Over 20,000 officers have lost their lives since the first recorded line-of-duty death in 1791. The stress of the job can cause many officers to develop long-lasting mental health issues that affect both their professional and personal lives. This National Police Week, we remember our fallen officers and think of those who still step out onto the streets every morning.
A tradition nearly 60 years strong
In 1962, President John F. Kennedy decreed that May 15th become Peace Officers Memorial Day to honor fallen officers, and the surrounding days to become Police Week, later known as National Police Week.
What began as a small, somber gathering of 120 attendees in Senate Park now attracts upwards of 40,000 guests. Although it focuses on commemorating US officers, law enforcement officers from across the globe are drawn to the event, cementing the fraternity and camaraderie of the police force.
It is not uncommon to see flags flown at half-mast during National Police Week, with President Clinton calling for the Star-Spangled Banner at the White House to be lowered as a mark of respect during his time in office, while Presidents Bush and Obama made passionate speeches about the sacrifices of those who dedicated their lives to the force.
It’s not only for humans
Officers in the K9 unit often grow just as close to their canine partners as they do human officers, and losing their police dog can leave a hole just as deep in their hearts. In recognition of animals who lost their lives in the line of duty, 2018 saw the very first Annual National Police K-9 Memorial Service. This is a chance for all officers who have lost a canine companion to unite and remember their partners as they deserved.
While this year’s K-9 Memorial Service on May 11th is unable to proceed due to current restrictions, take a moment to think about the law enforcement animals that many officers unexpectedly had to bid farewell.
Those left behind
It can be difficult for civilians to see beyond the uniform and recognize the person wearing it, but the scenes at the National Police Memorial in Washington, D.C. show the public a different picture. Flowers, photos, and heartfelt notes decorate the memorial, and pausing to read any of them can help even the most hardened of us see the true impact of loss.
The ceremony is open to more than law enforcement, and busses laden with out-of-state visitors arrive each year to pay their respects. Parents who have lost children, children who have lost parents, and others who have lost the person they had planned to spend the rest of their lives with can be found in attendance. The event is poignant and solemn as guests spend time in quiet meditation thinking of their loved ones.
National Police Week 2021
This year, due to the ongoing complications surrounding Covid-19, the ceremony proper will take place in October, but that does not mean there are no other ways to honor the fallen. Throughout National Police Week there will be numerous online events that you can attend virtually.
This week, please take some time to reflect on the sacrifices officers have made to keep us safe.