On Tuesday, April 29, 2008 as family members and fellow officers looked on, the names of 358 fallen law enforcement officers were inscribed on the walls of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington D.C. (www.nleomf.org) during the annual Engraving Day ceremony. Engraving Day occurs every April at the Memorial. The 358 names being added to the Memorial this year include 181 officer deaths from 2007 and 177 from previous years. All of the names will be formally dedicated on the Memorial during the 20th Annual Candlelight Vigil on the evening of May 13.
American law enforcement experienced a 20 percent increase in line of duty deaths in 2007. The numbers of officers killed by gunfire increased by 26 percent Sixty-eight officers were shot and killed last year, and 6 times in 2007 two or more officers were gunned down in a single incident, including a horrific shooting spree that killed three Odessa, Texas police officers in early September. The number of police officers killed in traffic related incidents also increased from 74 in 2006 to a record high of 83 in 2007. In other words, 2007 was a bad year for American law enforcement.
There’s not a cop in this country and beyond who isn’t touched by these statistics. But what do we do about it? Oh sure, we pledge to drive slower, work safer, get more training, be more aware ... all good resolutions to make. But when we see that our brothers and sisters are dying out there, doing the same job that we’re doing, we get frustrated, we feel powerless; we want to do something, we want to help, but how?
On February 26th, 2008 I was in Las Vegas, NV teaching the Calibre Press “Street Survival for Women” seminar with my partners Officer LouAnn Hamblin and Lt. Jim Glennon. The seminar was hosted jointly by the International Association of Women Police (www.iawp.org) and the Injured Police Officers Fund of Nevada (www.injuredpoliceofficers.com). Just after the seminar kicked off we learned that 33 year old Trooper Kara Kelly-Borgognone of the Nevada Highway Patrol had been involved in a horrific crash while enroute to a bomb threat the night before. Kara, a wife, a mom, a sister, a daughter, a friend, and a fellow warrior, was in grave condition and not expected to live. As the hours went by, we continued to get updates on Kara’s condition, and the reports were not good. We put Kara’s picture up on the screen at each break, the IPOF provided us with NHP pins, which we proudly wore.
The IAWP began to collect money to send flowers to the family, they sold raffle tickets to attendees, and they had a beautiful poster-sized card printed up for all three hundred attendees to sign for Kara’s family. The IPOF continued to sell merchandise to raise additional funds, and they kept us posted on Kara’s condition. We learned at the end of the day that she was on life support and her family had made the brave decision to donate her organs. Kara would die as she had lived, a hero.
The next morning, the IPOF announced that they had presented Kara’s family with a check for $10,000 to provide the family with some much needed and immediate financial relief as they maintained their bedside vigil. The three hundred attendees, including several of our sister officers from Canada, donated generously, and the IAWP raised an additional $2500.00 that would also be given directly to Kara’s family in lieu of flowers. We learned that Kara would be kept alive until the following day, when her organs would be harvested and she would be allowed to pass to the place that warriors go to rest.
Most of us in that room had never met Kara Kelly-Borgognone, and there wasn’t much we could do other than keep her and her family in our thoughts and prayers. But being able to give, to donate to a concrete fund that would directly benefit Kara and others like her made us feel like we were a part of Kara’s life and her memory. It gave us a little bit of power and control back, it gave us something we could do to truly help, and isn’t that what being a cop is all about?
So as you remember our fallen during Police Memorial Week this year, think about what you can do to truly help. There are many wonderful organizations like the Injured Police Officers Fund of Nevada or one in your own state, or you can give to Concerns of Police Survivors (www.nationalcops.org), a national organization that works to benefit all law enforcement survivors’ families.
Another great way to honor and celebrate this profession is to give to the National Law Enforcement Museum (www.lawenforcementmuseum.org) due to open in 2011 in Washington D.C. This museum, our museum, is being built entirely from private donations. I had the pleasure of meeting Craig Floyd, Chairman and CEO of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund at the ILEETA conference this year, and his enthusiasm for this new museum is boundless and definitely contagious, but this project needs our support. As the slogan of the new National Law Enforcement Officers museum states: “It’s a Matter of Honor.”