The parents of John Kalaman, LODD in 1998, set up a wreath at the National Law Enforcement Memorial in Washington, D.C., to honor him. They've come every year since his death. Photo Dale Stockton
I just returned from several days in Washington, D.C., and want to share some memorable moments of Police Week. Granted, this is like showing a picture of the Grand Canyon to convey its grandeur, but I’m going to give it my best shot.
Since I was already in D.C. for another commitment, I was able to go the Memorial on May 9, several days before Police Week officially started. Chief Scot Haug from Post Falls, Idaho, PD accompanied me. For a while, we were the only ones there, other than an occasional pedestrian heading to the subway. I watched as Haug located the name of Idaho Trooper Linda Huff, murdered in 1998 by a gunman who ambushed her in a parking lot and shot her 17 times. Seeing Haug reach out and touch her name reminded me of a scene I’ve observed hundreds of times—there’s just something about touching the name.
Later, I noticed a well-dressed man on the other side of the Memorial who was staring at the wall, obviously reflecting deeply. As he walked away, I learned his brother was Texas Game Warden Justin Hurst, who was killed in 2007 by gunfire from a poacher after a long pursuit. Hurst told me he was in D.C. on business and wanted to connect with his little brother by visiting the Memorial and touching his name.
Over the next few days, this simple act of touching an individual name played out thousands of times. So many people told me it means so much that there’s a place that honors their loved ones, a place where they can come and reflect about what was and what might have been. I met a wonderful couple named John and Paula Kalaman from Ohio. They lost their son, John, a Centerville, Ohio PD officer in 1998 when an out-of-control vehicle struck him and other emergency personnel clearing a highway accident. The Kalamans were devastated by the loss and have returned to the Memorial for Police Week every year since his death. I watched them carefully prepare a wreath and large photo by the panel bearing their son’s name and noticed they visited with other parents who continue to make a similar journey (see photo). The senior Kalaman gave me his business card that bore his name and title: Surviving Father. The card had a photo of his son proudly wearing his uniform.
It’s sobering when you consider the impact of a single line-of-duty death. It’s absolutely staggering when you realize that there are more than 19,000 names on the wall, each of which represent a similar level of loss and an individual whose life ended before their hopes and dreams could be realized. Chris Cosgriff, founder of the Officer Down Memorial Page, said it best, “When a police officer is killed, it’s not an agency that loses an officer, it’s an entire nation.”
On Sunday evening, thousands of people came to the Memorial for the annual candlelight service. The crowd spilled across the street and up onto the steps of an adjacent building. Two hours before the start of the ceremony, dozens of buses arrived, carrying the survivors of fallen officers. Each survivor family was escorted down a long line of formally dressed officers standing respectfully at attention. There were kids, widows and widowers, parents who had to do the unthinkable and bury a child.
As the ceremony unfolded, there were moving tributes and finally, the lighting of the single candle that would spread across the grounds as thousands shared their candle with others. After the final song, the candles were extinguished. It took only a few seconds for the grounds to go from candlelight to blackness—a stark metaphor of what has happened too many times in this country: A brilliant and shining life lost in a tragic event that darkens the world of all those around them.
Embrace Below 100
On my last day in D.C., I had the opportunity to present a Below 100 training session with Jim Glennon and Travis Yates. The mission of Below 100 is very straightforward: Reduce line-of-duty deaths to less than 100—a level not seen since 1944. We must do this and the time is now
. Any loss is tragic and shouldn’t be minimized. However, we have already made tremendous progress. We must claim every day without a loss as a victory and stop
saying that every 53 hours a peace officer loses his or her life. This asinine statement only makes it seem like a foregone and acceptable reality. It’s not
acceptable and we can change this today. Please, for the sake of your loved ones, embrace Below 100 and do your part. We can lower line-of-duty deaths in this country and we can do it today! For more information, please check out www.Below100.com
. The life you save may be your own.