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Back to Archives | Back to May 2007 Contents 

National Peace Officers Memorial Day

ommunities across North America have built memorials to honor peace officers who have died or become disabled in the line of duty. Each year during Police Week, departments hold open houses, conduct tours of their facilities, and hold community activities to celebrate police officers and their duties. May 15 has been designated National Peace Officers Memorial Day, and most local communities hold a memorial service in remembrance of police officers who have made the supreme sacrifice for their communities.

Public Law 87-726: On October 1, 1962, U.S. president John F. Kennedy signed into public law a joint resolution of the 87th Congress designating May 15 as Peace Officers Memorial Day in honor of federal, state, and municipal peace officers who have been killed or disabled in the line of duty. Each year, the calendar week in which May 15 falls is called Police Week.

Public Law 103-322: In 1994, U.S. president William J. Clinton signed into public law a joint resolution of the 103rd Congress directing that the flag of the United States be flown at half-mast on all government buildings on May 15.

Flying the national colors at half-mast on National Peace Officers Memorial Day honors police officers who died in service to the community and the country. Unfortunately, observations suggest that many local governments and business communities are unaware of the authorization to lower the national flag to half-mast on May 15 of each year; local police executives can overcome this lack of awareness with an educational effort.

Most local communities incorporate a resolution into their municipal code designating days that flags will be flown at half-mast. Once local governments have identified the appropriate days, businesses and others tend to follow suit. Police executives are encouraged to ensure that May 15 is observed in the local jurisdiction’s ordinances and to conduct a local campaign to inform local businesses of this observance.

National Observance

The 19th Annual Candlelight Vigil will be held at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, D.C., on Sunday, May 13, 2007. Sponsored by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (NLEOMF), the event will begin at 8:00 p.m. at the memorial grounds, located at Judiciary Square. A reading of the names newly engraved on the memorial will immediately follow the ceremony. The following list outlines events falling in and around Police Week:

At the same time as the national events at the U.S. Capitol, local communities throughout the United States will hold ceremonies honoring the fallen officers.

Public Safety Officers’ Benefits

Enacted in 1976, the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits (PSOB) Act (codified at 42 U.S.C. 3796 et seq.) provides death benefits in the form of a one-time payment to the eligible survivors of public safety officers whose deaths are the direct and proximate result of a traumatic injury sustained in the line of duty. As of October 1, 2006, the benefit amount totals $295,194. Since October 15, 1988, the benefit has been adjusted each year on October 1 to reflect the percentage of change in the Consumer Price Index. For each death and disability claim, the award amount is determined solely by the actual date of the officer’s death or disability.

The PSOB program also provides disability benefits for public safety officers who have been permanently and totally disabled by a catastrophic personal injury sustained in the line of duty if that injury permanently prevents the officer from performing any substantial and gainful work. Medical retirement resulting from a line-of-duty disability does not in itself establish eligibility for PSOB.

Along with the PSOB program is a benefit established by the Public Safety Officers’ Educational Assistance (PSOEA) Act, which provides financial assistance for higher education for the spouses and children of federal, state, and local public safety officers who have been permanently disabled or killed in the line of duty. Educational assistance through the PSOEA program is available to the spouse or children of a public safety officer only after the PSOB death or disability claim process has been completed and benefits have been awarded. PSOEA assistance may be used to defray relevant expenses, including tuition and fees, room and board, books, supplies, and other education-related costs. As of October 1, 2005, the maximum award for a full-time student is $827 per month of class attendance. By law, all PSOEA awards must be reduced by the amount of other governmental assistance that a student is eligible to receive.

Law Enforcement Officers Killed in the Line of Duty, 1997-2006
As defined by Congress in Public Law 90-351 (Section 1217), a public safety officer is an individual serving a public agency in an official capacity, with or without compensation, as a law enforcement officer, firefighter, or member of a rescue squad or ambulance crew. In October 2000, Public Law 106-390 (Section 305) designated employees of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) as public safety officers under the PSOB Act if they were performing official, hazardous duties related to a declared major disaster or emergency. The legislation also indicated that state, local, or tribal emergency management or civil-defense agency employees working in cooperation with FEMA are, under the same circumstances, considered public safety officers under the PSOB Act. Retroactive to September 11, 2001, chaplains are included in the PSOB Act definition of a public safety officer as well.

The PSOB office works with national-level police and firefighter groups to provide visibility for and emotional support to this unique constituency. Concerns of Police Survivors (COPS) provides services and assistance for families and coworkers of fallen law enforcement officers during Police Week. They also provide regional training sessions and several special seminars and programs for spouses, siblings, and children of slain officers. The National Fallen Firefighters Foundation provides peer counseling, training, and technical assistance for the families and coworkers of firefighters killed in the line of duty. Some of their specific activities include developing and disseminating publications and reference materials for survivors and senior fire department managers as well as creating public-awareness strategies to promote the fire service and its critical role in public safety.

Hometown Heroes Survivors Benefits Act of 2003

Regulations governing the Hometown Heroes Survivors Benefits Act were finalized September 11, 2006, expanding the circumstances under which public safety officer deaths resulting from heart attacks and strokes may be covered by the PSOB program. This act establishes a statutory presumption that public safety officers who die from a heart attack or stroke following a non-routine stressful or strenuous physical public-safety activity or training died in the line of duty for benefit purposes. The Hometown Heroes presumption may be overcome by “competent medical evidence to the contrary.” The act excludes actions of a “clerical, administrative, or non-manual nature” from consideration.

PSOB Contact Information

For more information about the PSOB program or to obtain forms, contact the Benefits Office of the Bureau of Justice Assistance, 810 Seventh Street, NW, Washington, DC 20531. The office can be reached by phone at 202-307-0635 or toll-free at 1-888-744-6513, by fax at 202-616-0314, or by e-mail at



From The Police Chief, vol. 74, no. 5, May 2007. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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