Editor’s Note: Recently, Anaheim Police Officer Daron Wyatt took part in the National Police Week festivities in Washington D.C. He shared his experience and the many photos he captured with Behind the Badge OC.
Honoring Courage, Saluting Sacrifice.
This was the motto for National Police Week 2015, a poignant reminder of the devotion displayed by approximately 900,000 law enforcement professionals across the United States and a chance to remember and honor those who died in the line of duty.
Lately, our profession has been painted with a very broad and dirty brush. Now more than ever it is important for us to stand together and recognize that we still don our badges daily as the guardians of justice and that we do so with honorable intentions.
Thanks to the Orange County Peace Officers Association, I was able to attend Police Week for the first time this year. I arrived in Washington D.C. on Tuesday May 12, 2015 with my brother, Sgt. Gary Wyatt of the Irvine Police Department and my 16-year-old nephew, Garrett. Thankfully, both have attended Police Week several times and knew the ins and outs of where to go and when.
The danger of police work has a long history. The first recorded law enforcement line of duty death in the United States occurred in 1791. Since that time, more than 20,000 peace officers have made the ultimate sacrifice. According to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Foundation, a peace officer is killed every 58 hours somewhere in the United States.
The idea of an observance to recognize the sacrifices made by peace officers who have been injured or killed in the line of duty was first discussed in 1961 when Congress asked the president to designate a day of remembrance for peace officers.
In October 1962, President John F. Kennedy signed the bill into law and proclaimed May 15 as Peace Officer Memorial Day. Since that time, every United States president has designated May 15 as Peace Officer Memorial Day and have encouraged state and local governments to do the same.
The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial was dedicated on Oct. 15, 1991. The Memorial features two curving blue marble walls, now with 20,538 names inscribed upon it of officers who died in the line of duty.
As friends, families, and co-workers come to pay their respect, the Memorial walls take on a life of their own. Testimonies, photographs, patches, challenge coins, and even badges draped with mourning bands adorn the walls during Police Week.
Some agencies get creative and place a patrol car door or a motorcycle fairing at the Memorial. The Memorial is the centerpiece of National Police Week, a week’s worth of events that take place during the week leading up to May 15.
On either side of the entrance are podiums with laminated pages alphabetically listing the names on the walls and showing the corresponding panel and line number where the names can be found. There are pads and pencils at the podiums for visitors to trace the outline of their loved ones’ name.
National Police Week has become a sort of Mecca for law enforcement officers with more than 20,000 of us and our families descending on the nation’s Capitol for the week.
The city is full of cops of all shapes and sizes, colors and creeds, all sharing the bond of being brothers and sisters in blue. It is common to see badges hanging on chains around necks all over town throughout the week.
During Police Week the Metro train is free to badge-carrying members of law enforcement and many of the local establishments welcome us with open arms. The District Chop House even brews its own special Copper Ale with a souvenir pint glass for the week. I recommend getting there early enough in the week before they are sold out.
The planned ceremonies include a Candlelight Vigil annually on May 13 at the Memorial, a Pipes and Drums Parade on May 14 and the main Memorial Ceremony at the U.S. Capitol on May 15.
In between, there are plenty of opportunities to volunteer and to meet fellow cops from around the nation and even the world.
Irvine police personnel Lt. Michael Kent, Christopher Hallinan, 14, son of Lt. Mike Hallinan, Sgt. Gary Wyatt and his son Garrett, Lt. Pat Hurtado, and Lt. Cathy Scherer volunteered at the memorial before the Candlelight Vigil.
There is also a wreath laying ceremony at the Memorial with honor guards from around the country standing guard.
For officers who have never been to the Memorial, it is a must do and I strongly encourage them to make the pilgrimage with tens of thousands of other cops from around the world during Police Week. Next year’s events are scheduled for the week of May 9 – 13, 2016.
Not only does our participation honor our colleagues who have been killed in the line of duty, but just as importantly it shows the survivors that we are a family and that they will never be forgotten.
My most memorable occurrence during the week came during a visit to the Memorial on Wednesday afternoon. A young girl about 9 was walking along the wall being escorted by a man in plain clothes. They were obviously looking for something in particular. I then heard the man point to a name on the wall, “Here you go sweetie, here’s your Daddy.”