Over the years, I have tried to find the words to fully describe the Police Week experience to a cop who has never been there. Words always seem to fail me. I have compared it to having my wife use words to describe the childbirth experience. It just won't work.
This year, it seemed that a light came on in my head. This year, I recognized that the Police Week experience is how cops grieve. It is very comparable to what an agency experiences when they lose an officer in a line-of-duty death -- except on a much larger scale.
I cut my teeth in law enforcement in the Detroit area. Unfortunately, going to a cop funeral was not a rare experience. It seemed that this experience always went the same way. There would be a funeral home visitation where coppers would show up in uniform to pay their respects. From that location, they would travel to the nearby FOP hall where they knew other cops would be gathered. The found solace by just being together.
In many instances, the gathering goes on for days starting at the time of the officer's death and running continuously until well after the funeral is over.
After the funeral, with all of the honor guards, pomp and circumstance again, cops would gather at the FOP hall. There was food, drink, conversation, and simply: time together. It is that process where cops learn to grieve and heal from the wounds thrust upon them in their collective loss.
Cops do exactly the same things at Police Week. There are ceremonies of every kind interspersed with time of just being together. It really doesn't matter what we are doing, so long as we are together. It is truly a healing process.
This year, I invited two pals from South Florida to join me on the trek to D.C. I was truly pleased that they chose to attend. They are deputies from a large sheriff’s office in my area. I offered to show them the ropes. I wanted to do what I could to make their first experience as good as mine had been some years ago. I was given the treat of watching their reaction as this phenomenon called Police Week unfolded before their eyes.
Their reactions were nearly identical to every other cop at his first Police Week experience: they were awed, emotionally overwhelmed, their spirits were bolstered in the fellowship of other cops, and they had a firm determination to return in future years. One of my compatriots literally began crying when he first saw The Wall. It was more profound than he had ever expected.
We stood and watched as the thousands of coppers in the Police Unity Tour arrived. We saw various honor guards from agencies across our land keeping watch at the Memorial 24x7 for the entire time. I took them to the NLEOMF visitor's center so they could get some souvenirs. Not to be forgotten is the FOP Beer Tent with literally dozens of tents, vendors and thousands of cop goodies from nearly everywhere. Of course, there was the beer, too (wink).
Finally, a must-see on the Washington tour is the Irish Channel and Kelly's Bar. Those are places where you can meet someone one minute and it becomes a life-long friendship in our Brotherhood forevermore.
I pointed out the large blue placards/badges that are worn by the survivors - the families who had lost an officer. Those badges were suspended from their necks on a lanyard. At the bottom of the badge was the year of the officer’s End of Watch. I encouraged my newbies to look for badges displaying 2008 as the year. Approach those folks, offer condolences and ask if there is anything you can do for them. It means so very much to those family members.
I want to paint a word-picture. There are about 25,000 cops standing shoulder-to-shoulder in every conceivable nook and cranny of the Memorial. The Memorial itself is comprised of two segments of marble wall with the names of 18,661 fallen officers etched into its surface. Between the two wall segments is a reasonably large open space that contains a reflecting pool. The grounds are lined with immaculately manicured trees and other plantings.