A law enforcement family faced with an extraordinary set of circumstances is behind the first pro-sports Law Enforcement Appreciation Day in Colorado, scheduled for Sunday, May 6.
“The game is not just to honor officers but the family unit,” said Elisa Santos, an officer’s wife who is organizing the event as a volunteer for the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (NLEOMF). The game is set to precede the launch of National Police Week in Washington, D.C. on May 13.
The NLEOMF started relationships with pro-sports teams because officers and their families sacrifice so much, Santos said, and more effort is needed to help these families cope and stay intact. The games provide a way for communities to honor LE families, and also to increase public awareness and respect for officers.
Too often, Santos said, families are left out of the loop, while officers rely on each other for support during tragedies and in the challenges of daily life.
“They all mourn together and spouses are left dangling, and have to hold it all together at home,” she said.
These experiences, as well as a fateful visit to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial wall, are what prompted Santos’ journey to advocate for officers and their families.
A fateful visit to the wall
It was April 2007 and Santos and her husband, 15-year Colorado Springs, CO Police Department Officer Sid Santos, were in D.C. because their 5 year-old daughter Tea had just undergone brain surgery at Children's National Medical Center. They had just been through an emotional roller coaster at the hospital for a week and a half, and still had a long road ahead facing other health complications for both Tea and their one year-old son Miguel.
When Tea was released from the hospital early, the Santos’ found themselves with an unexpected free day to spend in the city, and chose to see the wall.
At that time, their home of Colorado Springs had recently been through two line-of-duty-deaths within nine months, after a span of more than 20 years with none. Sid had been in the motorcades for both.
As they arrived at the wall, they saw that etching was being done prior to National Police Week. The engravers had already completed 43 new panels of four names each, but at that particular moment, they had up the template including one of the Colorado Springs officers the Santos’ had come to remember, Detective Jared Jensen.
As their tears fell, the engravers allowed them to touch the template and to be the first to outline the completed engravings.
They then had the opportunity to watch the engraving of Officer Ken Jordan's name, their second local officer.
It felt like more than a coincidence that on such an impromptu visit, to a wall of over 19,000 names, they would get to witness the engravings for those officers in their hearts at that very time.
“That day we had already lived through life and death with our daughter, and then to face that… we just could not believe what had happened,” Santos said.
“I was not put there at that moment for me to do nothing,” she said. “If you don’t consider that a sign, what would you?”
Santos called the NLEOMF and offered her services, and was asked to research “cold case” submissions to the memorial wall. With the help of town historians and librarians, she was able to confirm two officers’ deaths as lodds that had occurred in the 1890s and 1920s.
“In December 2010 I got a letter from the wall that both officers were going to be added,” she said. “I was very honored.
“They didn’t have families but somebody submitted their names and now they’re in their rightful spot,” she said.
Santos went on to further serve the NLEOMF as a “Guardian,” the organization’s title for volunteers who are not sworn officers, which most recently led to plans for Colorado’s first Law Enforcement Appreciation Day game on May 6.