Honoring Sacrifice and Service

In 2023, 136 police officers lost their lives in the line of duty, with thirty nine already fallen by spring of 2024. Among these brave individuals are local heroes like Officer Sean Sluganski, who was fatally shot following a domestic dispute between a mother and son. Additionally, Chief McIntire, Chief of Police in the typically tranquil borough of Brackenridge, was fatally shot while pursuing a suspect wanted for a probation violation. New Kensington Police Officer Brian Shaw was shot and killed during a traffic stop while pursuing a suspect on foot. Furthermore, Ligonier Twp. Police Lt. Eric Eslary tragically lost his life, and his K-9 Partner was injured, in a head-on DUI crash while on routine patrol. 

For those of us who acknowledge the complexities, challenges, and tireless hours police officers devote to serving their cities and municipalities, a mere week seems insufficient. Understanding the intricacies that law enforcement personnel confront in each distinct incident and case makes it evident how frequently Americans overlook the daily sacrifices made by officers to ensure the safety of our local communities. It is long overdue for us to retire near-sighted slogans like “defund the police” and, as a society, to recognize and appreciate the ongoing dedication and sacrifices made by law enforcement officers and their families.

To truly understand the demands of law enforcement, it’s important to explore the processes through which officers perform their daily duties. While police officers are primarily responsible for investigating crimes and enforcing laws, their typical day involves a wide range of tasks, all aimed at promoting public safety and maintaining order. Their shift usually begins with a briefing, during which they receive updates on ongoing investigations, crime trends, and other crucial information. 

Once they are on patrol, officers must be prepared to handle anything from traffic stops for minor offenses to emergency calls involving car accidents, domestic violence, mental health crises, violent intoxication and controlled substance issues, neighborhood disputes, child endangerment cases, and even medical emergencies, where police officers often arrive before medical personnel. The day-to-day tasks of a police officer demand split-second decision-making, quick thinking, and decisive action to de-escalate situations and, in many cases, save lives.

As frontline responders who frequently patrol neighborhoods, police officers often serve as the first on the scene at critical incidents, such as house fires involving entrapment. These situations can have tragic outcomes, as illustrated by the events of March 20th this year on the outskirts of Pittsburgh, in the City of Jeanette. That day, five police officers — Jeanette Officers Bryan DeFelice, Matthew Painter, Jake Fazekas, and Sgt. James Phillips, along with Penn Township Officer Luke Lock — responded to a burning home where a family was trapped by flames. They swiftly arrived on the scene, placed a ladder to a window, and courageously entered a home fully engulfed in flames and smoke to rescue a mother and her two children, aged 10 and 1. Despite their bravery, five other occupants of the home tragically lost their lives, highlighting the dangers police officers face without warning.

Once the immediate duties are complete, the process of police report writing begins, requiring meticulous attention to detail and a thorough understanding of events. Police reports typically include the time of the call, their time of arrival, how long on scene, the nature of the incident, extensive details about the incident, information about the victims, suspects, witnesses, and any criminal charges being filed. 

Criminal charges are filed on what’s known as a criminal complaint. Writing an accurate criminal complaint demands a comprehensive understanding of probable cause and the Pennsylvania Crimes Code, emphasizing the technical and legal expertise required of police officers in addition to their frontline bravery. 

In addition to physical risks, police officers contend with the mental and emotional strain of witnessing daily violence and tragedies. After their shifts, they must find ways to transition back to their families, compartmentalizing their experiences to maintain healthy relationships with their spouses and children.

According to a release by The Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), violence against police officers in America has reached unprecedented levels. The release, dated January 2, 2024, revealed that 378 officers were shot in the line of duty in 2023—marking the highest number ever recorded to date by the FOP. Notably, the report highlights that 115 ambush-style attacks resulted in 138 officers being shot, tragically resulting in twenty fatalities. This context underscores the gravity of the challenges faced by law enforcement personnel daily, particularly concerning their safety while just trying to do their job. However, these numbers do not even come close to reflecting that of those who were injured or perished from nonviolent career-related and motor vehicle accidents.

A recent example that made national headlines was the tragic case of Zachary Fink, a 26-year-old Florida Highway Patrol Trooper who died in the line of duty earlier this year while trying to detain a fleeing felon on Interstate 95. Trooper Fink, who should have had his entire life ahead of him, left behind a grieving family and fiancée.

Although law enforcement careers have traditionally involved inherent risks, the challenges faced by today’s police officers extend far beyond the daily dangers they encounter. As if to add insult to injury, radical activism movements have introduced additional layers of complexity and exacerbation to these issues, and, in some instances, even spawned new challenges altogether.

The “defund the police” movement, leading to reductions in police funding — especially evident in major cities such as Los Angeles and New York City — has not only directly contributed to a significant rise in crime, including heightened homicide rates and a surge in violent offenses but has also had adverse effects on police departments themselves. 

Police departments are grappling with issues like understaffing, diminished force readiness, and heightened stress levels among officers. The Pittsburgh Bureau of Police has publicly stated that they are severely understaffed, to the extent that desk sergeants are now compelled to join patrol, and the department’s shortage of personnel prevents them from responding to calls that are not deemed “in progress,” placing the entire city at risk. The police shortage is not confined to Pittsburgh; it is a nationwide issue. Seventy-eight percent of police agencies report difficulty in recruiting qualified candidates, with 65% struggling to attract any applicants at all.

The International Association of Chiefs of Police’s (IACP) release, titled “The State of Recruitment: A Crisis for Law Enforcement,” emphasizes the concern among law enforcement agencies regarding public perception, which is seen as a significant barrier to recruiting new talent.

NAtional President of the FOP, Patrick Yoes, continues to advocate for the well-being of the law enforcement community, urging the public to stand in solidarity with their local officers—not only for their sake but also for the continued safety and security of the communities they serve.

“I call on Americans in every community across the country to join us in taking a stand—to say, ‘Enough is Enough,” Yoes emphasized in the January release, further adding, “It is incumbent upon our elected officials and community leaders to stand up, support our heroes, and speak out against the violence against law enforcement officers.”

Some citizens have a negative perception of the police, often due to their interactions being limited to instances like traffic stops where they are issued speeding tickets – an aspect of police work. Despite this, it is these same police officers, both men and women, who form the thin blue line between law and chaos, good and evil. When a 911 call for help comes in, these brave individuals are the ones who rush to the scene, lights flashing and sirens blaring, to protect and assist people they have never met.

Police officers are held to a higher standard than regular citizens, as they should be, but let’s not forget that underneath the uniform are human beings, and a little understanding and appreciation can go a long way.

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