Friday, May 23, 2014

Remembering those who have fallen

Yesterday was our annual Memorial Service, honoring the 119 Kansas City Police officers who have died in the line of duty. Below is the speech I delivered on this occasion. I was honored to be joined by Officer Randy Evans, who spoke of how his father - also a KCPD officer - was killed in the line of duty when he was 9 years old, and how in spite of this, Randy decided to become a KCPD officer, too.

"Thank you all for coming here today to remember the lives of the 119 officers we have lost in the 140-year history of the Kansas City Missouri Police Department. They are represented by the 119 flags you see before you. We also are celebrating the 13 years it has been since our department has suffered a line-of-duty death.

"However, I would be remiss to overlook the tragic death of Crime Scene Investigator Michael Chou last July. His shift had just ended, and when he was pulling out of the Crime Lab’s parking lot, he was struck and killed by a drunk driver. My thoughts and prayers – as well as those of his coworkers and the entire police department – remain with his family and friends. He technically was not on duty at the time of his death, but he was a bright and tenacious young man who left his mark at KCPD.

"We may not have had an officer killed in the line of duty since 2001, but their jobs remain very dangerous. Six times last year, our officers had to fatally wound suspects to protect their own lives. Five other officers had injuries so severe they had to end their law enforcement careers last year, and two more have done so this year. These career ending-injuries come from many kinds of dangerous situations, like a gun battle, physical struggles with suspects and car crashes. They all speak to the kind of dangers our officers are willing to face every day to serve the people of their city. They also are the kinds of things that keep our family members awake at night. I thank all the family members of law enforcement personnel here today, and I especially thank those whose worst fears were realized. Words cannot express the gratefulness and sorrow we feel for these family members of officers who lost their lives.

"We are doing everything we can to ensure no other family has to go through what Officer Evans’ family or any of these people sitting here did. Last August, instructors at our police academy began the Below 100 initiative. Below 100 is a national program that aims to bring line-of-duty officer deaths below 100 in a calendar year. The last time fewer than 100 law enforcement officers died in the line of duty in America was 70 years ago in 1944. So far this year, there have been 45 line-of-duty-deaths.

"While innovations in medicine, training and protective equipment have brought deaths down from an all-time high of 278 officers killed in 1974, the current average of 150 per year since then is still far too high.

"Here’s how we’re making sure one of those tragedies does not take place in Kansas City: Every single entrant officer takes the Below 100 training right before graduating from the Police Academy. The course also is offered quarterly to current officers. It is free to our staff and those from any other agency who want to attend. The goal is to save lives, not make money.

"Below 100 centers on five tenets for officers, which address the top causes of line-of-duty deaths in American law enforcement. The tenets are: wear your seatbelt, wear your bullet-resistant vest, watch your speed, consider only what’s important now, and the fact that complacency kills. Everyone who undergoes the training gets one of these bracelets that says “Below 100” to constantly remind them of these things.

"Of the 119 KCPD officers killed in the line of duty, 73 died from gunfire. Another 18 were killed in motorcycle crashes, and 14 died in car crashes. Three were killed in helicopter crashes, and three others were beaten to death. Other officers in our history drowned while trying to rescue flood victims, were killed in a streetcar crash, were hit by a train, had a heart attack during arrest or died in a fall.

"Our Academy instructors, commanders, supervisors and I take the responsibility of properly training and equipping our officers extremely seriously. It is incumbent on us to ensure that every sworn member of our department has the knowledge and resources to go home safely at the end of their shifts. Some tragedies cannot be prevented. But we are working diligently to prevent those we can. I hope that the brave fallen officers who we remember and honor today would be proud of the steps we’ve taken to keep other families from enduring the same loss theirs had to.

Thank you."