As an orphan, I’ve always gotten by with help from friends — and that includes my brothers in blue. On Thanksgiving morning, I awoke at about 5:30 a.m. to news that yet another police officer had been shot and killed overnight. A dark cloud will forever be hanging over future Thanksgivings for the family and loved ones of Officer Wayne Scott, a Wayne State University canine officer — all because of the craven act of a coward.
Waiting until 7:00 a.m., I then began contacting some friends who I knew would be responsive despite the fact that it was early Thanksgiving morning. I asked them all the same question: I asked them for their reflections on the lives of law enforcement officers, considering the fact that five officers have been shot in the last week.
“It’s imperative that cops remain vigilant. Domestically, police are our first line of defense.”
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I heard first from Tom Verni, a retired New York Police Department detective with nearly 25 years of law enforcement experience. He currently acts as a law enforcement consultant and trainer on a part-time basis with Blue Courage. He told me, “I, like many who support law enforcement, are cringing every day when tuning into the news — whether it be radio, TV, or internet — in the hopes I do not hear about yet another case of a police officer being slain somewhere in our country.”
Verni added, “Lately, it seems like it is becoming a daily occurrence, with one tragic story after another. Having dealt with a criminal element for many years, I understand why some criminals do what they do, but I will never fully understand what brings a human to get to the point where they feel a justification for killing another human, particularly a police officer.”
Eamon Moriarty Clifford is a former police officer with the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington, D.C., and was able to place those comments into a relatable context. “When my friend and officer Jason White was killed and his partner shot in a sneak attack in 1993, we all found ourselves asking why and looking for trends.”
After Officer White was killed, said Clifford, several more officers were shot in the coming weeks and months across the city. “One cop gets shot and killed, more cops will be shot — and that’s the trend,” said Clifford.
The numbers bear out his words. Examining the statistics related to the 20,267 names on the wall of the National Law Enforcement Memorial, one quickly realizes that law enforcement officers are killed in approximately the same proportion as their numbers in the law enforcement community. For example, about 12 percent of the law enforcement community are women — and about that same percentage is memorialized on the wall.
This is why, “in the wake of the five recent shooting deaths of police officers nationally, it’s imperative that cops remain vigilant,” said Darrin Porcher, a retired lieutenant from the New York City Police Department and currently a professor of criminal justice at Pace University. “Domestically, police are our first line of defense.”
He added that “an attack on police represents an attack on our democratic society. Our country is in mourning, but citizens can assist by reporting suspicious behavior to law enforcement. Ultimately, citizens are the key intelligence component for police, so let’s all work together to prevent cop killings moving forward.”
Life in law enforcement is more than just a job for me and for the vast majority of people involved. Law enforcement is a calling — a vocation. It is not for everyone. However, that remains true of most careers, and people lose sight of that fact when talking about police.
“The best of law enforcement officers in this country remind us that there are some things worth living and dying for.”
Ian Castaneira, a Pennsylvania State University constable, said, “Law enforcement is a difficult job, but most law enforcement officers are thankful to be doing the job. Not every job has such a sense of true purpose. Getting home every day is a blessing, and I pray for safety before I go out. I give a prayer of thanksgiving when I get home at the end of a day.”
Known to over 20,000 Twitter followers as Grizzly Joe (he doesn’t use his real name to protect his family), a retired law enforcement officer had this to say: “Law enforcement officers and their families accept that they — more than not — will be unable to spend the holidays with their families. Sadly, the families and friends of the officers killed this week will never get another second with their loved ones, and their absences are magnified on holidays. We must all show our love to their families through the shocking ‘initial’ loss and the ‘new normal’ of their lives without their loved one.”
While so many of us ate, watched football, and imbibed with family and friends on Thanksgiving Day this year, some thinking only of their Black Friday shopping sprees, there are those in mourning for genuine tragedies — the loss of people who endeavored only to help strangers.
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Toward the end of my conversation with Clifford, formerly of the Washington, D.C., police force, he told me, “Thanksgiving and the Christmas season remind us that we need to be thankful for the sacrifice law enforcement officers make. The best of law enforcement officers in this country remind us that there are some things worth living and dying for.”
Council Nedd, Ph.D., is a Pennsylvania State constable and an Anglican bishop living near Penn State University in State College, Pennsylvania. Follow his musings on law enforcement, faith, and politics on Twitter @BishopNedd.