The past five years have been especially hard on the law enforcement community.  It’s no secret that our peacekeepers are under attack. On average, between 140-160 officers die in the line of duty each year.  The first few months of 2019 are already off to a violent start with almost half of the deaths being from gunfire.

The nation begins to view the funeral across all media outlets.  American flags line the streets, citizens salute, the mile-long procession is filled with flashing lights, bagpipes fill the air with sounds of honor, officers come from all over the country, and the family sits in the front row waiting for the dreaded folded flag to be placed in their hands.  A premonition every law enforcement family has had and deeply fears.

Stories of the officer’s lives are shared; hearing about the officer’s military background and how they survived three tours in the Middle East only to come home and be killed on their own turf.  Or the gut wrenching announcement that the officer was months away from retirement after 25 years of service. Seeing the looks on the faces of the spouse, kids, parents and siblings as their greatest fear becomes a reality.  Watching tears run down the faces of men and women in uniform as their brother or sister in blue is laid to rest.

Afterwards, the officers who traveled so far go back and hug their families a little tighter. The bagpipes deflate.  The flags are taken down. Only the family remains. The family remains lost in their grief. Everyone else goes back to their normal everyday life.  A normal so many of us take for granted. This normal no longer exists for the family members and co-workers, the survivors, who are affected most by the loss of an officer.

Who do these survivors turn to when their grief is so overwhelming they don’t know if they will be able to get out of bed.  So many people will tell them “I understand how you feel.” That just might be one of the worst things survivors can hear besides “It’s been three years, isn’t it time you moved on?”  No person can truly understand unless they’ve been through it.

That is where Concerns of Police Survivors (C.O.P.S.) comes in.  C.O.P.S. is a national nonprofit organization with the mission of rebuilding shattered lives of survivors and co-workers affected by line-of-duty deaths.  C.O.P.S. works with over 52,000 survivors nationwide through the support of a National Office, National Board and 55 chapters.

C.O.P.S. is a group, some say a family, that truly does understand.  They know grief doesn’t have a time limit. They also know the feeling of having to tell small children their hero is never coming home. They know what it feels like to bury the love of their life and have their happily ever after shattered.  They know what it is like to bury their child when life and death is not supposed to work that way.

When the procession ends, members of C.O.P.S. chapters are there.  Literally, they are there at the funeral, they connect with the agency to help with the funeral and to meet the family, they help make all the moving parts run a little smoother, and they know what to say and what not to say because they have all been through it.  All 55 C.O.P.S. chapters are run by survivors who have lost a loved one in the line of duty.

Brillion (WI) Police Chief JoAnn Mignon serves as President of the Wisconsin C.O.P.S. Chapter.  As a surviving co-worker, Chief Mignon has attended many police funerals and knows how important it is to have someone who “gets it” there. “We have all come from that first day of our loss to a place in our healing where we can stand strong and be there for others during theirs,” Chief Mignon said.

C.O.P.S. helps the family for as long as they are needed.  They provide resources such as assistance in applying for benefits, getting the family to National Police Week the following year to honor their officer, offering scholarships to the children and spouse, and hosting Hands-On Programs where survivors are able to connect with others who have experienced a similar tragedy.  The peer support between survivors is the heart of the entire C.O.P.S. organization.

Kelsey Young’s father, Denver (CO) Police Detective Donald Young, was killed in the line of duty in 2005 when she was just five years old.  At such a young age, Young doesn’t remember the days surrounding the death but what she does remember is attending C.O.P.S. Kids Camp, one of the many Hands-On Programs offered through C.O.P.S.

“What helped me the most was just being around other kids that knew what it was like to have a parent who was killed in the line of duty,” Kelsey said. “It changed my life forever.”

So if you find yourself saying, “That poor family. I hope they will be ok.”  You can rest easy, because eventually, they will be. They will never “get over it” completely.  That’s the beauty of loving someone so strongly. They leave their mark and life won’t be the same without them.

C.O.P.S. will be there.  If a survivor is struggling, they know they can call any member of C.O.P.S.  This is the part of the blue family that nobody wants to be a part of, but if faced with it, this is the organization that helps families rebuild and gain hope again.

At C.O.P.S. events, there are a lot of tears, some anger, a lot of supportive hugs, and a lot of laughter. Yes, laughter.  And when a survivor laughs for the first time after the death of their officer, I mean a deep in the belly, take your breath away, tears down the face kind of laugh, they realize they are on the upward climb to healing and being ok.

Sara Slone has been the Director of Public Relations at the C.O.P.S. National Office since 2013.  Based in rural Camdenton, MO, Sara and the C.O.P.S. staff travel to special events, conferences, Hands-On Programs, and National Police Week to be able to have a face-to-face relationship with survivors and members of the law enforcement community.