Remember, and Remain Vigilant
By Timothy S. Wardrip
Good afternoon everyone. I was so honored a month ago when asked to speak here today. To be included on your guest list as you honor those who have fallen is something I always will cherish and remember.
Speeches often start with a joke or humorous story. I assure you that I will not tell any today. We all know that this is not the time or place for humor. Let me begin, though, by telling you about a former police officer that I recently came to know. He is retired on a disability pension after his involvement in a critical incident several years ago that involved the death of one of his coworkers. He came to the police academy one day wanting to tell our recruits his story. He still comes occasionally, wanting to practice physical fitness with them or be involved in some way with their training—in general, just to hang around. Initially, I wondered why he did this and what his motives were. After giving the matter some thought, I decided that all these years later, this former officer still searches for answers. I wonder, too, if his actions can serve as a reminder to us all that when the unthinkable happens, it can have a profound effect on slain officers’ coworkers, as well as their families and friends. Law enforcement managers everywhere need to recognize this postcritical-incident danger zone to officers and strive to improve efforts to heal them spiritually, emotionally, and physically.
I would like to share something that we do at the police academy almost every morning. After physical fitness training and the pledge of allegiance, our recruits stand at attention in the classroom as a few classmates read about recent incidents across the nation that involved one of their fellow officers who fell in the line of duty. After the reading they tape the paper on the wall in the classroom. Usually, the paper features a photo of the fallen officer. A number, boldly and prominently marked at the top of each paper, reminds our recruits each day as they look to see how many officers have fallen.
The Northwest Indiana Law Enforcement Academy has been practicing this ritual with its recruits for years. It started long before I got there. I cannot take the credit for it. I wish I could. I do think, though, that it is an effective way to remind young officers every morning about the dangers of their chosen profession. It is a perilous time for officers at home and for our military personnel abroad as we wage the war on terrorism.
Let me indulge myself for a moment as I read briefly from several “officer down” stories on the Internet. The first says, “Constable David Welch, Henderson County Sheriff’s Office, Illinois…was shot and killed while attempting to serve an arrest warrant at the Hollingsworth Mill.” His end of watch was Tuesday, January 11, 1859. The second reads this way: “Patrolman Timothy F. Donovan, Somerville Police Department, Massachusetts…was struck and killed by a vehicle while investigating another accident at the Northern Artery Bridge.” The end of watch was Friday, November 13, 1942. Finally, the third is: “Chief Deputy Gary L. Martin of the Lake County Sheriff’s Department, Indiana, and Lieutenant Gary Dudley of the Indiana State Police were struck and killed while participating in a charity bicycle ride for the Indiana Chapter of Concerns of Police Survivors.” Their end of watch was Tuesday, August 22, 2006.
Mr. Wardrip, the former executive director of the Northwest Indiana Law Enforcement Academy in Hobart, now serves as a security consultant in a private firm. He presented this speech on May 19, 2007, at the National Police Week and Peace Officer’s Memorial Day Ceremony sponsored by the Schererville, Indiana, Police Department.
These three stories speak for themselves. It was a dangerous world then, and it is now. In that respect law enforcement really has not changed much in 150 years. But, we are smarter than we used to be. We are better at what we do than we were then. We have had a lot of practice. Additionally, our equipment is better. Our training and technology are better. Our vehicles and weapons are better. But, in the end, it all boils down to people, who, after all, are fragile. All of the equipment, training, and technology in the world may not matter if your number gets called. And, if it does, rest assured that we will honor you then just as we honor those today who have fallen before you. So, indeed, it may be true that it is not much different now than when Constable David Welch tried to serve that arrest warrant way back in 1859.
So, I remind you—all of the men and women of the Schererville Police Department gathered here today—that we in law enforcement must remain ever vigilant. Our rank or position is not important. Whether you are an administrator, investigator, supervisor, or patrol officer, stay on your guard. It can happen any day, anywhere, or at anytime. Someday, any one of you may, indeed, be called upon to make the ultimate sacrifice in the performance of your duty. But, you know that already. You do not need me to remind you of that. You understand what is expected.
“…when the unthinkable happens, it can have a profound effect on slain officers’ coworkers, as well as their families and friends.”