“You have to come to Police Week” 

I’ve been told this countless times by my co-workers throughout my law enforcement career. 

My friends described it as a week of honoring and mourning officers lost combined with lively get-togethers at night with LEO’s from around the country and world. 

While the idea of having drinks and laughs sounded appealing, the memorials and ceremonies seemed like a tougher affair. 

For various reasons throughout the years, I had always declined the offer to attend the event mostly due to my normally hectic and unpredictable work schedule.  This year was different. 

I had gone through a turbulent time in my personal life and as the event got closer a large number of my friends were attending the event and encouraging me to come with them for a week of fun.  Coincidentally my law enforcement job needed me to be in D.C. that exact same week. 

With my schedule taking me there and my friends excited to see me I booked flights and hotel rooms and was locked in whether I wanted to be or not.  Looking back now, it was a decision I should have made years ago.

Checking into my hotel, I noticed officers gathered in the lobby with badges affixed around their necks. 

During Police Week up to 40,000 officers from around the world gather and it is customary to wear your badge around your neck to identify where you are from and that you’re part of law enforcement.  

National Police Week Candlelight Vigil

National Police Week Candlelight Vigil – Photo Courtesy: Daniel Herzog

 

Outside the hotel and walking around D.C. you were surrounded by badge-wearing officers and it gave you the sense of a huge community gathered to honor their fallen and celebrate the calling of service we’re all drawn to.  Most of the events center around the national mall or law enforcement officer’s memorial and this concentrated the officers to a pretty small geographic area.  It felt like this was the safest place in the entire country to be.    

My first event of the week was at the unofficial pub of police week, Kelly’s Irish Times.  Known as a “cop” bar, the place was packed. 

Even amongst the crowd, I was able to spot my friends Lo and Ally right next to the main stage.  I wasn’t surprised they were at the center of the event as they are popular in the law enforcement and social media community and have big, fun personalities people are drawn to.  They introduced me to their friends and co-workers and we all instantly bonded the way only cops can over a beer. 

Our prime spot directly in front of the main stage was the perfect location to watch the night unfold in a party that was uniquely law enforcement. We all sang badly to “Sweet Caroline” and “American Pie” before a pipe band with bagpipes, drums and flags paraded into the bar filling it with the haunting sound I’ve heard at police funerals so many times. 

The room fell silent and reverent as The National Anthem and Amazing Grace were played.  We raised our glasses in a toast and held a moment of silence for our fallen officers through the years and fought back tears cherishing their memories. 

It was a bar experience that is hard to describe and sharing drinks and stories with a room full of hundreds of LEO’s that know the struggles, triumphs, and career that law enforcement officers experience was one I wish I could have every weekend.   

Law Enforcement Today National Spokesman and friend Kyle Reyes was in town to film with the Concerns of Police Survivors (C.O.P.S.). 

I have filmed with Kyle before and do media production side work and once I heard what he was doing I offered to be a production assistant for the Candlelight Vigil while they covered the event.  Our Cameras rolled as thousands of law enforcement officers and their families gathered at the national mall as the ceremony began. 

The main stage filled with major law enforcement heads such as the Attorney General, Secretary of Homeland Security, The FBI Director and many Chiefs of State and Local Law Enforcement Departments.  Speech after speech was given by these officials and police support organizations and a sense of pride and community was felt through all of us as they spoke. 

The next task was to read the names of hundreds of officers lost this year and was done state by state as the officials rotated the name calling duty. As the names were read, survivors and representatives of their departments would stand to honor them. It was heartbreaking to sit amongst so many of the C.O.P.S. survivor families and watch them stand one after another. 

I joined them when my own department was called as I honored my co-worker’s sacrifices this year.  With the names read, a unity candle was lit on stage and the flame brought to the C.O.P.S. survivor section first.  The flame was passed person to person until thousands of candles were lit bathing the entire mall in candlelight. 

The Candlelight Vigil was a powerful experience.

 

We paid our respects and held a moment of silence amongst the sobs and tears falling and I prayed to myself for healing, peace, and mercy to the hurting family and friends.  It was a ceremony I will never forget and one that every officer should experience at least once in their careers. 

I know Kyle will produce a wonderful and touching video from the event and I encourage everyone to consider donating to the C.O.P.S. organization to support these officer’s families for years to come.

Feeling like I needed a pick me up after the Vigil, I headed over to Tent City in the parking lot of RFK Stadium.  Tent City is an official Police Week Event and features vendors, food, drinks, music, dancing, and fun.  My good friend and social media darling Officer Ashley Smith was MCing the festivities on stage and her infectious smile and personality made her the perfect host for the event. 

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The mood was fun and filled with comradery.  I shared drinks and danced the night away with officers from around the world and my spirits were lifted yet again.  Going from mourning the dead to picking yourself up and enjoying life is a skill law enforcement officers are masters of. 

I went to bed at the crack of dawn still reeling from the tremendous highs and lows from the day.  This roller coaster of emotions was like your entire career packed into one short week.   

The Capitol Building made a beautiful and reverent background at the Memorial Service.

 

The week culminated at the steps of the Capitol Building for the 38th Annual National Peace Officers’ Memorial Service.  Again, thousands of Law Enforcement Officers and families gathered and the D.C. weather cleared up perfectly as the day was sunny, warm and gorgeous, seemingly in honor of the ceremony and the fallen. 

Looking across the beautiful backdrop of the Capitol building and thousands of officers in their formal dress as the sun shined was an impressive sight. 

I met with my friend and Law Enforcement Today contributor and author Jason Piccolo to watch the ceremony.  Jason was unfortunately, attending the event with the family of his fallen friend who had lost his life in a vehicle accident earlier in the year.  

The ceremony began and the President addressed the crowd and thanked everyone for their service and sacrifice and offered his condolences.  The names of the fallen officers were read again and their families and friends were honored as they walked the main stage in tribute in a somber processional line. 

Standing with Jason again just represented what makes our profession so special. Though there was sorrow for his loss, Jason was still kind, warm and filled with hope for the future and his friend’s children he was the godfather of.  Everyone grieves differently and I’m so glad that a man like Jason will be there to support his friend’s family as they take the long journey forward with their lives.    

The memorial wall adorned with love and mementos.

 

I had saved my last stop of Police Week as the one I dreaded the most, The National Law Enforcement Officer’s Memorial. 

This memorial features the wall of fallen officer’s names that are added to each year. More than 20,000 names dating back to 1791 adorn this memorial and it is littered with photos, flowers, mementos, children’s drawing and personal items whose meaning is only known to those that left them. 

My family has been in law enforcement for more than 40 years and since childhood, I’ve known the pain of losing an officer.  I sat there with the directory in hand and went one by one for as many names as I could remember through the years. 

I remembered their funerals, their families, the laughs and good times we shared and the feeling of loss.  Some I barely knew or not at all but their deaths had a profound effect on my life or those I know in ways that would take volumes to address.   

My own loss this year seemed to pale in comparison when I looked at drawings from children who would never know their father or mother.  I walked the memorial with my friend and fellow writer and LEO Jenny Kim.  We had been friends online for a while exchanging shooting and writing tips with each other but this was the first time we had been able to meet up in person. 

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I was experiencing a deeply personal and painful time at the wall and as I looked at Jenny I knew she was experiencing the same.  Police week allows us to connect in a way that transcends normal introductions and friendships.  That is the bond that is the Thin Blue Line. 

None of us signed up to die, we signed up to serve.  We accept that death is part of the job but we fight like hell to make sure we go home each night.  Sometimes that just isn’t possible no matter how hard we try. 

Children’s drawings such as this made it hard to choke back tears.

 

I was walking the memorial with a relative stranger but it seemed like we had been friends for years in an unspoken way. Our shared grief made us closer and stronger and I am proud to call her and everyone else my law enforcement family. These are the moments that define police week. 

The exact numbers are not known for sure but it is estimated that there are around 700,000 sworn law enforcement officers in the United States out of a population of approximately 325 million. 

That is two out of every 100 people choose the life of law enforcement.  Our profession seems more under attack now than ever but after spending Police Week with so many amazing individuals I know the Thin Blue Line will continue to do what it has always done. 

Preserve and defend the line that separates the rule of law from chaos.  Ironically only in my time of grief was I pushed to attend this event and in doing so I found some healing in my own way, God has a funny sense of timing like that. 

Every law enforcement officer should attend at least once and experience what I and so many thousands of officers have through the years.  Loss makes us all appreciate what we have more and I am so grateful for the blessings, friends, and family in my life.  Blessed are the Peacemakers indeed. 

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