Honoring Fallen and Disabled Officers on Police Officer Memorial Day

May 15, 2024 marks the annual observance of Police Officer Memorial Day, a day set aside to honor law enforcement officers who have lost their lives or become disabled in the line of duty. The day was established by President John F. Kennedy in 1961, with the week surrounding it designated as National Police Week. In 1994, President Bill Clinton further proclaimed that the flag of the United States be flown at half-staff on May 15 each year to coincide with Police Officer Memorial Day.

Nationwide Observances and Sobering Statistics

During Police Week, various events are held nationwide, including the Annual Blue Mass, a Candlelight Vigil, Wreath Laying Ceremonies, and the Emerald Society & Pipe Band March and Service. The annual event in New York draws nearly 50,000 law enforcement officers, their families, and visitors.

However, the number of officers who have lost their lives in the line of duty remains high. According to the National Law Enforcement Memorial Fund and the Fraternal Order of Police, 136 federal, state, and local officers died in the line of duty in 2023. In 2024, through the month of April, 55 officers have lost their lives, with 15 killed by gunfire.

The Fraternal Order of Police made a statement on “X” – formerly Twitter, on April 27, 2024, stating, “There is a war on Police Officers, it’s a stain on society.” Two days later, on April 29, four officers were killed, and four were severely injured while attempting to serve a warrant. Later, the Fraternal Order of Police reported that across America, over the last three days of April 2024, 11 officers had been shot.

Dangers Faced by Officers in Communities of All Sizes

The dangers faced by law enforcement officers are not limited to large cities. Officers in smaller cities and towns, such as Flatwoods and Ashland, Kentucky, have also experienced life-altering incidents.

In 2022, Flatwoods Police Officer Tom Robinson was shot in the neck while responding to a call about a suspicious person walking on a city street. The suspect fled but was apprehended a short time later and subsequently given a life sentence. Officer Robinson survived his injury but still has medical issues today.

In 1980, Ashland Police Officer Kevin Gunderson was paralyzed from the chest down after being shot while attempting to execute a warrant for non-payment of child support. Gunderson remembers the incident vividly, stating, “I shot him once, and he walked to the ambulance. I haven’t walked since.” He spent three months in the hospital, nine months in rehab in Chicago, and underwent surgery in Canada. Even today, he still suffers intense pain.

Governors Honor Fallen and Disabled Officers

Governors across the nation, including Governor Henry McMaster of South Carolina and Governor Mike DeWine of Ohio, have ordered flags on state buildings to be flown at half-staff from sunrise to sunset on this day.

Governor McMaster’s order applies to flags on top of the State Capitol and requests that all flags on top of state buildings and buildings of the political subdivisions of the state also be flown at half-staff.

Similarly, Governor DeWine has ordered U.S. and Ohio flags to be flown at half-staff on Ohio’s public buildings and grounds throughout the state. The lowering of flags is a symbolic gesture to honor Peace Officer Memorial Day and Police Week, which have been observed annually since 1962, when President John F. Kennedy signed a proclamation designating May 15 as Peace Officers Memorial Day.

Remembering Sacrifices and Striving for a Safer Society

As the nation observes Police Officer Memorial Day, it is essential to remember the sacrifices made by these brave men and women who put their lives on the line every day to protect and serve their communities.

The observance serves as a reminder of the risks they face and the need for society to come together to support them and work towards reducing violence. Brian Steel, President of the Fraternal Order of Police, made a plea for more restraint and less violence, stating, “I feel like society, we’re not the same as we were. We’re so violent. We’re so quick to just act. We’ve got to pull together a little more and start taking care of each other.”

By honoring the fallen and disabled officers, we acknowledge their dedication and commitment to keeping our communities safe. As we remember their sacrifices, let us also work towards building a society where such sacrifices are no longer necessary, and where peace and safety prevail for all.