled to fly at half-staff. The lowered flag is how many people learn about Police Memorial Day when they call the police station to ask the desk sergeant; “why is the flag at half-staff, who died?”
There are many jobs which are more dangerous than a police officer. I don’t think being a police officer is even in the Top 10 list of the most dangerous jobs in America. I do know logger is almost always number one. Truck drivers and crab fisherman are usually ranked more dangerous than being a cop, too.
Why do police officers deserve their own Memorial Day observance? Because, much like the military, police officers go into the profession knowing the difficult duties they perform for society outweigh the risks and sacrifices they endure. Police deserve their own memorial observance because many times when an officer dies in the line of duty, it happens during the commission of a felony at the hands of a criminal. If the on-duty death of an officer isn’t a criminal act, it is likely a tragedy which occurred while the officer was trying to help a stranger in distress.
The title of today’s column, “In valor there is hope” is a quote from the Roman Senator, Tacitus and those same words are inscribed on the Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, DC. There is another quote chiseled into the marble at that same memorial which I wanted to use for today’s title headline, but it was too long to fit on the page – “It is not how these officers died that made them heroes, it is how they lived.” Those eloquent words are attributed to Vivian Eney-Cross whose husband, Sergeant Christopher Eney, of the US Capitol Police, was killed in the line of duty in 1984.
The valor displayed daily by police officers gives the population hope that their world will stay safe, polite and peaceful. Good citizens know the police are the first, last, and only organization that stands between the criminal classes doing harm and civilized productive society. The populace also asks police officers to do all the things that need to be done, but Joe Citizen would never dare or care to do themselves. Sometimes those things are quite dangerous, and sometimes police officers die doing them.
Today is a day of reflection to remember and honor those whose lives were taken while serving and protecting their communities, whether it was a town, county, city, state or the nation as a federal officer. Officers killed in the line of duty lived their lives as all police officers; they were human beings with families, homes, pets, and bills to pay. Then fate somehow intervened, making an officer an honored hero as they leave two families grieving; the officer’s family and the officer’s coworker family.
When in the face of danger, everyone has the choice to either run away or confront it. Most people will sidestep it, while police officers hurry to dangerous situations on a daily basis. Some days a police officer encounters a violent criminal holding a gun or a mental patient with a knife.
More commonly an officer faces danger doing mundane, routine tasks such as standing on the side of a highway with a stopped motorist as traffic whizzes past only a few feet away. The dangers of police work should never be minimized or taken for granted. We owe those who run toward danger when others flee our gratitude and respect.
If you happen to find yourself within earshot of an officer, deputy, ranger or a trooper today, this week or anytime, offer them your sincere appreciation for the dangerous work they do daily to keep and maintain the peace we all enjoy. Without their vigilant devotion to duty, there would be anarchy.