Honoring Those Who Serve: The Past and Future of Police Week
Serving as a police officer has always been dangerous, but it is especially dangerous today. According to the Officer Down Memorial Page, there were 618 line of duty deaths in 2021, representing a nearly 50% increase in fatalities from the previous year. US traffic deaths hit a 16-year high in 2021 with almost 43,000 Americans killed on the road. Traffic and vehicular deaths also plague the law enforcement community. The first quarter of 2022 has already seen a 17% increase in traffic-related fatalities from 2021 for police officers. The dangers facing police officers have never been higher. That is why now more than ever it is important to honor and celebrate those who serve.
The Last Watch
“Whereas the police officers of America have worked devotedly and selflessly on behalf of the people of this Nation, regardless of the peril or hazard to themselves…” reads Joint Resolution 76, which authorized President Kennedy to designate May 15th as Peace Officers Memorial Day.
In 1962, National Police Week was established to commemorate the valor and sacrifice of law enforcement. In 1991, the National Law Enforcement Memorial in Washington, DC was officially declared. Since then, more than 23,000 names have been carved on the 300-foot wall. Each name represents a police officer who died in the time of duty. In 1994, President Bill Clinton directed the United States flag be flown at half-staff on May 15th in honor of their sacrifice.
National Police Week has always been a solemn occasion, but it is also one to celebrate the lives of those who have served and the future of policing.
Hope for the Future
It is time to make it safer for those who serve. The American Rescue Plan authorized $350 billion that cities, States, counties, and tribes can use to hire more law enforcement officers and invest in proven strategies that curb violence. The Department of Justice’s Valor Initiative leads an effort to improve the safety and wellness for law enforcement by providing training and other resources.
While not every danger is under their control, there are a number of steps that police departments can take to mitigate fatalities. Implementing driver simulation programs and the Below 100 Training Program can help reduce traffic-related fatalities. Mental health resources provided by the Department of Justice can help prevent officer suicide.
Police week will always be an occasion to honor the service and sacrifice of those who serve. However, in time, with civilians and police officers working together, there will hopefully be fewer and fewer names to carve on the memorial wall.