Ronald C. Ruecker,
Director of Public Safety,
City of Sherwood, Oregon
s we all know, police officers face difficult challenges every day. Our jobs can be dangerous, frustrating, even tedious, but law enforcement is a tremendously rewarding career. Police officers significantly improve the quality of life for the citizens of their communities by keeping the peace despite sometimes overwhelming odds.
It is important that police officers everywhere receive appropriate recognition, support, and respect for the work they do. They have voluntarily chosen a profession whose very nature places them in harm’s way. When others flee from the sound of gunfire and the threat of violence, it is a police officer’s duty to run toward it. As a result, each day, law enforcement officers are assaulted, disabled, or killed on the job because they hold the line between good and evil; they serve as society’s barrier protecting honest citizens from violent criminals.
Over the last decade, more than 1,600 police officers have been killed in the line of duty. Each one of these deaths is a tragedy that causes unimaginable pain for the family, friends, colleagues, and communities of the fallen officer. Sadly, the number of law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty increased by nearly 20 percent from 2006 to 2007.
However, as tragic and unacceptable as these numbers are, it could be much worse. Each year, nearly 60,000 police officers are assaulted. Thanks to luck, training, protective equipment, the bravery of colleagues, and the skill of medical professionals, the vast majority of these officers survive these assaults. But they do pay a price. Many of these officers are permanently disabled. Many face a difficult physical and emotional recovery process. Often, injured officers do not or cannot return to work. When that happens, their family, their colleagues, their department, and their communities all suffer.
Because of the tremendous sacrifices law enforcement officers make, each May, citizens and police in communities throughout the United States gather to honor law enforcement officers killed or disabled in the line of duty.
In 1991, then U.S. president George H. W. Bush dedicated the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, D.C. It is a national monument to honor the service and sacrifice of fallen U.S. law enforcement officers. Located in Judiciary Square, the memorial’s marble walls are inscribed with the names of more than 16,000 officers who have been killed in the line of duty. In addition to honoring the lives of our fallen comrades, the mission of the memorial is to increase public support for the law enforcement profession by permanently recording and appropriately commemorating the service and sacrifice of law enforcement officers. I encourage all law enforcement officers and the survivors of fallen officers to visit the memorial when visiting Washington, D.C. It is an emotional experience you will not forget.
The IACP has always been a strong supporter of the memorial and all that it symbolizes for our profession. IACP members helped to raise $300,000 to build the memorial, and the IACP holds a position on the board of directors of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (NLEOMF).
Today, 17 years after the dedication of the memorial, the NLEOMF is working to construct the National Law Enforcement Officers Museum. The museum, which the IACP strongly supports, is designed to serve as a counterpart to the memorial.
The museum will serve as a national center for information on law enforcement history and will also include a research repository devoted to promoting law enforcement safety. The NLEOMF plans to collect all available information on such various issues as the importance of high-speed driver training, the latest developments in less-lethal police weaponry, and the reasons our officers should wear soft body armor.
In addition, the museum will educate the general public about the realities of the law enforcement profession. I believe this is a crucial undertaking, for despite nearly 400 years of service and sacrifice, the profession remains a mystery to many citizens. Most citizens have little or no interaction with law enforcement professionals. Unfortunately, the result of this unfamiliarity is often indifference or, worse, a distorted image of the law enforcement community based both on stereotypes portrayed and reinforced by the entertainment industry and on sensationalized reporting by the media.
I encourage all IACP members to learn more about the efforts under way to construct the National Law Enforcement Officers Museum and what they can do to make it a reality by visiting the NLEOMF Web site at www.nleomf.org.
This month, we have the opportunity to demonstrate our leadership as we honor the memory and valor of the officers we have lost and also pay tribute to those who serve our communities and agencies every day. Let us take full advantage of this opportunity to celebrate the lives of the men and women whose hard work, dedication, and sacrifice remain an inspiration to us all. ■