The Community’s Response to Line of Duty Deaths
When I first heard the awkward, high-pitched, horn-like sound emitting from a bagpipe, I questioned the musical integrity of the instrument. I couldn’t exactly envision myself sitting back in an armchair, wearing my smoker’s jacket, sipping a fine brandy, listening to the LP of “The World’s Greatest Bagpipe Hits.” But after 15 years in law enforcement, I now have come to understand the magic, beauty, and emotion that free flows from these amazing instruments.
When large numbers of Irish immigrants came to the United States in the 1840s, many had difficulty finding work. They were only able to apply for unwanted, dangerous, and difficult jobs, including those of firefighter and police officer. So it follows that when one of them was killed in the line of duty, the Irish community would hold a traditional Irish funeral, which included the beautiful bagpipes. Over time, this tradition spread to all of those killed in the line of duty, regardless of their heritage.
Unfortunately, you will have an opportunity to hear bagpipes this Friday if you listen to, watch, or go to the services for Adams County Sheriff’s Deputy Heath Gumm. While attempting to question a suspect involved in a dispute in Thornton, Colorado, he was killed after being shot several times in the chest. Gumm is one of eight officers to die in the line of duty, five of them by gunfire in America, since the beginning of the year.
Here’s why the death of a peace officer is so significant to our community.
Police officers are the defenders of our society. They are symbols of peace and justice. They are the reason we are afforded our quality of life. If all police officers left the job right now, there would be rioting, looting, and anarchy within hours, all over America’s streets. We have seen just how quickly that scenario can materialize after major events like Hurricane Katrina. Police officers are the reason we can sleep peacefully, voice our opinions, or take our Louis Vuitton bag out in public to go get a latte at Starbucks.
The most valuable thing any of us have is our life. It’s more valuable than money, possessions, or knowledge. Surely even Steve Jobs would have traded in all his billions of dollars to continue to live. We as a society recognize and acknowledge the sanctity of human life, and this belief is reflected in our laws and religions. Yet police officers go out everyday and literally gamble their lives for the peace and prosperity of strangers. They drive INTO the chaos, violence, and danger while everyone else is running AWAY.
For these reasons, the death of a police officer deserves our time, respect, and attention. It’s important to pay tribute to the men and women who are the modern day heroes of our world, especially when one of them is ripped away from their family, friends and loved ones by a criminal intent on disrupting our beautiful way of life.
After 15 years in law enforcement, I was the recipient of many awards and commendations. Yet despite all of the “official” recognition, ceremonies, medals and plaques, the moments when I felt the most proud of what I was doing and had the greatest satisfaction was upon seeing the many thousands of supporters who came out to show their appreciation and thanks to a fallen officer. It was paradoxical to be so filled with grief for the loss of a fellow brother or sister, but at the same time to also be reinvigorated to go out and do the job. The profound reason many officers are renewed on the day of such heavy loss is because YOU came out to remind us of why we serve.
You see, your support means something. It’s a reminder that the silent majority, whom the police rarely hear from, are still there and that they appreciate the police and their sacrifice. It’s a reminder that every day when an officer goes through the painstakingly long and involved process of donning the uniform and all 23 pounds of equipment, that it’s still worth it. It’s a reminder that the good people we are saving outnumber the bad we endure.
I encourage everyone to take some time out of your day on Friday to honor Deputy Gumm, his service, and sacrifice in whatever way you can. Your support will not only pay tribute to him, but it will also remind all of the many warriors still out there doing a thankless job why they get dressed every day. Your support will also send a message to the small faction of people intent on bringing anarchy and chaos to our streets that we stand united and that we outnumber them by far.
There are many ways to show your support. Attend the funeral if you can, watch the coverage on television if you can’t, share an article of support, donate to Deputy Gumm’s memorial fund, or think of your own way to show your support for the police. And if you have a chance to hear the bagpipes for yourself this week, with a heavy heart and a salute of thanks, allow their magical melody to electrify your nerves and feel the healing of our wounds begin.
Steve Warneke is a speaker, broadcaster, police expert, and author. Find his book From Boy To Blue and more from Steve at www.SteveWarneke.com.