Author and Chief Geek Kevin Duffy is retiring today from almost five decades of public safety service, most of which as a police officer and police trainer/educator. By chance his retirement date coincides with Peace Officers Memorial Day.
In 1962, President John F. Kennedy signed a proclamation that established May 15 each year as Peace Officers Memorial Day and the week in which it appears as Police Week. Today, then, is Peace Officers Memorial Day.
May 15, 2018 is also the day that I chose to retire after 48 years of public safety service, with forty of those years as a sworn police officer working full-time and then part-time. My work was based in the Daytona Beach area, spread between city and county agencies in Volusia and Flagler Counties. But today is the day that I remember those with whom I served and are no longer with us.
As a Volusia County Deputy Sheriff, I served on the motorcycle unit for a number of years. One of our duties at that time was to act as the honor guard for law enforcement funerals and burials, including the task of removing the flag from the coffin and ceremoniously folding it during the graveside service. I also attended too many services for others who had fallen. Those were some of the worst days.
Last year, 135 officers lost their lives in the line of duty. This year so far, fifty-three have paid the price. The media pays attention to those felonious assaults, ambush shootings, and other attacks, often shown by news outlets and on social media through the use of bystander cell phone video.
The other hidden secret of law enforcement is the number of police suicides each year. While 135 officers lost their lives in 2017 due to assaults, traffic crashes and other events, it is estimated that 140 officers committed suicide – exact numbers are not known. This number is at the upper end of the rate of suicide for the general public.
On this day of remembrance, think not only about the number of officers who died in the line of duty, but also remember those who died alone by their own hand, hurting from the stress of the job that they chose – chosen because they thought that they could make a difference in their communities. I folded too many flags and attended too many services for my police friends who committed suicide.
When you see an officer in your community, try a smile and wave. It will make a difference in that officer’s day – and maybe his or her life. And remember – that officer left his or her family that day to go to work wearing a ballistic vest and carrying a gun, knowing full well that going home at the end of the shift – or any shift – was not a guarantee. Not many of us can make that claim.
I was one of the lucky ones. Throughout my career I never suffered any major injuries and never had to take a life. I think that I performed my duties well, and I was privileged to have the opportunity to pass on what I had learned over the years to others in training classes, the law enforcement academy and criminal justice college courses.
Others were not so lucky. May they rest in peace.