Ever since 1962, when President John F. Kennedy proclaimed May 15 as National Peace Officers Memorial Day and the week in which it falls as National Police Week, the month of May has been a time when our law enforcement family throughout the U.S. joins together with our communities to remember all the officers killed in the line of duty. It’s an occasion to mourn these devastating losses, support those who are grieving, reflect on the spirit of our profession and, above all, pay tribute to the courage and selflessness of the heroes who gave their lives to protect others.
We begin by gathering in Sacramento for the annual California Peace Officers’ Memorial Ceremony, where the names of the fallen officers from the past year will be added to the list of more than 1,600 we have lost since California became a state. This year’s ceremony on Monday, May 6, honors the eight officers who died in the line of duty in 2018:
Deputy Steven E. Belanger
Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department
EOW: February 6, 2018
Officer Greggory Casillas
Pomona Police Department
EOW: March 9, 2018
Deputy Ryan D. Zirkle
Marin County Sheriff’s Office
EOW: March 15, 2018
Officer Kirk A. Griess
California Highway Patrol
EOW: August 10, 2018
Deputy Mark V. Stasyuk
Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department
EOW: September 17, 2018
Sergeant Ronald L. Helus
Ventura County Sheriff’s Office
EOW: November 8, 2018
Deputy Tony Hinostroza III
Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department
EOW: November 25, 2018
Corporal Ronil Singh
Newman Police Department
EOW: December 26, 2018
The following week, May 12–18, tens of thousands of law enforcement members, survivors and supporters will travel to Washington, D.C., from across the country and around the world for a series of events commemorating the more than 21,000 fallen officers who have been killed in the line of duty in the U.S. since 1786. This year, the names of 371 officers will be engraved on the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial — 158 who died in 2018, and 213 more who died in previous years but whose stories were lost to history until now.
Seeing the totality of these tragedies is sobering. Officer fatalities rose 12% in 2018 over the previous year, and for the first time in decades, shootings were the leading cause of death. As the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund reports, “Of the 52 officer deaths [by gunfire], 14 occurred while officers were attempting to place an individual under arrest. Eight officers were killed while conducting an investigative activity. Six officers were killed responding to domestic disturbance and public disturbance calls, each totaling 12. Five officers were ambushed in 2018.” Meanwhile, traffic-related deaths — the top danger to law enforcement for years — barely diminished, with 51 officers lost in vehicle collisions. In addition, 9/11-related illnesses took 27 lives and heart attacks 18.
“These statistics illustrate the many ways in which peace officers place their health and safety on the line each and every day in the service of their communities,” says LAAPOA President Marshall McClain. “Some of the threats are beyond our control, while others may be preventable. As we express our sorrow and comfort those who are hurting, this is also an opportunity to remember what truly matters in life and take stock of how we can take care of ourselves and each other.”
This may include simple personal measures such as wearing seat belts, watching your speed, staying alert, and prioritizing physical fitness and mental well-being, as well as larger-scale changes through public advocacy. For example, in Arizona, after Salt River Police Officer Clayton Townsend was killed by a distracted driver during a traffic stop in January, citizens and lawmakers were inspired to finally get the state — one of only three in the U.S. that had not already done so — to pass a bill banning the use of handheld devices while driving. While nothing can bring back Officer Townsend, taking steps to prevent similar tragedies was a fitting legacy.
“I encourage all those who are able to make it to the ceremonies in Sacramento or Washington to take the opportunity to share in this powerful experience of solidarity, respect and reverence,” McClain says. “But wherever you are, I hope this month you’ll pause to give thanks for all those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty, and to remember the partners and families they left behind. At a time when law enforcement continues to be under threat both physically and politically, it’s more important than ever to remember the price that has been paid for the safety of our communities. LAAPOA will continue to do everything we can to honor our fallen brothers and sisters, support their survivors and advocate for measures to protect the safety of law enforcement officers in our state and throughout the U.S.”