I think of my family every time I hear about a police officer being killed in the line of duty. I also think how I hope it never happens to me.
I never want my family to be the ones sitting in the front row at the grave site being presented with the American flag by my chief. I never want them to hear the bagpipes being played for me.
Whenever I hear an officer was killed in the line of duty, I reflect on some of the close calls I’ve had. I think of a few times when I or someone I knew, could’ve been the next name on the wall in our police department hallway.
Whenever I hear of an officer’s death, I think of how grateful I am for what I have and how I’m still able to do the job I love.
And finally, I also think about two officers who were killed over 20 years ago.
I started the academy on Aug. 29, 1994 and graduated Feb. 22, 1995. During that time, there were two officers from the area who were killed in the line of duty. I never forgot their names because I attended their funerals with my academy classmates.
Those two funerals helped shape how I saw things from the time I was a young recruit to now, as a veteran officer with new gray hairs that seem to appear every day.
It was one of the best things the academy staff ever did because it made everything real. This wasn’t classroom stuff. It was up close and personal. It showed just how serious this job really was.
Officer Charles Heim was killed on Oct. 21, 1994. Officer Michael Osorio was killed on Oct. 31, 1994.
Officer Heim was an officer with the Los Angeles Police Department. Officer Osorio was with the La Habra Police Department. They were killed less than two weeks apart and I can still remember seeing their pictures on TV.
Officer Heim was shot by a suspect and Officer Osorio was killed by a drunk driver on Halloween night. Officer Osorio’s department was not far away from mine so it really hit close to home.
I remember standing in the cemetery at Officer Heim’s funeral and being amazed at the sight of all the officers who were there. It showed me I was part of something much bigger than I thought.
When the bagpipes started playing I could sense the emotion around me as people fought back tears. Then the helicopters could be heard in the background. I looked up to the sky as they flew overhead. The rotors were loud and added something to the moment that is hard to describe. Then one helicopter broke off from the group and started flying in a different direction in the “Missing Man” formation. I remember saying to myself, “I never want my family to go through this.”
It was such a powerful moment and it stayed with me for the rest of my life.
Two weeks later I was at another officer’s funeral. I can still remember the heartfelt eulogy that Officer Osorio’s chief gave as I looked across the sea of uniformed officers who were there to pay their respects. That too, was another moment that stayed with me.
These funerals showed me that nothing can be taken for granted while doing this job. It showed the unspoken bond that officers have because they all potentially share the same fate while wearing the badge.
There’s nothing that compares to a police officer’s funeral. It’s different from any other funeral you’ve ever attended. It’s amazing to see how many officers are there for someone they might not have known.
A regular person sees it as a sad moment. A police officer sees it as a sad moment too, but there’s one big difference.
A police officer knows it could’ve been them. They also know it could’ve been their family sitting up front and being presented with the flag.
The officers in attendance also know this won’t be the last one who dies while wearing the badge. That’s what makes the funeral personal.
That’s also why we can’t forget the names of those who died while in the line of duty.
Editor’s Note: John Roman is a traffic officer for an Orange County police agency who writes a blog, Badge 415 (badge415.wordpress.com/). His posts focus on the human side of police work and safety tips. Roman, a cop for 20 years, has handled more than 5,000 accidents as a collision investigator. behindthebadgeoc.com will share some of his columns.