On May 15, 2019, the 38th Annual National Peace Officer’s Memorial Service will be held on the West Front of the Capitol Building. This year, 371 officers will be added to the Law Enforcement Officer’s Memorial, including the 158 officers killed in the line of duty in 2018. Every year on this day, I pause and reflect on the sacrifice of our officers across the country. I have previously discussed the need to be aware that while we engage in a dialogue regarding the adverse actions of some in law enforcement, we should offer support and awe for those who serve on a daily basis, especially those who give their lives to protect our homeland.
A Fallen Friend
This year, it is a bit different for me, as one of the 158 names inscribed on the wall will be my friend, Paul Bauer. This is an honor that no cop desires – ever. My friend was in a “safe” job – he was a commander in a district with relatively little crime. He was coming back from a meeting with government officials, part of the boring routine of the day of a command officer. While returning to the office, he monitored a call about a suspect being sought, a daytime call in a busy downtown area. He observed this individual, and doing what any cop would do, helped the other officers already in pursuit. He followed the suspect down a stairwell and never walked out.
I stood there in the emergency room that day, with dozens of other officers, family and friends. Not one of us could do anything. We listened to the crying, saw those dealing with their issues and tried to comfort those who needed it – but really, what is the comfort? A husband, father, son, brother and friend was gone. No one there that day could answer the why of what happened – why now, why here, why him. We helped place him in the ambulance and drove with him in a procession to the morgue, a show of honor and a reflection officers’ need to “do” something. Then, we left him there – the final acceptance that nothing could be done.
A Family in Mourning
When a police officer is killed in the line of duty, the family must decide how to bury their loved one and account for the demands of protocol. To lose someone that violently and quickly and within the public eye compounds the challenge of dealing with the unimaginable. In the days to follow, his wife, daughter and family soldiered on through a massive outpouring, which I assume was both comforting and overwhelming.
Days of meetings, calls, wake, funeral and burial required a lot of their attention. Their grief was not private. People stood in line for hours to pay their respects, and his family – wife, daughter, sisters, parents and in-laws – stood for hours greeting those who did not know him but sought to reach out and provide the support they could offer. The strength of his wife and daughter that day, and in the days and now months to follow, was and remains incredible.
A Day to Remember
In 2018, the Chicago Police Department (CPD) lost three other officers in the line of duty. Their names will also be entered onto the memorial this year. Each of those deaths brought my friend’s name back into the public eye and he became part of a very dark and challenging year for members of the CPD. With each death, the loss became greater among a web of family, friends and those touched by the officers. All four families will be on the lawn of the Capitol Building and reliving their pain — in the public, under protocol —but hopefully finding support in the presence of those who are there to honor their loved ones.
We tend to think of officers as monolithic – often defined as one group with shared, similar characteristics. This is not the case. And on May 15 and beyond, I ask that you think of that officer you will encounter next as a person – one who struggles as you do but is tasked with a formidable responsibility. Soon the nation will honor the 371 officers who will never respond to another call for service – each doing a job that while often routine, in the blink of an eye demanded the ultimate sacrifice. Each of those officers left so many forever altered by their absence,
A Time for Compassion
Our work in police reform is rooted in the belief and knowledge that most officers go to work daily and try to do the right thing. But given the irrationality of human behavior, that is not always easy and does not always translate into the outcome we intend and expect – as a society and as individual officers and their respective families. This is why policing is such a pivotal issue and why police reform is challenging work.
However, just as we ask the police to recognize the individuality of the people they encounter, the public must accept that, at our core, we are all part of humanity. We – the police and community – neither stand distinct or apart from one another: we stand together. Commander Bauer, Officer Jimenez, Officer Marmolejo, Officer Gary and Officer Karr are proof of those ties.