Several years ago, there was a fine young officer killed in the line of duty in my state. Who this lad was is not the point of the article. The point of this came to me as a revelation during the aftermath. A fellow academy classmate of the officer worked for me. He was devastated and rightfully so. My officer was requested to serve as my departmental representative to attend the wake and funeral; he wanted this task.
Upon his return from the funeral, he came to ask me some questions. Why certain ceremony, pomp and circumstance was performed at the funeral; where did these actions originate from? Now, having been on a large department, having had to attend far too many similar events, these are second nature to me. For one, coming from a large department with its own academy we had the luxury back then to be trained in many things far from the standard academy curriculum. I was so fortunate to have had a class in police traditions, why we do and say what we do during times of tragedy. My class also had a spouse/family class about the perils of police work, what to expect and they too were given an overview of police traditions. So, for my generation of officers, we were prepared for and know the significance of our traditions at these somber times.
After a long chat with my young officer and a mini-block of instruction of police traditions he was somewhat relieved. The events he observed had more meaning and significance, but had I done my duty to my entire staff? Here is my immediate remedy and here are some suggestions. Prior to every Police Memorial Week I send my staff an email with a brief explanation of our police traditions. If they attend a memorial service, they will be refreshed in the history and facts. I also go to the various websites that have the statistical data regarding Police Memorial Week. I add the website links to it for their individual research and reflections.
Now my suggestion to all leaders: ensure that your current staff is fully introduced to our professional traditions. I hope I never hear of an officer wearing a mourning bar because he was ordered to do so and not know why. Lobby your academy or your state P.O.S.T. to include a block of instruction for the cadets. I will be the first to defend the academy for they have had so many new demands placed on them recently. There are a limited amount of student contact hours; if you add one then another topic is removed or shortened. I have seen academy curriculums swell over the years. This is a dilemma for another article.
I strongly recommend that the Field Training Officers (FTOs) give their insights to this as well. While you are driving about on patrol, take the recruit by the police memorial; go by the scene of where an officer had a critical incident and drive on the point. If something happens we don't want to even fathom, there will be those who will be there for you and never forget you.
Additionally, speak to your family about the traditions should they have to attend. Offer them a brief overview of the riderless horse, 21 gun salutes, folding of the flag, the mourning bar, the bagpipes and Amazing Grace. Our traditions run deep into our psyche and DNA and we must pass them on so we know how to respect our profession and each other. Finally, train hard to keep the numbers down. Train your staff so they will know and respect our fallen. We are loosing far too many of our finest law enforcement officers; keep the wall bear. Keep your officers tactically and technically trained.
This article in honor of Ptl Mark A. MacPhail, Sr. Savannah PD (GA)
EOW: 19 Aug 1989 Panel 30-W-18