Thursday, May 27, 2010

Remembering the fallen

We just wrapped up the annual Kansas City Missouri Police Department Memorial Service during which we take time to remember the officers who have given their lives in the line of duty. Below are my remarks from the event, and I hope to have some pictures up later today.

"Welcome, and thank you for coming here today as we celebrate another year without a new name etched into this memorial while taking the time to mourn those whose names are inscribed here. The 119 men whose names are listed here and who are represented by the 119 flags before you were killed in the line of duty, and it is right that we take time to pause and give thanks for their sacrifices, and the sacrifices made by their family and friends. Some died at the hands of a suspect, others in car and helicopter crashes. Every one of them died serving the people of Kansas City, Missouri, and for that, we should all be grateful.

This past year, we heaved a collective sigh of relief after many officers encountered brushes with death and came out alive. One officer is back on the job after she suffered life-threatening injuries when she was hit by a car on an icy stretch of highway. She put herself in harm’s way to stop another crash victim from getting out of her car when another vehicle spun out of control on the ice and struck her.

A dashboard camera captured two officers who encountered a suspect in a park last September who was intent on killing them. The officers returned fire and stopped him, but watching the events replay on video, we get a sick feeling in our stomachs as we are reminded how quickly the situation might have turned out differently. Another dashboard camera filmed an officer processing a car at a DUI traffic stop, only to be struck by another drunk driver who came careening down the road. The officer, thankfully, suffered only minor injuries.

And just last month, I presented a Medal of Valor to an officer who put the safety of others well above his own, even though he was off-duty, out of uniform and had no police equipment available to him. He walked into a toxic cloud generated from an acid spill on the highway to get the other motorists around him out of harm’s way as quickly as possible. He did get those drivers to safety, but he was overcome by acid fumes and had to be transported to the hospital for respiratory treatment.

What kind of people would do these things? What kind of people would put the safety of others before their own, or confront a suspect who shot at them? These are police officers, and the late broadcaster Paul Harvey summed them up well in a poem he wrote many years ago titled, “Policeman,” which we know today refers to both police men and police women. Harvey’s own father was a police officer who was killed in the line of duty when Harvey was a child, and he admired law enforcement the rest of his life. Here are some excerpts from that poem:

'A Policeman is a composite of what all men are, I guess, mingling of saint and sinner, dust and deity. …

What is a policeman? He, of all men, is at once the most needed and the most wanted. A strangely nameless creature who is ‘sir’ to his face and ‘pig’ or worse behind his back. …

He must be such a diplomat that he can settle differences between individuals so that each will think he won.

He must make instant decisions which would require months for a lawyer. But if he hurries, he's careless; if he is deliberate, he's lazy. He must be first to an accident, infallible with a diagnosis. He must be able to start breathing, stop bleeding, tie splints and, above all, be sure the victim goes home without a limp. Or expect to be sued. …

A policeman must know everything and not tell. He must know where all of the sin is and not partake.

The policeman, from a single human hair, must be able to describe the crime, the weapon, the criminal - and tell you where the criminal is hiding.

But...If he catches the criminal, he's lucky; if he doesn't, he's a dunce. If he gets promoted, he has political pull; if he doesn't, he's a dullard. The policeman must chase bum leads to a dead-end, stake out ten nights to tag one witness who saw it happen-but refuses to remember. ...

The policeman must be a minister, a social worker, a diplomat, a tough guy and a gentleman.

And, of course, he’ll have to be a genius because he’ll have to feed a family on a policeman's salary.'

Today, we remember the sacrifices of those who were all these things and died because of it. We also pray for the safety of those who continue to serve the people of this city in spite of the dangers they face daily. Please thank them and their families for what they do."

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