What's a Cop's Life Worth?

Learning of the minimum mandatory life sentence for the killing of a cop, a young recruit asks why his life should be valued more than his wife's, or any other citizen's.

"Why should a police officer's life count more? I have a wife. I don't think my life should be valued any more than hers."

I paused to collect my thoughts. I looked outside the window, then into my heart. I looked at the sincere, young man who'd asked the question. I struggled - struggled to swallow; struggled with the band around my chest; struggled with the stinging in my eyes that threatened to brim over. How could I explain to him? I tried.

I understand that you feel that way. But we, the public, don't.

Yesterday, one of the village members of Hoonah who spoke at the memorial admitted that she didn't know Officers Wallace and Tokuoka. But she said she mourned anyway. She mourned the loss of her sense of security. She said she felt assaulted - more vulnerable, less safe.

We all feel that way. Because we are reminded that you willingly place yourself between us and harm. That you are prepared every day to show the greatest love of all. John, chapter 15, verse 13 - "Greater love hath no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." You stand prepared to do that for total strangers.

We value that. Not enough on a daily basis. But on the occasions we are reminded, we line highways, we travel far distances, we fill gymnasiums, we erect monuments and memorials - all to pay our respect.

If I were killed in my line of work, there would be no sense of public loss. I do not intend to place myself in harm's way to protect citizens I may not even know. You do. My work does not hold the potential of the ultimate sacrifice. Yours does. We value you and your work with the only means we know how, knowing we can never give equal measure to what you give.

I'd lost my struggle against the tears. It seemed like a good time to take a 10-minute break. When we returned, we soldiered on - something these recruits were poignantly learning to do. I strived to be worthy of them.

My husband, seeing my tears as I worked on this article, sat down to talk. He's a retired judge. It's a profession that invites dispassion and detached, reasoned decision-making. He opined that the higher sentence was for greater deterrence of any threat to the public's safety.

That may be true as a matter of public policy, but not public passion. It may help explain the minimum mandatory sentence for the homicide of a police officer, but it's not what filled a gymnasium to overflowing in a remote village in Alaska.

We place special value on those who intend to go in harm's way to protect us; who go to work each day prepared to show the greatest love of all. It is a fierce lesson for a class of recruits. As they go forth, and I remain behind in their shadow, I fervently wish them and each of their fellow peace officers nation-wide and beyond - Godspeed.

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