Officer down: How police deaths affect us all

Regardless of how close or distant the proximity of police departments and jurisdictions are, the resulting pain, sorrow, and grief has far-reaching impact


Police officers throughout the nation know that once they make a decision to pursue a career in law enforcement — and from the day they are initially sworn in as a member of their departments— their lives are forever changed.

They will grow and mature in many ways, have myriad experiences, and be exposed to situations that run the gamut from sharing joyful occasions with others to witnessing the most horrific and unfathomable events that will forever impact their lives and those of their families.

Law enforcement officers, too, can become victims of crime. The most devastating and tragic times occur when one of their own is killed. Regardless of how close or distant the proximity of police departments and jurisdictions are, the resulting pain, sorrow, and grief has far-reaching impact.

Doors of Mourning
“Any time you lose someone you know it’s going to take an emotional toll. We’ve had a lot of police officers that have died tragically... but we’re not able to shut our doors of mourning. We all have to keep pushing forward,” Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey said.

And, Ramsey knows only too well. “I’ve been here a little more than four and a half years, and I’ve had seven officers so far killed in the line of duty. That’s an awful lot in a short period of time,” Commissioner Ramsey said.

On Saturday, August 18, 2012 in Philadelphia Police Officer Moses Walker Jr. was gunned down in a robbery attempt as he was walking home, in plain clothes, following his shift. Known as a courteous, humble, optimistic and polite man who always saw the good in people, he also served as a deacon at his church.

“He was a very upbeat individual, very religious person, and someone who brought sunshine to people,” Commissioner Ramsey said.

Officer Walker had a tenured career with the police department and, with 19 years on the job, his plan was to retire next year. 

Chief Mark Magaw of the Prince George’s County (Md.) Police Department knows only too well what Commissioner Ramsey has been dealing with.

He has recently been consoling the men and women of his department over the loss of a young officer, 23-year-old Adrian Morris. Officer Morris and his colleague became involved in a chase on Interstate 95 in Maryland. The suspect vehicle caused certain events to occur that led to the police cruiser plunging into a ditch off the highway. Officer Morris was ejected from the vehicle and succumbed to critical injuries. His colleague, though injured, survived.

“Officer Morris loved this department and what he did for a living. He certainly loved this job. This job is not an easy job by any means,” Chief Magaw said.

The Effects of Loss
In the law enforcement arena, the news of such tragic incidents spreads rapidly. Though officers are cognizant that they face danger daily on the job, the notification of a colleague being killed in any locality is still shocking and instantly penetrates the core of the staunchest troops. They react individually, collectively, and spontaneously. They band together stronger than ever and in a cohesive effort to allay their grief and support one another while, at the same time, recognizing the profound impact of their loss.

Rituals can play a meaningful role in the aftermath of losing a colleague. Immediately following Officer Walker’s incident, a procession of Philadelphia cops — in cruisers and on motors — proceeded down the streets of Philadelphia and past the hospital showing support and a degree of unity that embodies the thin blue line. In Prince George’s County, Maryland, many officers rallied together outside the hospital, and a moment of silence was observed in memory of Officer Morris by the Redskins at FedEx field.

One officer, who has a large tattoo on his back imprinted with the names of fallen officers, immediately added the name of Officer Adrian Morris to the growing list.

In addition, memorial funds are established, and various types of fundraisers are frequently put in motion to aid the families of fallen officers. These efforts serve as a proactive way for law enforcement personnel, as well as other allied professionals and a caring community, to give back in ways that provide them a form of solace. It is their way of making a difference in the aftermath of a law enforcement death.

Though cops often try to remain stoic and not openly show their feelings, it is important for them to acknowledge the effects the loss has on them individually as well as collectively. Regardless of whether or not they are personally acquainted with their fallen colleagues, a part of their identity is enmeshed with them and, consequently, the loss is deep and hits hard.

Cops need to grieve, and they must understand there is no timetable for grieving. They need to do it in their own way and time and must not be ashamed or embarrassed to reach out for assistance when necessary. 

Home of the Brave
“Everyday our police officers put their lives on the line for the citizens and residents they serve” said Barry Stanton, Deputy Chief Administrative Officer for Public Safety in Prince George’s County, Maryland.

“Shootings and killing of our police officers shows the senseless disrespect that certain segments of our society have for the law and police officers in general across this country. All citizens should be appalled at this senseless act of violence on our police officers. Police officers are the protectors of what is good, right, and civilized about our country today. I pray every day for the safety of our police officers who patrol and protect our communities, roads, streets, and highways all across America.”

Dedicated in their efforts and brave in their pursuits, cops unhesitatingly sacrifice their lives for the public safety of others. 

David Mahoney accurately sums it up: “Our heroes are those who act above and beyond the call of duty and in so doing give definition to patriotism and elevate all of us... America is the land of the free because we are home of the brave.”

About the author

Karen L. Bune is an Adjunct Professor at George Mason and Marymount universities and a consultant for the U.S. Dept. of Justice. Board Certified in Traumatic Stress and Domestic Violence, a nationally recognized speaker, she also serves on the Institutional Review Board of The Police Foundation. She received the Police Chief’s Award and County Executive’s Recognition of Service Certificate from Prince George’s County, MD. She is in the Wakefield High School (VA) Hall of Fame. She holds the AU Alumni Recognition Award and Marymount University’s Adjunct Teaching Award. She appears in “Marquis Who’s Who in the World” and in “America.”

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