"It's what they signed up for" - Line of Duty Death

Every time a police officer is killed in the line of duty a piece of a community goes with him or her.  Sometimes it is the newest rookie on the street or the well worn veteran officer that leaves us.  Behind them there are memorials, funeral services, bagpipes played, tears of sadness, laughs from memories, salutes, fly overs, news cameras, and names etched in stone.  

Caskets and honor guards, roses and wreaths, freshly dug earth and granite head stones, 21 gun salutes and mounted officers; all the components of a fallen officer's funeral we know in every minute detail.

Every officer knows that this tour, today's date, their last radio transmission may be their last.  

Every officer knows the cost, but never counts it.  
Every officer knows the price, and is willing to pay it.
Every officer knows the sacrifice, and has already made it when they pinned on the badge.

Most cops have experienced death in one form or another.  Whether a fatal crash, homicide scene, well-being check on an elderly family member or neighbor, we have seen death.  We know what it looks like both in it's beauty of a life having been well lived, and it's ugliness of one that never had the chance to live.  Or on those occasions where we pull up and see ourselves staring back in the eyes of a fallen brother or sister.  We have an intimate knowledge and relationship with death.

Every year in May, thousands of officer's descend on Washington, D.C. for the National Police Week events.  We gather to honor our fallen on May 15th.  We walk the solemn semi-circular path of the National Law Enforcement Officer's Memorial.  The sacred ground which represents every officer whose life was traded in service to their community.  We read the letters written by the children of the fallen, stare at the pictures left by loved ones, and trace our fingers over the names of those we knew once as flesh and blood brothers and sisters.

Every officer, consciously or not, knows that they could be punching the clock for the last time.  That they just punched out on the clock of life.  While no officer wants to died in the line of duty, we all know that it could happen.  For some of our fallen they willingly paid the price on a single call, for other's it took years, perhaps decades.  The police departments, fire and EMS, and their federal partners that rushed into the wreckage that was the Twin Towers in New York City are seeing that cost getting paid now as they are falling from illnesses and cancers they caught as they entered the fray to search for survivors and for our fallen on that tragic day in September 2001.

Every time someone says in person or posts on social media "It's what they signed up for" they do so from ignorance.  Their expectation is that it is a reality for officers.  That every officer in some sick and masochist way has the drive to get killed answering a domestic call or pulling up to a simple traffic crash or stranded motorist.  If that was the case we wouldn't go.  We wouldn't get out of the car or ring the door bell.  

No one signed up to never see their loved ones again.
No one hugs and kisses their spouses and kids expecting that to be their last time to do so.

But we do it with the thought it could be our last.  That the ruffling of a toddler's hair or hug from a spouse might be the last time we get to experience those sensations. 

While I never want my wife to answer the door to my department's leadership and chaplain, I know there could be a day that becomes the reality for her and my family.  That my kids may grow up only retaining the memories of who I was as their father and not who I will be.  That I'm now only seen in photographs and videos.

But when the call comes out, we all willingly go. 

We answer those calls with the idea we are walking into the unknown, and that unknown includes our names being etched into the memorial walls in Washington, D.C..  That our brothers and sisters will don their class A uniforms, wear the white gloves, and salute as Taps is played one time more.  

That the 7 guns will sound off in unison one time more.

That the lone piper will start off Amazing Grace, then joined in it's ghostly chorus as the rest of the bagpipes sound off.

We will be called a hero.  Drinks will be raised in our honor, tearful toasts will be orated, and a lonely, empty spot will be left at the table, both at the parties in our honor and at the dinner table in our homes.

While some may argue police officers killed in the line of duty aren't heroes, that they knew this was a potential outcome for them, that we signed up for it, I strongly disagree.

A hero is someone who can see the ugliness of mankind, the shear heinous acts of one person to another, and still do the right thing and be willing to pay the full price for that right thing.

The names that adorn the Chicago Police Dept Memorial wall, the Illinois memorial wall, and the wall in D.C. did just that.  The cost of the right thing, that full price, was a death deserving that of a hero.  That because of their acts in this world, their death and subsequent memorial, makes them worthy of the life they lived.

While no officer wakes up, puts on the uniform, and goes to work expecting to pay the ultimate sacrifice, we will continue to do it because it is the right thing to do.  Because at the end of the day we don't look in the mirror and see a hero, we see a man or woman, father or mother, husband or wife, friend, counselor, a healer, an intersessor.  We see "what is the right thing?" we can do today.

No heroics, no pomp and circumstance, just the right thing.


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