I finally had a moment to write this month’s message, but not before having the opportunity to experience National Police Week in Washington, D.C. Having never been, I didn’t know what to expect. I was strangely anxious, yet excited to make the journey back to commemorate the solemn week of tribute to our country’s fallen law enforcement officers. I joined President Mike Durant for this trip, our activities carefully mapped out and directed with the assistance of Tami McMillan and Concerns of Police Survivors (COPS).
National Police Week, put into the context of the Washington, D.C., establishment, could be nothing more than just another national conference of a group from somewhere to do something important. But below that seemingly cold level of bureaucracy of our nation’s capital, there’s a group of people that make this event warm and welcoming. Craig Floyd and the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (NLEOMF) were great hosts at several different events that we went to, culminating with the candlelight vigil at the memorial site. I have never seen as many police officers, sheriff’s deputies and highway patrolmen in one place, ever! As the candles were lit, stillness instantly spread throughout the crowd filling Judiciary Square. Thousands of people were quiet, reflecting on our profession’s sacrifice for its nation. As the names were read, I was humbled by everyone standing shoulder to shoulder … vulnerable, yet solid. A blue line, a blue wall — at that moment, it was only four bronze lions that were watching our backs.
Tami McMillan, as I mentioned, plus National COPS President Madeline Neumann and the group’s Executive Director Dianne Bernhard genuinely appreciated our involvement, both as sponsors and attendees. The COPS staff was incredibly helpful, going out of their way most of the time to make sure that my first experience there was educational and fun. The logistics to put on a conference like this are nothing short of amazing. Training classes and plenary sessions are available to help every affected survivor. Signs and volunteers are in abundance, ensuring that no one gets lost in the host hotel. And while you would expect the mood to be somber, it was anything but. In any corner of the room, a range of emotions were present: crying, laughter, sadness…healing.
No one ever found themselves alone, either. At one point, a surviving wife emerged from a room and darted past me. Her face was buried in her hands and she was choking back tears as she quickly disappeared around a corner. A few moments later I found her just outside the hotel, having surrendered to her grief. Other survivors came together around her, clasping her hand, patting her back and consoling her. Instantly, one became three. Three became five. It was one of the most moving moments of my trip. And whenever I found myself standing alone, it was never destined to stay that way for long. I met survivors from across the country. One of those survivors, a mother whose son was killed in the line of duty in Georgia in 2013, had moved to California a decade prior. She found me sitting on a bench in front of the hotel, noticing on my name badge that I was from California. She had such a story to tell. I was surprised to learn that for her, this year it was much more difficult to be at National Police Week than the first year (2014), when her son was memorialized. She told of her grieving, but that she was overwhelmed by the comfort she felt in being around people who had been through the same tragedy as hers. She told me that she believed she had a duty to be there for those who were there for their first visit; service that she knows will help her heal and never forget.
My first National Police Week experience is one that I will also not forget. Several times throughout the week, I found myself wondering why it had taken so long for me to make it back to participate in such a significant moment. You don’t need to have lost an officer or known an officer to give you a reason to go. You just need to know that what we do matters, and have the desire to honor, respect and remember those who came before us. May God bless what you do and always keep you safe.