President’s Message: Notes on National Police Week, the National Police Museum, and Ballistic Vests

During the week of May 9-National Police Week-people across the United States will honor the police officers who have died in the line of duty. During this period, members of the law enforcement profession will unite with the survivors and other members of our communities to remember and pay tribute to those we have lost. In 2003, 148 law enforcement officers across the United States were killed in the line of duty.

National Police Week also provides us with the opportunity to reflect upon our responsibilities as chiefs to ensure the safety of officers and our duty to ensure that the sacrifices that our fellow officers make are recognized and appreciated by the citizens and communities they serve.

To that end, I want to update you on an issue I addressed in my December message, namely the concerns of the IACP and the law enforcement profession over reported failures of soft body armor. At that time, I informed you of the U.S. Department of Justice’s plan to hold a national summit on this issue and its intention to launch a formal investigation into the issue.

This summit was held last March, at which time the Justice Department released a status report on its examinations to date. Briefly, the preliminary test results indicate that there may be degradation occurring in the ballistic performance of used Zylon-based armors. However, only a small number of vests have been tested so far; therefore, it is not possible to arrive at any definitive conclusions about specific manufacturers, models, service life, or geographical region at this time. (A full copy of the report may be found at The Justice department’s tests are continuing, and further results are expected later this year.

However, it is imperative that we continue to urge our officers to wear their soft body armor. We have made tremendous progress in this area over the years and must not allow these current concerns to roll back our gains. It is important to remember that in the last 30 years, the lives of more than 2,700 officers have been saved by the use of body armor.

I also want to take this opportunity to discuss an important new undertaking by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (NLEOMF). As we all know, in 1991 the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial was dedicated in Washington, D.C., to honor the service and sacrifice of fallen U.S. law enforcement officers. In addition to honoring the lives of our fallen comrades, the mission of the memorial is to generate increased public support for the law enforcement profession by permanently recording and appropriately commemorating the service and sacrifice of law enforcement officers.

For these reasons, the NLEOMF is now embarking on a new project. In October 2000, the U.S. Congress approved legislation authorizing the construction of a national law enforcement museum on federal property directly across the street from 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 issues ranging from the importance of high-speed driver training to the latest developments in less-than-lethal police weaponry to reasons why our officers should wear soft body armor.

The museum will provide information to educate both law enforcement and the general public. I believe this is a crucial undertaking, for despite nearly 400 years of service and sacrifice, the law enforcement profession remains a mystery to many citizens. A big reason for this is that most of our citizens have little or no interaction with law enforcement professionals on a regular basis. Unfortunately, the result of this unfamiliarity is often indifference, or worse, a distorted image of law enforcement based on stereotypes portrayed by the entertainment industry and sensationalized reporting by the media.

As 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 community 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.

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 remain and faithfully serve our communities and departments 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 as an inspiration to us all.