I turned a shovel full of dirt today.
Several officers joined me with golden shovels to break ground for a new Utah Peace Officer Memorial on the vast lawn of the Utah State Capitol. Each turn of the shovel brought the memory of a grave. Just a short time ago, I stood at Officer Steve Anderson’s grave, fresh dirt piled at the side. He was the most recent officer in Utah to be gunned down. Shortly before that was Deputy Kevin Orr, my former employee. I taught him and his twin brother in the police academy, later hired him, and finally one day watched the dirt fall into his grave. So many before him, some friends, several academy students, co-workers.
The widow of dear friend and mentor Chief Cecil Gurr was in the crowd. She is also the mother of another young officer who had worked for me. She pushed through to give me a teary-eyed hug. We watched the dirt cast aside. With each thrust of the shovel into the soft dirt I remembered another of the one hundred and twenty-two fallen. I knew so many. I loved and love them all. Brothers and sisters, every one.
Just across the lawn stands the Vietnam Memorial. I wandered there to sit in the shade. A woman named Mary sat next to me and told me her memories of how she had camped out at night with friends to prevent hoodlums from defacing the soldier’s statue. Mary didn’t think that anyone would ever deface the Peace Officer Memorial. I hope that she's right. Today, America remembers and thanks its heroes.
Many of the new names on the Peace Officer Memorial are names unearthed by my former partner, a cop turned into a journalist and historian. Robert Kirby, author of End of Watch, has found the stories and lost graves of two dozen officers who had been killed in the line of duty and forgotten by their communities, and eventually by their descendants. Now we’ll remember them.
Unlike the Vietnam Memorial and the Korean War Memorial and the World War II Memorial, the casualty list for the Peace Officer Memorial is not closed. The sad irony is that some of us are building our own memorial. In the sea of blue and brown uniforms, there was one of my brothers or sisters who has contributed money or helped in some way and who will someday be a name on the wall. He or she will be the one who pays the price that allows the rest of us to live in peace and order.
I am what I am today because I surrounded myself with fellow cops. Police Week brings back not just the memories of the great law enforcement officers with whom I have worked. Police Week helps me look to the men and women who wear the badge today and who carry on the mission of protecting and serving, wearing the badge as a testament to their integrity. Police Week is not just a time to remember our fallen, but a time to celebrate our unity as men and women of integrity. The biblical book of practical ethics - better known as the Book of Proverbs - sums it up very nicely: "The integrity of the upright shall guide them: but the perverseness of transgressors shall destroy them." (Proverbs 11:3). I think where my glory begins and ends, and know that it is to have such friends.
Ken Wallentine is Chief of Law Enforcement for the Utah Attorney General and a Board Member of the Utah Law Enforcement Memorial Foundation.