Cordes Lake, AZ: With the increase in anti-police rhetoric plaguing America, the law enforcement community has experienced a spike in officer line-of-duty deaths in recent years.
These tragedies severely impact the officer’s respective departments, their communities, and most of all, the families of the officers.
The spouses of the fallen are left devastated, hopeless and have their entire world flipped upside down in an instant. If young children are present in the family, they often don’t understand when they are told ‘mommy or daddy are in heaven now’.
Although there is a government program, the Public Safety Officer’s Benefit Program that is available to provide financial relief for the spouses, it is riddled with complications, red tape, and typical government bureaucracy. It isn’t the only program that’s been problematic, either.
According to Cheryl Shultz, former president of Citizens of Police Survivors:
“I’m working on many of our Covid deaths because departments, many times not in their knowledge or experience base, don’t know what to do or disagree with determination. I won’t belabor the issues, but it multiplies the grief when you are put in a position to fight for them.”
One recent case of grief becoming magnified involves Kymberli Lopez. Her husband of 32 years, Sgt. Rick Lopez, was shot and killed in the line of duty over the summer. The circumstances of his death were simple; a crazed lunatic shot Sgt. Lopez and he was rushed to the hospital but succumbed to his wounds.
She was informed that she was entitled to monetary compensation by a government program known as the Public Safety Officer’s Benefit- a benefit that is required to be filled by the agency. It was a bit of relief during one of the most difficult moments in her life.
After several months passed by, Kymberli inquired with her husband’s agency for a status update on the compensation program.
That’s when she realized just how poorly run the program is.
She was informed that it may take anywhere from 18 to 24 months of receive compensation. Disappointed with the response, she asked why it would take so long, especially because the line-of-duty death was a clear-cut case.
In an exclusive LET interview with Kymberli, she stated:
“I was told that the system requires it to go through eight separate levels of medical overview. My husband was shot in the line of duty and died. What is there to review?”
“The entire Public Safety Officer’s Benefit Program is also dictated by Congress, who have their own levels of oversight and processing.”
Most would agree, once you add ‘Congress’ to anything, it becomes saturated, politicized, and watered down.
Although the program designed is well-intended, it simply is weighed down in bureaucracy and doesn’t help those in the immediate time frame.
Fortunately for Kymberli, she and her family were not financially unstable and are able to continue to weather the storm personally and financial.
She does, however, recognize the glowing problem and tells LET:
“What about younger families that have made the decision to have one parent stay home and raise the children? They may live paycheck to paycheck and if a paycheck suddenly disappears- there are in immediate financial trouble. So now they would not only lose their spouse but also the home they built?”
Factor in dealing with the loss of a spouse who was killed in the line of duty and children who are still wondering when mom or dad is coming home- that is a lot to take on.
Kymberli knows someone who had that exact problem. She said:
“I met a woman in this same exact scenario. She wound up losing her home following her husband’s line of duty death.”
There are non-profit organization’s that exist who provide more immediate relief, like Club 100 of Arizona. They provide support in a variety of ways- financial, social, and even emotional support.
But they only exist because the Public Safety Officer’s Benefit program is so flawed in its execution.
Kymberli told LET:
“There’s no practical reason, medical, congress, or otherwise for this to take so long, especially in my husband’s case.”
“In fact, I called my congressman Tom O’Halloran he was very sympathetic, but he gave me the standard answer of ‘I’ll look into it.’ I could not stop there. With the elections coming I needed to make sure others knew.”
“It wasn’t until I connected with Eli Crane that he knew exactly what I needed to do. He made a phone call and within half hour Law Enforcement Today contacted me to help me bring awareness to this serious issue.”
That phone call was made to Law Enforcement Today’s Executive Director, Kyle Reyes.
“I’ve been blessed to travel the country over the past several years, interviewing countless families of officers killed in the line of duty. This is simply unacceptable. Their grief comes because their loved one signed a blank check to the country when they signed up for a life of service – and that blank check ended up being paid in the amount of their life. You can’t put a dollar amount on that. The least we can do is take care of their families… without delay.”
Eli Crane, a former Navy SEAL and the founder of Bottle Breacher, as featured on Shark Tank, was elected to Congress on November 8. He will be sworn in to the House of Representatives this coming January.
“There’s not a better man I’ve ever met in my life than Eli Crane,” said Reyes. He’s spent decades fighting for his country. He’s spent his entire life backing the blue. And now that he’s going to Congress, he’s committed to continuing that service and protection of the most vulnerable among us… and that includes the widows and children of our fallen officers. Eli is a Christian first – followed by husband, father and patriot… and that’s exactly the man we need fighting alongside us.”
SGT. Lopez’ Murder
In the early afternoon hours of June 28th, 2022, Sgt Lopez. Was conducting surveillance of a property that was previously involved in a civil incident. At the time, the house was occupied by the suspect now in custody for his murder, Robert McDowell, 61.
At around 12:30 pm, 911 dispatch received a distressing phone call that a man, later identified as McDowell was chasing after a Yavapai County Sheriff’s Deputy, which was later confirmed to be Sgt. Lopez.
Shortly after the initial 911 call, another person reported hearing a single gun shot in the same vicinity. The person, a resident of the community, looked out the window and observed Sgt. Lopez lying on the ground in the street, motionless.
Responding officers from the Arizona Department of Public Safety and Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office took control of the incident and immediately transported Sgt. Lopez to a local fire department to be air lifted to a local hospital.
Lopez underwent emergency surgery but unfortunately did not survive the gun shot.
The suspect, McDowell, initially refused to obey commands given by the responding officers and barricaded himself inside his home.
According to court documents, McDowell can be seen by authorities pacing back and forth within in home, armed with a rifle. It was reported that McDowell told the authorities that, ‘if you come in here, you’re going to have to shoot it out with me.’
The suspect eventually gave himself up and members of the SWAT team was able to take him into custody without further incident.
McDowell was charged with first degree murder.
The Fight to Fix the Public Safety Officer’s Benefit Program
This is just the beginning.
Kymberli is on a mission to help fix the broken system- and LET will be here to help. She has reached out to national police organizations to help get her message out that the system needs to be improved. The families deserve it.
In an statement provided to LET by Mathew Silverman, the National Executive Vice President of the Federal Law Enforcement Officer’s Association, he said:
“Law enforcement is not just about enforcing rules and regulations- it is about delivering justice. We must make sure the system works to support all people, especially the family of those who have had to make the ultimate sacrifice.”
We intend on bringing awareness to this flaw-filled program so that the spouses can focus on what’s important- dealing with the sudden loss of a loved one- not worrying about bills.