Bad Things Happen To Good Cops

Within the law enforcement community, unlike most other occupations, a unique bond exists among police officers. A strong sense of camaraderie prevails and police officers view themselves as a tight-knit family. Their profession exposes them to high risk and grave danger. Consequently, when a police officer is injured or killed in the line of duty the impact is profound, and its effect strikes to the core of their individuality and their role as police officers. A universal understanding exists among police that they are part of a brotherhood and, when something bad happens to an officer, they feel the concern, pain, sorrow, and grief that penetrate their world. Craig W. Floyd, Chairman and CEO of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund recognizes, "While the number of officers killed in the line of duty has generally declined in recent years, the fact that one officer is killed every two-and-a half days in our country is a sober reminder that protecting our communities and safeguarding our democracy come at a heavy price."

  • In 1998, a gunman killed United States Capitol Police Detective John Gibson and Private First Class Jacob Chestnut, while on duty at the United States Capitol.
  • In August 2003, Montgomery County (MD) Police Officer Kyle Olinger made a routine traffic stop that changed his life. After pulling over a vehicle, he was shot on the scene and was left with a .32 caliber bullet lodged in his spine that resulted in him being paralyzed and in a wheelchair. He was told he would likely never walk again.
  • In June 2005, Prince George's County (MD) Police Corporal Steven Gaughan was shot and killed following a routine traffic stop when he pursued a suspect on foot.
  • In May 2006, Detective Vicky O. Armel and Master Police Officer Michael Garbarino of the Fairfax County (VA) Police Department were shot and killed in the parking lot of Sully station by a heavily armed 18-year-old, Michael Kelly, who subsequently killed himself.

In the above-described incidents, the officers are victims. However, police officers do not like to be labeled with this term. Joseph A. Rollo, Director of Psychological Services for the Prince George's County (MD) Police Department states, "Police abhor the sense of being a victim." He explains the notion of becoming a victim runs contrary to their profession and training that is geared towards taking control. Mr. Rollo says, "Where deadly force is used, we work to restore a sense of control. With police, it is a process that needs to happen more quickly, and it can extend to family members."

Mr. Rollo relates that police are stronger, recognize threats, and are more vigilant. He states, "When something breaks that down, it can be debilitating. They also rely on the notion of brotherhood/sisterhood to provide back up. When there is a threat to that, it challenges the notion they are invulnerable."

Ms. Shirley Gibson, the Immediate Past President of Concerns of Police Survivors (COPS), concurs with Mr. Rollo concerning the fact that officers do not perceive themselves as victims. She states, "When shots are fired, they run towards gunfire--not away from it. Law enforcement is a calling that these men and women answer to and are so committed to that they would never doubt they could be there to take care of a situation." She acknowledges that the badge officers wear was, at one time, looked at as a shield but now is viewed as a target.

Former U. S. Capitol Police Chief and current U. S. Senate Sergeant-at-Arms, Terrance W. Gainer, also understands the critical issues that surround line of duty deaths. He states, "Police officers do not like to admit they are hurting" and he admits, "Nerves are pretty raw." Police chiefs face challenging times. Gainer states the key is having a command environment that permits sharing when an emergency is not taking place. He comments, "It doesn't all magically happen after an incident. It has to be a pattern of practice of the department."

Chief Thomas Manger of the Montgomery County (MD) Police Department notes the three key issues that face a chief following a line of duty death are investigation of the incident, the pain and emotions the officers are experiencing, and dealing with the family. He acknowledges, "It is an overwhelming task. I'm convinced that until you go through it, you can't predict how difficult it's going to be." He advises police chiefs that if they have to deal with a line of duty death, it is imperative they clear their calendar because there is nothing more important than dealing with that officer. He states, "Focus on the police department, the officer, and the family. It's a 24-hour day while it's going on." Manger understands that the circumstances may not be as drastic when an officer is injured rather than killed.

Sergeant-at-Arms Gainer recognizes the need to stay connected to survivors and family members following line of duty deaths. During his tenure as Chief of the U. S. Capitol Police, Gainer maintained contact with the family survivors of the officers who were killed there in 1998, and he provided them ongoing support. The department holds a private ceremony on the date and at the spot where the officers were killed.

During National Police Week, May 13-19, 2007, special tribute is being paid to 382 fallen law enforcement officers whose names are being added to the walls of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial and include 145 law enforcement officers who were killed in the line of duty during 2006. The total number of names engraved on the walls of the Memorial now totals 17,917.

National Police Week is a time to remember the fallen officers who heroically dedicated their lives for the protection and safety of communities nationwide. As they are saluted for their monumental sacrifice and support to their families is provided, perhaps the words of Prince George's County Maryland State's Attorney Glenn F. Ivey should resound, "Police and law enforcement officers respond to dangerous situations when others retreat from them. We owe them our gratitude and respect. Each time a police officer is injured or killed we, as prosecutors, feel as if a family member has been harmed. It brings a continued sense of appreciation for what law enforcement encounters everyday. They are not only our colleagues but also are friends."