Thursday, May 19, 2011

Remembering those who gave all for this city

Today was our annual Police Memorial Service. We had to move it inside because of the rain, but the same sentiment was present: honoring all the officers who have died in the line of duty since this department began in 1874. Below are my remarks from this morning's event:

Thank you all very much for taking the time to come here today and honor the ultimate sacrifice made by 119 members of the Kansas City Missouri Police Department. They gave their lives to serving the public, and we should remember their selflessness more than one day a year.

In fact, in some ways we became complacent. Nationwide in 2009, police officer deaths fell to their lowest level in 50 years. We have now been blessed to go a decade without tragically losing a member of the KCPD family. We are well-trained. We have bullet-resistant vests and fast cars and technology. But we are not invincible. The surge of line-of duty deaths in 2010 and into this year proves we cannot fall into a false sense of security.

The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund recorded a 40 percent increase in line-of-duty deaths last year, with 162 officers killed across the United States. And to date this year, 12 more officers have been killed than in 2010. The majority of this year’s slayings have been from gunfire. National Memorial Fund Chairman Craig W. Floyd was right when he said, “A more brazen, cold-blooded criminal element is on the prowl in America, and they don’t think twice about killing a cop.”

From St. Petersburg, Florida, to Hoonah, Alaska, bold and heartless criminals killed multiple officers who were trying to uphold the law last year. Two police officers in West Memphis, Arkansas, were shot to death during a traffic stop by two anti-government activists. St. Petersburg hadn’t lost an officer in the line of duty for 30 years, but three were killed in 2010. Two died in January when a suspect hiding in the attic of a home shot at them from above. Another lost his life in February when he questioned a 16-year-old about a possible car theft, and the teen shot him four times.

While shootings are the leading cause of death of on-duty officers so far in 2011, traffic fatalities led the causes of death last year. There is a rising trend of officers being killed when they are standing outside of their cars, like a sergeant with the Sevier County, Utah, Sheriff’s Office who was killed on April 29, 2010. He was investigating a crash on an interstate. An SUV lost control on a patch of ice and hit the sergeant, throwing him off a bridge and down 200 feet to his death.

ut for luck and the grace of God, Kansas City Police stayed out of these statistics. On September 26, 2010, a KCPD officer was involved in a foot chase in Midtown when he got hold of a suspect’s shirt just as the suspect jumped into a vehicle. The suspect drove away, dragging the officer down the street. The officer, fortunately, survived with minor injuries.

Just after midnight on Christmas day last year, two officers were dispatched to a simple trespassing call at an apartment complex. They ended up wrestling with a man high on PCP who repeatedly tried to take their service weapons from them and use them against them. The man was unable to do so and was taken into custody.

And on January 24 of this year in the Old Northeast part of the city, officers responded to a hostage situation in which one man was holding another at gun point inside a home. The officers concealed themselves outside, and when the suspect came out the front door, he was holding a gun. The officers told him to put the gun down, but he instead pointed it at them. Officers fired first, injuring the suspect.

Any one of those incidents could have had a different and much more tragic outcome. It is a dangerous time to be a police officer in Kansas City and elsewhere. The men and women of this police department go on the job every day knowing they will encounter criminals who should have been put in jail long ago but are still on the streets with assault weapons and no respect for the law. Our officers know they will walk alongside highways to help a car crash victim when the only thing standing between them and speeding motorists is a line of paint. They know they will be criticized and disrespected. Most of all, they do their duties knowing their names may end up on this monument. This is true selflessness, and it is to be commended and honored.

Those whose names are etched onto the base of this statue knew the risks, too, but chose to stay in this noble and dangerous profession. They valued the safety of this city over their own. For that, we remember and honor them today.

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