The Coastal Post - June 1999

Recognizing National Police Week

By Alex Valencia

No profession deals with more adversity than that of a peace officer. The occupational hazards are obvious. You can get shot, injured and perhaps die.

This past week marked National Police Week, and last Saturday, Peace Officers Memorial Day. During this time the nation not only honored those brave men and women who died in the line of duty, but also recognized the family members those fallen officers left behind.

Although the death of a police officer takes a toll on the community at large, with one less individual to guard and serve its citizens, it is the family of the deceased that pays the biggest price. The country may designate a week to honor these individuals who literally put their lives on the line, but the family members have to live with their loss 365 days a year.

Be it a son, husband or daughter who decides to pursue a career in law enforcement, when they're on duty the same questions are always in the back of the loved one's mind. What if he got in an accident? What if he got shot? I should know, I am very proud of my son Mark, who decided to follow in my footsteps and now works for the Santa Barbara Sheriff's Department.

However, when a peace officer who has a family is out in the field, a simple ring of the telephone or doorbell could be the most awful sound for fear that if answered the receiver might hear the worst news imaginable.

Every year between 140 and 160 law enforcement officers are shot in the line of duty and most of the time they leave behind families, many with small children.

Seeing a need to honor those who died trying to make a safer life for American citizens, President John F. Kennedy signed National Police Week and National Peace Officers Memorial Day into public law on October 1, 1962. However, it wasn't until 20 years later that the very first National Peace Officer's Memorial Day Service was actually held.

Last Thursday in Washington, D.C., many individuals, mostly those who have lost loved ones in the line of duty, gathered for the annual candlelight vigil at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, D.C. The following Saturday services were held on the West Lawn of the United States Capitol.

A little closer to home, the Arroyo Grande Police Department sent officers to Sacramento to attend memorial services honoring peace officers who died while serving their community.

But no matter where one lives-whether it is considered a safe community or one wrought with crime-being a police officer will always be an occupation that entails an enormous amount of responsibility.

Lately peace officers have been under the eye of scrutiny, and some perhaps for good reason. But let us ask ourselves what would our community be like without their services?

Like any other professional, there are good police officers and there are bad ones. But those officers who are trying to protect and serve their community through a positive and effective approach far outweigh those who abuse their power.

Being a police officer is a tough job, and it takes a special kind of person to be one. Somebody has to. Bottom line is that they are a necessity and day-to-day they have to live with the fact that there might be a price to pay-for themselves and their family members.

Alex Valencia is a former peace officer for the Arroyo Grande Police Department and Chairman of the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians.

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