After dinner I walked back to the LE Memorial and was talking to one of the representatives from the Memorial Fund when we heard a story about common sense and compassion. It seems that one of the surviving family members had been overcome by grief almost immediately upon arriving at the Memorial site itself. There were no plans in place for the contingency of immediately having to transport a survivor back to the hotel but the person was obviously in desperate need of such.
Now, as a cop of over 30 years I can't begin to tell you how many times I've been asked to give a citizen a ride somewhere, sometimes FAR out of my jurisdiction, and had to turn them down. Most of the time, being honest, I was glad to have the excuse to turn them down and sometimes, if they argued and were aggravating enough, the words "It says 'police,' not 'taxi' on the side of this vehicle," came out of my mouth. But here we were in the midst of one of the largest gatherings of professionals in DC and we had an individual who needed our support; our compassion, and our immediate assistance.
Quite unexpectedly, a representative of the Washington Metropolitan Police Department (MPDC) stepped up. Captain Lawrence Harrington, from the Sixth District, approved a patrol officer to transport the survivor back to the hotel - not just a few blocks away... but in the next city over in Virginia. It was an immediate and necessary solution to an unexpected challenge and showed the kind of leadership we all hope to find in our agencies. It also spoke well to the leadership potential within MPDC and several of us were impressed by the Captain's unhesitating decision to do what was necessary to support a survivor. I'd especially like to commend Cpt. Harrington and offer him up the thanks of the entire law enforcement brotherhood. God forbid, but if any member of my family ever needed that kind of support, it's good to know that men (and women) like him are around to help.
Shortly thereafter the Candlelight Vigil began and I was tied up with coordination efforts at our streaming site as well as helping where I could with some information services if the Memorial staff needed any assistance. The Vigil was as moving as always and I was impressed, as I am every year, that no one was burned and no accidents happened as THOUSANDS of people held burning candles to memorialize and remember the fallen officers of 2012 and those of history's past who had escaped notice until now.
After the Vigil a great many officers headed back to Tent City to share their grief, tell bold stories about wild adventures and scary experiences and, in general, recharge their emotional batteries using the energy of the fraternal bond to do so. I started my trek home and finally got in bed at almost one in the morning the 14th. After a 20 hour day on the 13th I thought I'd be exhausted but I had a hard time falling asleep (at first). My mind was full of the day's memories from thinking about people I'd met (from Sidney and Montreal) to new friends I'd made (like Lynette who is NOT from the deep south but sounds like it), to commendable acts of compassion (thank you again, Cpt. Harrington) to seeing the sea of burning candles held by one huge family who supported each other through recognition of loss, expression of grief and the strengthening of the bond that holds us together through the worst of times.
Yes, the day was like that. As I type this I am looking forward to today when the National Fraternal Order of Police will hold the memorial service on the west lawn of the Capitol Building. Tens of thousands of uniformed officers, standing tall in their best, cleanest and most polished ceremonial uniforms, will be on hand for another service that will honor the fallen - and remind the living that the job carries undeniable risk. Part of the reason we're willing to take that risk is because we know that the entire LE family will come together around OUR family should we have to make the ultimate sacrifice. It strengthens our commitment to stand tall as part of that Thin Blue Line that separates our society from the criminal flood that would wash over innocent people should we falter.
THAT is what I'll remember about Police Week 2013: a day filled with experiences like no other, to be found in no other location, with people who made a pilgrimage to honor those who demonstrated the path we all stand prepared to follow, hoping fervently we never have to.