By (Retired) Lt. Col. MARK LESLIE
FORT POLK, La. — In 1962, President John F. Kennedy signed a proclamation designating May 15 as Peace Officers Memorial Day and the week in which that date falls as Police Week. It is a tribute meant to highlight the daily sacrifices of the U.S. law Enforcement community.
According to the Officer Down Memorial Page, in 2019 there were 146 line-of-duty deaths in the United States. That is almost five times the troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, during the same time frame.
While neither profession promises safety, and both center on service and sacrifice, the chance of a police officer “ending his watch” in the line of duty, on any given shift, is significantly higher than that of a deployed Soldier. Adding to that, peace officers are more likely to be killed by someone from the group that he or she swore to serve and protect, making another sobering statistic.
In 2018, there were only 686,665 full time law-enforcement officers in the United States, including all states and territories. That rather small number is the line keeping our country a civilized nation of laws, guided by Constitutional freedoms.
That is a large order for a small-numbered profession, under heavy media and public scrutiny for every action executed in service. The nation asks a lot of a single officer in complex, chaotic and ambiguous situations that take a lot of brains and, sometimes, brawn.
It doesn’t look like the job is getting any safer. COVID-19 made an already hazardous profession even more dangerous. Nationwide, 72 officers have already been killed in the line of duty in 2020; 24 of them by COVID-19.
While many cannot go to work due to COVID-19, police officers don’t have that option during this crisis — or any crisis for that matter. They can’t telework, and we wouldn’t want them to. When we call the police, it is usually when something is at it’s worst, and only the men or women in blue can help.
The national police week event, held every year in Washington, D.C, was unfortunately cancelled this year in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Fort Polk Commanding General’s Annual Police Appreciation Breakfast was likewise cancelled. That does not mean residents cannot take time to reflect on how fortunate they are to live in a country where the law is still the foundation of law enforcement. Most Army Families have been in places, throughout their careers, where that foundation of law was not the case.
Fort Polk residents are fortunate to have a law enforcement division in the Directorate of Emergency Services that is recognized, Army wide, for setting on-post policing standards. They are equally fortunate to have law enforcement partners outside the gates that have a special relationship with Fort Polk, founded on mutual trust and respect.
Despite ceremony cancellations, Soldiers and their Families can still take the time to express their heart-felt gratitude. Say thanks to the men and women that put on a badge and gun every day, write a letter to the local department where you live or drop a note via social media.