By Dick Uliano
WASHINGTON — Hours before a candlelight vigil honoring the memory of officers killed in the line of duty, police have joined with elected leaders urging Congress to create a nationwide Blue Alert system.
Patterned after the Amber Alert for missing children and Silver Alert for missing seniors, Blue Alert would quickly notify the public when a search is on for a suspect who seriously injures or kills a law enforcement officer in the line of duty.
"It could absolutely be the key in making a quick arrest and saving someone else from being hurt or killed," says Thomas Manger, Montgomery County police chief.
The names of 321 officers killed in the line of duty are being added to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial blue-gray memorial in downtown Washington and will be dedicated in Monday's candle light vigil, a highlight on National Police Week.
Law enforcement officers from across the nation have gathered in Washington and this year's candle light vigil is the 25th annual ceremony. The names of more than 19,000 officers are etched on the wall.
120 law enforcement officers were killed while on duty in 2012 -- 201 in prior years -- but identified last year as having lost their lives in the line of duty.
"We need to do a better job in keeping our law enforcement safe," says Sen. Ben Cardin, (D-Md.) chief sponsor of the bill which would create a nationwide Blue Alert communications network.
Both Maryland and Virginia have Blue Alert, but Cardin says a more comprehensive system is needed.
"The incident may occur in one community but the person may very well try to flee," Cardin says.
"It's important to have a regional and national effort."
Police agree that a nationwide Blue Alert system would be helpful when an officer is violently attacked.
"There may be a friend, a family member somebody that they've wronged in the past ... that could actually feed us information. It would work a lot like the Amber Alert system," says Lt. H.B. Martz, commander of the Rockville Barracks of the Maryland State Police.
If Congress goes along, the Justice Department would house a national coordinator of Blue Alert who would encourage Blue Alert plans across the country and quickly disseminate information to law enforcement, media and the public when an officer is seriously hurt or killed.
Reprinted with permission from WTOP Radio