On Friday, this nation recognized National Peace Officer’s Memorial Day, a date that falls within National Police Week. This holiday was created on Oct. 1, 1961, by Congress and signed into law on Oct. 1, 1962, by President John F. Kennedy. The law designates May 15 as the memorial day honoring all peace officers who have died in the line of duty.
The National Law Enforcement Memorial Fund, founded in 1984, is dedicated to telling the story of American law enforcement and making it safer for those who serve. The fund maintains the largest, most comprehensive database of line-of-duty officer deaths and conducts research into officer-fatality trends and issues. The fund provides a lot of interesting statistical information. For example, did you know that 1,582 police officers died in the line of duty over the past 10 years? That works out to be one death every 55 hours.
In addition, the FBI’s latest Uniform Crime Report shows that there were 60,211 assaults against law-enforcement officers in 2017, resulting in 17,476 injuries. In the history of Chicago alone, 545 officers have died in the line of duty.
Statistics are sometimes meaningless. Unless, of course, you know the officer who was killed. If you lived in Douglas County, you likely remember Tommy Martin. Tommy grew up in Tuscola, graduated from Tuscola High School in 1966 and eventually became a well-respected Illinois State Police Crime Scene Technician who retired to become chief deputy of the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office.
Tommy was well-loved at the sheriff’s office and throughout the community. He had twinkly eyes and a perpetual smile on his face. According to fellow employees at the office, Tommy could brighten your day by just talking to you.
On June 21, 2007, Tommy had just turned east on the Hays-Villa Grove Road from Prairie Street. He was driving toward the scene of a home invasion when the perpetrators (who it was later determined had also committed a murder in Chicago) drove past and shot him in the face and chest. Tommy was able to broadcast his location and the direction of travel the subjects were going. He died from his wounds on July 17. Tommy left behind a son and a daughter and three grandchildren.
Illinois state troopers were killed at an alarming rate this past year. Troopers were struck by vehicles while performing their duties 16 times in 2019. Three of them were killed in three months.
Trooper Christopher Lambert was killed Jan. 12, 2019, while investigating a crash on Interstate 294 in the Chicago suburbs. Christopher had a wife and a 14-month-old daughter.
Trooper Brooke Jones-Story was killed on March 28, 2019, by a semitrailer while conducting a traffic stop on U.S. 20 near Illinois 75 near Freeport. Brooke leaves behind a husband and two stepchildren.
Trooper Gerald “Jerry” Wayne Ellis was killed March 30, 2019, by a wrong-way driver while he was driving home from work on Interstate 94 in Chicago. Jerry is survived by his wife and two daughters.
Getting back to statistics, the deadliest day in law-enforcement history was Sept. 11, 2001, when 72 officers were killed while responding to the terrorist attacks on America. Kenneth Tietjen, a Port Authority police officer, was working on 33rd Street when he heard about the attack. Ken hijacked a taxi, telling the driver to get into the back seat while he drove to ground zero. Ken rushed into the North Tower and helped people, some badly burned, get down to medical personnel. When he emerged on the first floor with his partner to get a new respirator, they found only one remaining. Ken smiled at his partner, grabbed the respirator and said “Seniority rules” before waving and running into the South Tower. Moments later, the building fell. Ken was engaged to be married later that month. His mother said, “He loved everything — life, sports, people, his job. He was a lovable person with many, many friends. And I know it sounds corny, but he was a really good kid ... he was born on the Fourth of July; he was a hero.”
Although police week has concluded, I hope you are able to take a few moments today to reflect on the sacrifice that men and women like Ken, Jerry, Brooke, Christopher and Tommy have made.