Since 1966, the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) has recognized one law enforcement officer – in a few cases multiple officers – who exemplified outstanding and heroic achievement. While the name of the award may have changed during that time, the honor has not. To celebrate 50 years of awardees, the IACP will be featuring more in-depth stories about some of the Police Officer of the Year winners.
United States Park Police (USPP) Officer Katherine Heller was the 25th Police Officer of the Year Award honoree and first woman to receive the award. She earned this distinction in 1990 for shooting a suspect who was about to shoot her fellow officer, thus saving his life.
On February 22, 1990, Heller and fellow Officer Dahl were at Lafayette Park when they were approached by a man with severe injuries. While Heller rendered aid – she was an EMT prior to becoming a USPP officer – Officer Dahl left in pursuit of the assailant. The suspect attacked Officer Dahl and, during the struggle, was able to grab his weapon. As the suspect leveled the gun at Officer Dahl, Heller fired two shots and stopped the threat.
Officer Heller’s heroic actions in saving the life of a fellow officer, while placing her own life in jeopardy is in the highest tradition of the United States Park Police.
In addition to being the first female recipient of the award, Heller was the first federal uniformed officer, the first United States Park Police officer, and the first Washington, DC-area police officer to receive the recognition.
Since then, Heller has held a myriad of assignments that have led her to achieve the rank of Detective and to be detailed to the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force for nearly half of her career. Assignments over the years have included Narcotics and Vice, Asset Forfeiture, and the National Capital Region Intelligence Center. Detective Heller also served and helped build the framework for an Intelligence Unit within the United States Park Police.
As she nears her retirement, Detective Heller is focused on helping officers with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, educating peers about resiliency, and teaching others from her own experiences. Not only is Detective Heller a success in her work, she is also a volunteer at a raptor center and a role model for younger officers.
As the first female Police Officer of the Year awardee, Detective Heller is a role model for younger officers and for women everywhere. Like Heller, officers around the world are doing heroic and outstanding work every day. Nominations are being accepted for the 2016 IACP/Target Police Officer of the Year Award until Friday, July 17, 2016. Please visit the Police Officer of the Year webpage and honor a deserving officer like Detective Heller today.