One of the last official acts of President John F. Kennedy before his death in Dallas, Texas, was to name May 15 National Police Memorial Day. The week in which that day falls (May 10-16) is also named National Police Week.
It is unfortunate that for the first time in the event’s history the present pandemic will result in the cancellation of Alaska’s May 15 Police Memorial ceremony. However, there is still opportunity for us to honor the ultimate sacrifice of our law enforcement officers and their families.
The Alaska Police Memorial, located near the front entrance of the Alaska State Crime Detection Laboratory at 4805 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. in Anchorage, is open to the public at this time and I encourage you to stop at the memorial and reflect on the inscribed names of those who left it all behind … for you and for me.
The Police Memorial reminds us that for our police officers there is no path of safety except that of duty. And that police work is a hard life, for the officers and their loved ones.
As our police officers and public safety professionals gear up for each shift, it is always with the knowledge that the day or night may see them cross the threshold of eternity. Anxious prayers of loved ones go with them always.
During this pandemic our police officers cannot stay home, socially distance and work remotely. They go to work to answer the calls to keep us safe, with or without adequate personal protective equipment. Our safety and security depend on it.
Their sacrifice to our state and nation has been great. More than 60 Alaska police officers have been killed in the line of duty. Nationally, police line-of-duty deaths year-to-date are up 29% over last year at 72, with 26 deaths due to COVID-19.
As a retired career Alaska police officer, my experience of National Police Week is shared by many who wear the uniform. It is a bittersweet time. The veiled memories of lost brothers and sisters in blue become unveiled, and are both joy and a scourge.
This week I wear a wristband with the name of friend and brother in blue, Kenai Police Officer John Watson, killed Christmas Day 2003 on a domestic violence call. John was able to save a woman from a violent life threatening situation, but he gave his life doing so. The wristband is a gift from John’s beautiful family.
I will never forget the love and support of the firefighters of the Kenai Fire Department, the Alaska State Troopers, the Anchorage Police Department, all the nearby police and fire service agencies, and the community members that lifted us up during those first moments and hours and days when we could not stand in our own strength. Never were the words so dear “hey brother (sister), I’m just right here, I’ll just be right here until you can think of something I can do to help.” No one who serves a career in this line of work comes out unscathed. The scars stay with you.
So here’s to our police officers and their families and loved ones. We know the value of your selfless service to our state and communities is one that can never be commensurate with your pay. It is only through the honor and thanks we give to you and to the memory of your fallen brothers and sisters that we begin to acknowledge our debt of gratitude to you — the thin blue line.
Chuck Kopp is state House representative for district 24. He served a career in public safety that spanned more than 23 years, serving with the Anchorage Police Reserves, the Kenai Police Department, Alaska Department of Public Safety and the Bristol Bay Borough. He served seven years as the chief of police for the City of Kenai, and as acting Kenai city manager from 2005-2006.
• Chuck Kopp is State House Representative for district 24.