Every May, we focus on honoring the service and remembering the lives of heroes killed in the line of duty. We begin by gathering in Sacramento for the annual California Peace Officers’ Memorial Ceremony, where the names of the six officers who tragically lost their lives in 2017 will be added to the list of more than 1,500 who have made the ultimate sacrifice since California became a state. This event is a wonderful opportunity for surviving families not only to see their loved ones’ names inscribed on the monument, but also to experience the assembled strength of our law enforcement family as we pay tribute to their sacrifice and let them know it will never be forgotten.
May 12th marks the beginning of National Police Week, when tens of thousands of law enforcement officers, survivors and supporters travel to Washington, D.C., from across the country and around the world for a series of events commemorating the more than 21,000 fallen officers throughout U.S. history whose names are engraved on the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial. In addition, the last Monday in May is Memorial Day, when we honor the members of our military who have given their lives to preserve our way of life. Together, these events remind us that freedom is not free — it is paid for through personal duty and sacrifice, both for the public safety in our neighborhoods and the security of our nation.
If you have never attended the memorial ceremonies in Sacramento or Washington, I highly recommend doing so. Joining together as a profession to mourn the loss of our brothers and sisters is a powerful and cathartic experience. You have the chance to meet officers from around the state, the nation and even the world, allowing you to understand how large and diverse our professional family is — but, at the same time, how much we share in common. In this difficult era for law enforcement, being there for one another is more important than ever, and seeing the outpouring of respect and support from those in attendance is an important reminder that the work we do is deeply appreciated by many.
We experience a lot of tragedy in the course of our jobs. Whether you participate in these memorial events in person or in spirit, this is a time for sober reflection. As we grieve for those we have lost and comfort others who are grieving, we should also remember to take stock of the things that truly matter. As peace officers, this can be an opportunity to review our practices and make sure we’re being as safe as we can be while carrying out our duties. Although the rising numbers of law enforcement deaths by gunfire are of grave concern, the second-highest cause of line-of-duty deaths over the past decade remains car and motorcycle crashes, which together have taken the lives of more than 435 officers since 2008. Even as seat belt use among the general public has risen to an all-time high of about 90%, among public safety officers it is still estimated to be around 50%. Of the 167 officers who died in fatal car crashes between 2011 and 2015, 63 were not wearing seat belts, and nearly half died in single-vehicle incidents. We face so many external threats that are beyond our control, yet there are nearly as many losses that could be preventable if we commit to following simple safety measures and avoiding unnecessary risks. I urge you to wear your seat belt, watch your speed, stay alert and do everything you can to preserve your physical and mental well-being.
Taking care of ourselves and each other is especially important when it seems that society at large is failing to prioritize that. We are contending with a new wave of protests and legislation in Sacramento that once again threaten to compromise our safety and challenge our ability to protect the public. Most dangerous is AB 931, from Assembly Members Shirley Weber and Kevin McCarty. This major legislative proposal seeks to criminalize law enforcement uses of deadly force, eliminating the standard set by the U.S. Supreme Court in Graham v. Connor that force be “reasonable” and requiring instead that it be “necessary” — a subjective term that encourages exactly the kind of second-guessing the Supreme Court rejected. This bill is still in its preliminary stages, but based on the legislators’ initial press conference, we and our allies in law enforcement are deeply concerned. Be sure to read the PORAC News Roundup and Capitol Beat articles in this issue for more details, and follow our social media for the latest updates as we engage in the legislative process to protect our members and the communities we serve.
Please keep our fallen peace officers, their families and all members of the U.S. military in your thoughts and prayers during this month and throughout the year. Stay safe and God bless.