May 13-17 is National Police Week. May 15th is the day set aside annually to honor those who've fallen in the line of duty. According to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial web site, there will be 382 names added to the memorial wall this year, 145 of whom died in 2006.
Recalling those who have fallen has prompted me to think also of those who have served or continue to serve.
Dennis and I went to high school together. We double dated once (he set it up--I may never forgive him for that). When we went our separate ways, I wouldn't have dreamed he'd be a cop. We reconnected a few years back, at which time he was a deputy chief and then moved into the top job in his city. He has since retired and spends part of his time with his wife, roaming the country on their bike. Thankfully, he's not offered another blind date.
Steve and I worked together as radio announcers when I was in college. In our spare time, we looked for women and drank beer. It was 1969. Neither of us was 21. It wasn't until he was killed in a car wreck years later that I read in the hometown paper that Steve had changed careers, switching to law enforcement. He wasn't on duty when he died. I got, and still am, in touch with his mom.
Charlie and Jack regularly visited the radio station where I worked. They would come in for a few minutes early in the morning to drink coffee, joke with the morning DJ and me (the news director) and swap lies. They're just regular guys who did their jobs without fanfare or flourish. Both are now retired.
At the department where I was a volunteer deputy in the late 70s, the sheriff hung a poster noting about 20 different ways to deal nicely with the public during a traffic stop or an investigation. "Deputy Fred" (name changed to protect the guilty) took it down and typed in a No. 21: "Then draw back the hammer and blow the maggot away." These days, that certainly wouldn't be politically correct to have in open view. Back then, the guys thought it hilarious. "Fred" moved on to another department while I went to seminary, and I've lost track of him.
Andy and I got to be friends when he moved to town as the new police chief. His transition from a suburb to country life was bumpy, but he welcomed the chaplains' program and I got to spend time with his family. He's since changed careers.
In dispatch one night, Tom came in from patrol to chat briefly. As he left, the female dispatcher turned to me and said: "I love that man." She felt that way because he was somewhat fatherly toward her and the others, kind, good-natured, a real family man. He's now retired.
Resisting the temptation to go on about the officers with whom I currently serve, mostly because I'd catch it for talking about them, here's the deal.
I've been to classes and read books about how police officers generally fit a certain kind of profile. They tend to be helpers who like to be in control, don't have many (if any) friends outside of law enforcement, are often divorced (perhaps multiple times), tend to drink a lot, and may have a warped sense of humor. The profile may be more noticeable in larger departments; I wouldn't know.
But I do know that not all cops are cut from the same bolt of cloth. While they may share some common characteristics, each is an individual character. In my experience, cops are pretty much normal people who must regularly deal with sometimes strangely abnormal circumstances. I'm guessing that to be true of those whose names are found on the national memorial, whom we especially honor during National Police Week. But we also honor you all.
Thanks. God bless you. And be careful out there.