May 15: “Pray for the Dead and Fight Like Hell for the Living”

CC is reprinting its own posts.  Lazy, maybe.  But it makes the point that the situation remains the same and we can’t say it any better.

May 15 is National Police Memorial Day.  It is a day to pause at some point and remember the 19,000 men and women who have made the supreme sacrifice in  the line of duty since the nation first kept a record, in 1791.

The examples of Police Officer Max Dorley and Sergeant Tim Chapin capture the whole big, tragic story.

Last month, Providence, RI Police Officer Max Dorley was killed in a single-vehicle crash while responding to a call. Officer Dorley is the 13th law enforcement officer to be killed in a traffic-related incident in 2012. (National Police Memorial Foundation)

In 2011 Sgt. Tim Chapin died in an incident sadly similar to the one in which Chief  Michael Maloney lost his life in Greenland, NH this year. Sgt. Chapin, a veteran Chattanooga, TN police supervisor nearing retirement, “rushed to provide backup to officers who had responded to reports of a robbery outside a pawnshop and were under fire. Sergeant Chapin got out of his car and chased the fleeing suspect, who had been convicted of armed robbery. During the pursuit, the sergeant was fatally shot in the head.” (NY Times)

On May 15 and throughout Police Memorial Week we pray and remember.  We summon our finest words and often quote the greatest eulogies from the classics.  Many will summon to service the greatest speech of any kind in our history, “The Gettysburg Address.”  We do this because these officers and their families deserve at the least our finest and most powerful words. But even these honors do no justice to the sacrifice.  What words truly add meaning to the feelings of a child at his mother’s or father’s graveside?

Despite the inadequacy of words, I did think of a quote worth using.  It’s the exhortation from Mary Harris “Mother” Jones, the great labor organizer of the 19th and early 20th centuries who was born in County Cork, Ireland.

“Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living.”

The true measure of our love and our dedication to their memories is what we are willing to do for their brothers and sisters who still go out night and day, willing at a second’s notice to risk everything for their communities.  The real worth of our devotion is measured in what we are willing to do with the less obvious but no less deadly threats that stalk our personnel across a career: the emotional, physiological and psychic wounds received week in and week out in a calling dedicated to helping others in their worst and most wrenching moments.  Dr. Kevin Gilmartin has been calling our attention to this question for nearly 20 years.  Let’s honor our fallen by investing in developing and using this critical line of research and analysis.

Here are some weapons we might use in the “fight:”

  • Let’s re-dedicate ourselves to making ever safer the communities these men and women died protecting, creating a criminal justice process that is fair, just and smart.  May it someday be a true system of justice that incapacitates  the right people — and not just a lot of people.
  • A rigorous and continuous analysis of the circumstances in which police are getting killed.  The big categories are automobile crashes and shootings.  Let’s put our heads together.
  • Continuous investment in training based on the what we learn from the research.
  • Continuous investments in new information and defensive technology that better protect our police.
  • A new investment in the health and emotional and psychological well-being of our personnel.  In 2008, as many officers died by suicide — 141– as died in the line of duty.

An analysis co-authored by Dr. John Violanti looked at 2008 data and found,  “We established that 141 police suicides occurred during 2008.  This figure is, not surprisingly, in concert with CDC/NOMS data, current research, and comparisons with groups such as the United States Army.

Highlights that you will find included in the study include:

  •  Ages 35 – 39 are at highest risk of suicide.
  • Service time at highest risk was 10 – 14 years.
  • 64% of suicides were ‘a surprise.'”*

Relinquunt Ommia Servare Rem Publicam.

They gave up all to serve the public thing.

Gratias ago.

*Published in the International Journal of Emergency Mental Health Journal of Emergency Mental Health (O’Hara AF, Violanti JM. 2009; 11(1): 17-23) 

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About stephenomeara

My name is Jim Jordan. I have had the privilege of working with the Boston Police Department and hundreds more departments over my nearly 30-year career in police administration and city government. I am now teaching and consulting independently at www.sergeantsleadership.org. I have learned the best of what I know from the thousands of smart, dedicated and ethical police personnel and scholars who have guided me along the way. My address is named for the great Reform commissioner of the Boston Police at the turn of the 20th century. Commissioner O'Meara died just a short while before the Strike in 1919. He was replaced by a vicious puppet (of Gov. Coolidge) named Edwin U. Curtis. Had O'Meara lived events may have turned out quite differently.
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