Due to the tragic loss of two officers from my department in 2016, I was asked by the National Latino Peace Officers Association (NLPOA) national president whether I would like to attend National Police Week in Washington D.C. Of course, I jumped at the opportunity.
If you’re ever given the opportunity, I implore you to attend too. For me it was an incomparable and unforgettable life experience.
What It Is
For those who don’t know, Police Week is a group of events that honor our fallen brothers and sisters. Although I knew why I was there, as I stood at the hotel where Concerns Of Police Survivors (COPS) had set up for the week, a wave of emotion rolled over me. As I walked through the registration area and the store, I saw the name tags that each survivor wore, with words like “mother,” “spouse,” “friend,” “co-worker,” and so forth, and my heart sank with the realization that there were literally thousands of officers and family members here for men and women taken from this earth far too soon.
Small children, trying to smile and put on a brave face, here for their mother or father that they will unfortunately grow up without; teenagers reaching milestones like driving, prom, and graduation that they will not get to share with a proud parent; co-workers who continue to fight the good fight, but still keep “that day” in the back of their minds, or possibly still fighting the demons that may last forever; and parents who had to bury a child when that is the far worst thing a parent could deal with—all of these people come together for one week to honor, to mourn, and to gather strength through sheer numbers.
The candlelight vigil is another reminder of the loss and the support. While thousands of officers and families gather, regular citizens come as well to back the thin blue line. As the names were read and a sea of candles flickered in the night, I took comfort in knowing that we all were standing together for one purpose. The candles created an eerie glimmer, bringing light into the darkness, a sort of metaphor for dealing with the pain and devastation and overcoming the loss of an officer. I reflected on the last year, shed tears for my two fallen brothers in blue, and said a prayer for all those we’ve lost and for protection for those who continue to serve.
The National Law Enforcement Memorial is a beautiful and very serene sight to see. The signs, wreaths, and even police car doors left in memoriam are solemn reminders of lives not only lost, but all the other lives affected by each and every loss. Transferring the names of the fallen officers from my department left me thinking back to the two worst days of my career, and gave me something to hold onto and that I will keep forever.
Witnessing the many honor guards rotate guarding the large wreath at the memorial is awe inspiring. The parades of police cars from days gone by, and the many law enforcement motorcycle clubs riding past the memorial in a massive line are incredible. And finally, the drum-and-pipe groups parading in one by one and performing as one, having never practiced together, is one of the most amazing sights these eyes will ever see.
During the memorial service at the Capitol, the mood, for some reason, seemed much lighter. Officers from all over the world were present, which is a powerful statement—that the blue runs strong worldwide. As President Trump spoke, one sentence stood out. Paraphrasing, he asked the American people to do one thing when they see a police officer, approach them and say two simple words, “Thank you.” Although such a statement should not be needed, those two words mean more to officers than most will ever know.
There are two other great memories that I will keep with me forever. The night of the memorial, there were hundreds, if not a few thousand officers out in front of the gates at the White House. To honor our profession and those that have fallen, the People’s house was bathed in beautiful blue lights. The news had been posted earlier in the day that this would be happening and many officers were excited and proud to see the gesture made by our nation’s leader.
The last thing I’ll mention is the relationship building that takes place. Speaking to officers from other parts of the country and globe—exchanging patches, coins, or even business cards—is another way to realize there are so many of us out there who have each other’s backs. Making that connection for someone else to reach out to when times are tough adds to the camaraderie of the profession we chose.
Losing a fellow officer is gut-wrenching and changes so many lives for the worse. Taking the opportunity to honor their sacrifice and to feel that bond with the thousands of other survivors honestly helps in the healing, no matter the length of time since their loss. I would love to return year after year to continue to forge bonds with other officers, but more than anything to pay tribute to those who served their communities so well and paid the ultimate sacrifice. May they never be forgotten.