Remembering the fallen

Like the rest of working America, they get up every day, kiss their loved ones good-bye and head off to their jobs.  The difference, the huge difference, is that these men and women can never be certain that it won’t be the last kiss, the last good-bye. And in 2016, for 145 police officers, it was. That was last year’s total for American law enforcement line-of-duty deaths.

Compounding the tragedy: 64 of those deaths were from gunfire, the highest number in five years, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.

Whether the officers are working in large cities or small towns, the dangers are the same. They know it, but the civilian citizenry they are sworn to protect and serve, often forget that.

No community is immune. And a line-of-duty death does not necessarily come during some headline-making SWAT team standoff.  Cops are killed in traffic accidents, or while making some “routinetraffic stop or drug bust, or while responding to a domestic dispute or one of the myriad other assignments they fulfill each day. For those in blue, all of them, nothing is “routine.

One of our favorite websites is the Kearny Police Department Facebook page, from which we have sometimes stolen pertinent commentary (yes, we do expect to be prosecuted for theft someday). Currently, that page contains the following post, citing stats from the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund:

Crime fighting has taken its toll. Since the first recorded police death in 1791, there have been over 20,000 law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty. Currently, there are 21,183 names engraved on the walls of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial.

A total of 1,512 law enforcement officers died in the line of duty during the past 10 years, an average of one death every 63 hours or 151 per year.”

The aforementioned National Memorial is located in Washington, D.C., and this week — National Police Week, May 14-20 it will be the site of numerous ceremonies attended by thousands of police officers, and civilians, from across the nation.

On Saturday night, the week’s commemoration was formally launched with one of the most moving, and spectacular, events held every year: the Candlelight Vigil on the National Mall. During this program, the newly inscribed names of the fallen  are read and formally dedicated. [Editor’s note: If any of the national media cared enough to provide coverage of the vigil, we are not aware of it. However, you can probably find videos/images online. Be prepared for tears.]

National Police Week dates to 1962, when President John F. Kennedy proclaimed May 15 as National Peace Officers Memorial Day (and the week in which May 15 falls as Police Week). That same year, it was approved by a joint resolution of Congress.  

In 1994, President Bill Clinton, through Public Law 103-322, directed that the flag of the United States be flown at half-staff on May 15.

You might assume that, back in 1962, law enforcement was a less lethal career. You would be wrong. According to the Officer Down Memorial Page, www.odmp.org, the number of line-of-duty deaths for the year tallied 144. 

You should check that website for the wealth of information it provides. You not only can search fatalities by year but also learn a bit about who these heroes and heroines were and how they gave their lives in service to you.

They are still giving their lives. According to the National Law Enforcement Memorial Fund, www.nleomf.org, the law enforcement fatality total for 2017 now stands at 49.  

The 49th was Kirkersville, Ohio, Police Chief Steven Eric DiSario, shot dead Friday while responding to a 911 call at a local nursing home.

By the time you read this, the national toll may well have already increased. So, please keep police officers, and their families, in your thoughts and prayers.

And if you happen to see a cop on the street, consider saying, “Thank you.

Karen Zautyk | Observer Correspondent