This week is the official National Police Week, a week where law enforcement officers are remembered, and survivors gather to pay honor to those who have served and paid the ultimate sacrifice. But will it be tainted this year by the events that have occurred - from police shootings of teenagers, the despicable killing of George Floyd and many other unnecessary deaths to public cries to defund or, in the least, reform the police? Perhaps the impact of the pandemic and the rescheduling of the in-person events is a blessing in disguise.
In 1962, President John F. Kennedy signed a proclamation which designated May 15 as Peace Officers Memorial Day. The Memorial Service began in 1982 as a gathering in Senate Park of approximately 120 survivors and supporters of law enforcement. Decades later, the event, now extended and known as National Police Week, has grown to a series of events which attracts thousands of survivors and law enforcement officers to our Nation's Capital each year. Events traditionally include a Candlelight Vigil at the National Mall and seminars sponsored by Concerns of Police Survivors (COPS) as well as opportunities for law enforcement, survivors, and citizens to gather and pay homage to those who gave their lives in the line of duty.
In a normal year, National Police Week draws in between 25,000 to 40,000 attendees that come from departments throughout the United States as well as from agencies throughout the world, however this year, with the pandemic still causing major disruption to travel and the avoidance of mass gatherings, the in-person events have been rescheduled to October 13th-17th, 2021.
The 33rd Annual Candlelight Vigil will be run as a virtual event and live streamed on Thursday, May 13, 2021 at 8:00 p.m. Eastern. It will include survivor stories, tributes from dignitaries and law enforcement, and the traditional reading of names and can be viewed here:
This year, the names of 394 officers will be read. Of the 394, 295 are from 2020, and 99 are historical and 182 of the 2020 deaths were related to COVID-19. Survivor stories will be shared along with tributes to the fallen from celebrities, law enforcement agencies, and government dignitaries. The addition of the latest 394 names that will be added to the memorial wall will bring the total to 22,611.
After the events of the last year, we all know that much needs to be done in the United States to rebuild trust in the police, to resolve many of the issues of racial inequality and to address the way police officers are recruited and trained. The media has covered so many stories that have shocked the nation, that leave us all with feelings of anger and betrayal and there is no doubt that major reform is needed. But we must not forget, that for all of the “bad apples” out there, there are also many “good apples” who have saved lives and, in many cases, sacrificed their own for our protection.
It is such a contrast to look at the brutal killing of George Floyd compared to the bravery and courage shown by the Capitol Police during the January 6th insurrection. In a letter to Congress, Metropolitan Police Officer, Michael Fanone stated:
“It was the most inspirational moment of my entire life. Even as I write this it brings me to tears. I tried to render assistance to some of the injured officers asking them if they needed a break. There were no volunteers, only those that identified injured colleagues who may be in need of assistance. I have never experienced such bravery, courage and selflessness.”
Despite the media’s focus on the bad-news stories, there are many incredible stories of police heroism that should not be forgotten.
Reform actions are already underway with the proposal of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. This bill addresses a wide range of policies and issues regarding policing practices and law enforcement accountability. It increases accountability for law enforcement misconduct, restricts the use of certain policing practices, enhances transparency and data collection, and establishes best practices and training requirements.
The bill enhances existing enforcement mechanisms to remedy violations by law enforcement. Among other things, it does the following:
Lowers the criminal intent standard—from willful to knowing or reckless—to convict a law enforcement officer for misconduct in a federal prosecution,
Limits qualified immunity as a defense to liability in a private civil action against a law enforcement officer
Grants administrative subpoena power to the Department of Justice (DOJ) in pattern-or-practice investigations.
It establishes a framework to prevent and remedy racial profiling by law enforcement at the federal, state, and local levels. It also limits the unnecessary use of force and restricts the use of no-knock warrants, choke-holds, and carotid holds.
The bill creates a national registry—the National Police Misconduct Registry—to compile data on complaints and records of police misconduct. It also establishes new reporting requirements, including on the use of force, officer misconduct, and routine policing practices (e.g., stops and searches).
Finally, it directs the DOJ to create uniform accreditation standards for law enforcement agencies and requires law enforcement officers to complete training on racial profiling, implicit bias, and the duty to intervene when another officer uses excessive force.
Whilst this is sitting with the Senate, waiting for the traditional dance with Republican Senators who will, no doubt, hold issue with every part of this urgently needed bill, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland has announced a federal “pattern of practice” investigation into the Louisville police prompted by the death of Breonna Taylor during a warrant service on her apartment in connection with a drug investigation, less than a week after he announced the same sort of sweeping investigation for the Minneapolis police following on from George Floyd's death.
“Today, the Justice Department is opening a civil investigation into the Louisville-Jefferson County metro government and the Louisville Metro Police Department to determine whether LMPD engages in a pattern or practice of violations of the constitution or federal law. The investigation will assess whether LMPD engages in a pattern or practice of using unreasonable force, including with respect to people involved in peaceful, expressive activities. It will determine whether LMPD engages in unconstitutional stops searches and seizures, as well as whether the department unlawfully executes search warrants on private homes. It will also assess whether LMPD engages in discriminatory conduct on the basis of race or fails to provide public services that comply with the Americans with Disability Act. Investigation will include comprehensive review of the Louisville Police Department’s policies and training. It will also assess the effectiveness of LMPD supervision of officers and systems of accountability.”
Garland stated that the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) will aim to work with the city and police department to arrive at a set of mutually agreeable steps that they can take to correct and prevent unlawful patterns or practices if civil rights violations are found.
And so, reform is coming and there is hope that change will bring a renewed mutual respect for those charged with the mantel of protecting citizens across the country. It will take time to see the benefits of these changes and it’s just the tip of the iceberg of course, but positive steps have been taken and we must have faith in the Department of Justice.
In the meantime, we must put aside recent issues and take time this week to remember the sacrifice that many officers have made. In the midst of this turbulent time, we should remember that our men and women in blue are just as human as we are, and each morning, have breakfast with their families, send their children to school and leave their homes to go to work to do an ever-increasing dangerous job, not knowing if they will return safely.
This National Police Week is about paying respect to those in law enforcement who died in service to their communities and to focus on the safety and well-being of those who continue to protect us every day.