Guest Blogger: Colonel Steve Flaherty, Virginia State Police
We’re getting too good at these.
That was my response on the evening of March 31, 2016, to reporters asking how difficult it was as a law enforcement leader to accept the loss of Trooper Chad Dermyer. We were standing just yards away from where Chad had been shot and killed by a convicted felon inside a bus terminal in the City of Richmond only a few hours earlier.
Chad’s line-of-duty death is my tenth during my 12 ½ year tenure as Superintendent of the State Police, and the second for our Department within just seven months. Sadly, our folks knew just what to do without being asked. The memo to direct the wearing of the mourning band was sent Department-wide before the day was over. Our funeral coordinators were on deck ready to meet with the family and begin the sorrowful preparations for a visitation, service, procession and burial. Department photographs of Chad and his bio were being researched for the family, an obituary, and the media.
Within days of Chad’s death, we paid homage to yet another exceptional father, husband, son, brother, and public safety professional who had sacrificed his life while merely “doing his job.” Chad had only been with Virginia State Police (VSP) for three years. Prior to coming to us, he had been a highly-respected officer in Newport News, Virginia, and Mount Jackson, Michigan. He also proudly served his nation as a Marine. His funeral had one of the largest attendances our Department has ever seen.
We’re getting too good at these for all the wrong reasons. That’s what happens when tragedy strikes 123 times 365 days. Local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies nationwide were going through the same scenario as I have described above, but for the 123 men and women in uniform who died in the line of duty last year across the U.S. Our own, Trooper Nathan-Michael W. Smith, will be among the 252 names read this Friday as we gather to honor our fallen members during the 28th Annual Candlelight Vigil on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
During this 2016 National Police Week, let us as public safety professionals be reminded of our duty not only to serve and protect those living, working, and visiting our communities, but to also do to the same for ourselves and fellow officers. As supervisors, we have the absolute responsibility to use every technological advancement, training opportunity, and available equipment to safeguard our sworn personnel. We have to make sure we are providing them with all the tools they need – to support them physically, mentally, and emotionally – to be at their best when others are at their worst.
We’re getting too good at these for the right reasons. As we honor the lives and legacies of our fallen men and women in uniform during National Police Week, let us recognize the true meaning of these tributes. The musical performances, honor guards, flag details, bike tours, marathon runs, speeches, and wreath laying ceremonies are essential to reassuring the surviving families, coworkers, and friends that we never forget our fallen. These ceremonies also demonstrate to the greater public #WhyIWearTheBadge, and what choosing a life of public service means to each of us as individuals and keepers of the peace. This is our week to show the citizens of this nation who we really are as men and women in and out of uniform. This is our time to show the world why we take a line-of-duty death so seriously, and why we work so hard to make sure every detail is accomplished with precision and excellence.
As we take time this week to remember those who have gone before us, let us also take a moment to reflect on our own sense of duty and the oath we took – whether just last month or, in my case, 40 years ago. We already have Chad and 35 other reasons to know that the next line-of-duty death for 2016 is not a matter of if, but when. Therefore, we must continue to do everything we can to keep our sworn personnel safe in their daily duties and contacts with the public, so that this time next year we are not reflecting back on how many, but rather how few, we have lost in the line of duty.