Since 1962, our nation has annually celebrated the lives and memory of the men and women of law enforcement who are killed in the line of duty. The origin of “National Police Week” goes back nearly 50 years to President John F. Kennedy’s proclamation that each May 15th be designated as “Peace Officers Memorial Day.” Over the years, this single day has grown into a week-long opportunity to honor the sacrifice of our law enforcement professionals throughout America.
Normally, tens of thousands of police officers, deputy sheriffs, state troopers and others sworn to uphold the rule of law would have gathered here in our Nation’s capital. They would be participating in a host of events that both honor their fallen colleagues and celebrate their camaraderie.
Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to take its toll on nearly every aspect of life, with National Police Week events being no exception. It’s disappointing to lose the opportunity to celebrate our community heroes in this public way.
Rather than gathering in-person along the National Mall, this year’s events will include a virtual Candlelight Vigil. On Thursday, May 13th, Americans will come together, online, to pay tribute to our fallen protectors. The name of each man and woman who gave their last measure of devotion during the previous year will be read aloud. I encourage everyone to join me in honoring their sacrifices during this event.
Despite the impact of COVID-19, and the risk to their individual safety, the men and women of law enforcement continue to steadfastly uphold their oath to serve and protect.
Pandemic or not, The National Law Enforcement Memorial remains a focal point of National Police Week. It’s here where cops come to remember their departed friends and honor their families. At the time of its dedication in 1991, the names of 12,000 local, state, and federal law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty dating back to 1786 were engraved along the Memorial. Each year, the curved stone walls are updated with the names of the recently fallen. Today, over 22,000 heroes are permanently venerated within those solemn three acres.
In our own Declaration of Independence, our founding fathers spoke of certain unalienable rights, endowed by our Creator. Those specifically mentioned were life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. None of these rights are possible without a citizen’s most basic level of security. And while the United States has layers of safety built into our systems of government, none is more critical to our foundational rights than local law enforcement. Maintaining a free, safe and civil society is squarely dependent on someone who is willing to answer the call, without regard to time or circumstance, and put themselves in harm’s way to ensure the innocent are protected and the law is upheld.
This call to service was embodied by Sergeant Jim Smith of the Iowa State Patrol, who courageously gave his life on April 9th, 2021. Sgt. Smith was tragically killed during an attempt to apprehend a violent suspect.
Sgt. Smith, a 27-year Iowa State Patrol veteran and tactical team leader, put himself in harm’s way on behalf of his fellow Iowans last month and it cost him everything. As his colleagues remembered Sgt. Smith during his memorial service, he was described as a completely genuine man, who loved his family and loved being a civil servant on behalf of his community. Sgt. Smith found his life’s purpose as a dedicated law enforcement officer and I know I speak for many Iowans when I say that we are forever grateful for his service.
While I mourn the loss of Sgt. Smith along with his family, fellow troopers, friends, and the entire Independence, Iowa community, I am pleased that his sacrifice will not be forgotten. His memory, along with the 306 officers we tragically lost in 2020, will live forever as their names will be inscribed on the stone walls of the National Law Enforcement Memorial. Iowans for generations to come will be able to visit Washington, find his name, and be reminded of high cost of preserving our precious rights.
Earlier this week, I introduced a resolution to commemorate National Police Week. This resolution honors the brave men and women who put themselves in harm’s way to make their communities a safer place. As in years past, the measure has significant bipartisan support and gives tribute those who, despite knowing the inherent risk, chose to serve their fellow citizens. Thank you to my many Senate colleagues who signed on as cosponsors of this year’s resolution.
In closing, I want to encourage everyone to visit The National Law Enforcement Memorial. As you enter the Memorial grounds in northwest D.C., you pass a statue of an adult lion keeping close watch over a pair of cubs. It’s a telling illustration of the role undertaken by our cops, vigilantly defending us 24 hours a day. Underneath this statue is a quote from Vivian Eney Cross, the wife of fallen U.S. Capitol Police Sergeant Christopher Sherman Eney. The quote reads, “It is not how these officers died that made them heroes, it is how they lived.”
Despite the uncertainty our Nation currently faces, I’m sure of one thing: the sacrifice of American law enforcement will never be forgotten.